I have been a teacher for ten years now, and there are a couple of things I am certain of. Students are individuals with souls that need to be nourished and encouraged. If you are a first grade teacher, that means that they will love you no matter how badly you carry a tune or how funny your hair looks on your worst “hair day.” If you give children love, structure, and attention, they will believe in you. This leads me to the second thing that I am certain of as an educator…We don’t always believe in ourselves and we have times when our self confidence might waver. This may happen especially during assessment times. You know you worked hard with each child and sometimes the progress isn’t immediately evident.
This weekend, as I was preparing for an upcoming group presentation that I will be a part of at the 2012 SLATE Conference in the Wisconsin Dells, I had the opportunity to revisit some of my favorite books and authors that shaped me as a beginning teacher. Regie Routman’s “Reading Essentials” was one that both refreshed and strengthened me as I enjoyed the long ago read pages.
As an elementary teacher, teaching reading is a huge responsibility. You want to serve each child well. Several factors hold you accountable for your instructional decisions: parents, district assessments, standardized testing, your principal, and finally yourself. There are many programs out there that promise results. How do you know you are doing what’s best for students?
Regie Routman reminds us of the following “essentials” for any literacy block:
- let your own love and appreciation for reading shine
- make reading fun
- provide time for independent reading (Regie Routman says that struggling readers need “massive amounts of real reading and writing of authentic texts.” (Reading Essentials p. 85) In fact, Allington states that students need 90 minutes of reading time daily in addition to their instructional time.
- let students read together
- provide opportunities for students to respond to their reading in writing
- allow students choice
- after a student makes an error during guided reading, don’t jump right in. Help students develop their abilities to “problem-solve in order to learn to monitor and correct themselves.” (Reading Essentials p. 174)
Knowing that we, as teachers, have the tendency to be so driven that we tend to live, breathe, and think about mainly school, she encourages us to “lead an interesting life.” We need balance. We need to also take time for our family, friends, and interests. Doing this will help us serve our students better.
I read about electronic portfolios for the first time last spring on Zite. The word “portfolio” in the title immediately interested me since I already had my first graders create reading comprehension portfolios in my classroom. Unfortunately, however, after reading the article I could honestly say I didn’t know exactly what an electronic portfolio was. What did one contain? What would a digital portfolio even look like? What would this look like in my own classroom? Each of these questions swirled through my mind. Since then, I have explored the topic in great detail. As a K-8 Literacy Coach in my school district, I surveyed other teachers and found out they were interested as well. The result is this PowerPoint presentation that I will share with teachers on October 8th after school.
I can honestly say that I have tried the concepts and am impressed with the success my students are experiencing. My students are currently creating two types of portfolios. The first is a digital portfolio on the iPad using the app “PDF Notes.” I am a fan of this medium since it allows me great flexibility. I can create a document in Microsoft Word and then upload it into “PDF Notes” with the aid of a “Dropbox.” I have been able to create different colorful, open-ended graphic organizers that go hand in hand with our district’s curriculum. Students are able to simply print right on the iPad screen using a Stylus pen (or their finger) and document their thinking. This portfolio is designed to help students reflect on their learning, set reading comprehension goals, and monitor their progress towards completion of their goals.
My students are also creating their own blogs to showcase different activities we are doing in class. With my help, pictures and videos are uploaded and the students annotate them during our Daily 5 Work on Writing time. This allows students an audience for their writing and allows parents to share in what we are learning in school.
Both portfolio types are meaningful and student centered. They each have their own purpose. The bottom line is that students are highly engaged in their learning and are being given a medium to share their thinking with a wider audience.