Saturday, April 26, 2014

If I Build It, Will They Read?

This year I added Reader's Workshop to my Language Arts Curriculum. My students and I already loved Writer's Workshop and were excited to follow the workshop model in Reading as well. I knew that if I wanted Reader's Workshop to be successful in my classroom, I needed to create a supportive environment that not only taught reading strategies, but fostered a love of reading. I thought about our experience with Writer's Workshop and how we worked together to become a personal learning network of thoughtful, passionate writers. I realized I needed to apply those same ideas and values to Reader's Workshop.
We started by looking at ourselves as readers.  What do we like to read?  Where do we read?  How do we select the books we read?  Next, we completed our MAPs and F&P testing so we would have more information to help us select “just right” books. I gave each student a book bin which they filled with fiction and nonfiction books of their choice.  We used our right books as we moved through our mini lessons and learning targets.  Conferences were more productive because students were reading books at their level.  They were proud of their understanding and could contribute more to book club and pair share conversations.  They wrote beautiful jots supported by textual evidence.
My students and I love to share our knowledge with others, especially our Kindergarten buddies.  We had just learned about text features in nonfiction, so we decided to use our favorite books in our bins to introduce these features to our buddies.  Each student used their Post Its to identify the features and prepare their individual mini lessons.  When we met with our buddies, each 6th grader shared their book and skillfully explained the features and their purpose in a language that their younger buddy could understand.  I was so proud of my readers.  Not only were they demonstrating the understanding of text structure, they were all workshop teachers that day.  

Then it happened.  I noticed that the conversations in class were about the books they were reading, and not just during Reader’s Workshop.  They would come into class in the morning and while I took attendance they would talk about what they read the night before.  I had students taking their books out to recess so they could read a few extra pages since they felt they didn’t read enough during our workshop time before lunch.  I started to panic.  I looked at my unorganized classroom library and worried that I did not have enough books to keep up with my ravished readers.  I made a desperate plea to my classroom parents for donations of lonely books from their homes.  Our PTO generously donated some funds so we could order new books too.  I asked students what they were reading and ordered only the books they suggested.  The books came right before spring break. A few of the books came out of the box and went immediately into backpacks headed to warm destinations.
Once we got our books, my students and I worked together to make our library beautiful.  Each student took a few books and used their Chromebooks to identify the genre and reading level.  We organized our books in bins by genre.  We were so proud when it was completed because it was a class effort.
We have a digital classroom library on
BIblioNasium.  Each student has a digital bookshelf to keep track of the books they have read.  They can recommend books to classmates and search for new books so they always have a book waiting on their shelf.  
My hope is we can continue our reading momentum into the summer.  I will keep our BiblioNasium accounts active and encourage my students to update their bookshelves. They can recommend books to classmates for summer reading.  I will also keep our
class blog live and encourage students to blog about the books they are reading as one of the independent blogging ideas.  We have written to authors in our blogs, like Ralph Fletcher and Peter and Paul Reynolds, and they have generously commented on our posts.  My students know that our blogs have an authentic, global audience, so they want to continue to blog over the summer.  This will be a great place to continue their excitement and passion about books with their classmates and global community during the summer months.  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Google Forms for Conferring in Writer's Workshop

If someone asked me what my favorite part of Writer’s Workshop is, I would tell them it is conferring with my students. I love talking to my students about their writing. We laugh and cry together as their stories unfold. My writers deserve this uninterrupted time to be heard.  It is my job to supply honest feedback and help them develop their craft. How’s It Going? A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers by Carl Anderson is my favorite resource on conferring.  It is filled with Post It notes and has a permanent place on my desk.
Did I mention I love talking to my students about their writing? This can be a problem when you have 23 students and conferences in workshop should average about 2-7 minutes.  I am always looking for ways to improve the conferring process without sacrificing the quality of the time spent with an individual writer or group of writers.  One idea that greatly improved the environment of our workshop was the implementation of Student PLNs.  Writers now turn to someone in their own Personal Learning Network for feedback while I am conferring with other students.  

I found that Student PLNs helped students continue to move forward with their writing while they waited, but it did not help me shorten my conferences.  I realized my conferences were taking extra time because I spent at least 5 minutes finding out what the piece was about and what skill they wanted to focus on.  I thought if I knew this ahead of time, our time together could be spent developing their craft. We are fortunate to have 1:1 Chromebooks, so I turned to Google Forms.  My students and I already use Google Forms for surveys, flipped lessons, scripts, and submitting links for Web 2.0 projects.  I created a Pre-Conference Interview Form based on the Student Checklists in the Units of Study.

My students completed the form using their Chromebook, Student Checklist and their drafts.  The following day I was able to start conferring with my updated conferring toolkit which included my student responses from the Pre-Conference Interview Form.  This additional information proved to be not only a timesaver, but an additional connection with my students.  I would start the conference with something they shared in the form, and they would smile wide, knowing they had already been heard and the conference had just begun.