Students have more choices than ever. My cabinet is overflowing with teacher made games, games I bought from catalogues, and games that have been given to me. We have computer and web-based games. Add iPads and a plethora of apps into the equation and the result could be confusion for students.
We do reader’s workshop in my classroom. As a result, I try to “guide” students as they make choices. My goal is for them to reflect upon themselves as a reader and choose the literacy activities that will help them achieve their goals. We track progress together and we also celebrate when goals are mastered.
I found, however, after integrating iPads into my literacy block for word work, students began to lose sight of their goals. The range of abilities is vast in my room and so I purposefully chose apps that will meet the needs of all students. There are apps for sight word practice, apps for vocabulary, and apps for grammar. Some apps are meant to reinforce the foundational skills beginning readers need while others are meant to broaden a fluent reader’s vocabulary. I do not want each student using the same apps. They are meant to promote growth. (Not to keep students busy.)
As a result, I took time to develop a word work planning sheet. The sheet has the various research based word work/spelling activities that students need to grow as readers. Students use the sheet over the course of a week and cross out an activity as it is completed. Most students will make appropriate choices. Others, however, need a little more guidance and so we discuss the plan together and highlight an appropriate choice for that day.
You might be wondering what impact the plan sheet had on my class. I am very pleased. Students make deliberate choices during our literacy block and enjoy purposeful learning as a result.
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.
They say Rome wasn’t built in a day and that things done well take time. I especially know this to be true for first graders. As I’ve explained in previous blogs, my goal is to help my students become digitally literate. In order to do this, I know I can’t show them the big picture the first day. I can’t expect immediate proficiency with complex tasks. I am trying to follow the gradual release model of responsibility and am taking baby steps with my willing class. Last week my students practiced writing in “PDF Notes” using a simple poem. My objective was for them to be comfortable holding a stylus pen and writing their name. I didn’t even expect it to be super neat! Today I felt confident that they were ready to move to something a little harder. I uploaded the writing template that our district uses for writer’s workshop. It’s something they are familiar with from kindergarten and we’ve been using it since the second day of school. Beforehand I wondered if it would be a disaster. I was ready to scrap the whole thing, but then we did our work on writing round. The class worked longer than yesterday by doubling their stamina. We had four pieces of writing to share at the end. They weren’t finished, but they had great ideas. They were even neatly written! Baby steps pay off…