Of Daily 5 and Not Whining

I spent last year hearing from my colleagues about my incoming students, which is the curse of teaching the oldest in the school.  The teachers bemoaned the behavior issues, the learning disabilities, the community chemistry, sometimes with a look of pity flung my way, sometimes with a sly “boy-are-you-screwed” grin.  For a while I took this to heart and cursed my fate, but after a time I got a little sick of this business.  So I spent this summer preparing rather than pining for last year’s superstars.

Knowing that I am inheriting a class of whom 8/30 receive services for learning disabilities, and about 30-40% are reading below grade level, I knew I’d have to be very deliberate about differentiating instruction.  I knew reading stamina would be an issue.  In my quest for a new way to frame reader’s workshop, I ran across The Daily 5 and The Daily Cafe, by “the sisters” Gail Boushey and Joan Moser.  I joined the website and carefully read the book. 

So if I have this right, you’ve got a literacy block in which you weave reading, writing, and word study, in a cycle of focus lessons followed by independent practice time and wrapped up with a sharing time.  That doesn’t really do justice, description-wise, because the sisters really have created something that looks very promising to me.  I’ve been tweaking the format to work for me, taking out the writer’s workshop element (I just need this to be separate and given more time) and putting in writing in response to reading.  So my daily 5-ish will look something like this:  independent reading, listening to/reading to someone, word work, and writing in response to reading.  Yeah, in my case there are four parts, not five.  But the idea of doing 3 focus lessons a day followed by compact, rich work time sounds like it will give me the chance to do a little more strategic repetition of concepts and processes and still leave plenty of time for guided reading and  conferring.  And the sisters lay out a way of crafting reader’s workshop that places lots of power and responsiblity in the hands and minds of my students, not just for personal discipline during independent work but for setting and monitoring goals for themselves as readers.  And the Daily 5 framework still leaves me able to do the things my district requires (like using Debbie Miller’s lovely Making Meaning kit) and hanging on to the best work I do already during workshop.

Cut to me busy organizing and reorganizing and planning.  Instead of whining about how next year is going to be hard.  I imagine I’ll hit a wall (or two or ten) and do my share of whining about the challenges I face in the upcoming year.  But with some promising practices and the perverse determination to turn those sly grins and piteous gazes back at my (beloved) colleagues, I won’t feel helpless or hopeless.

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Craft Cracking

\"Cracked Geode\" by PAgent on flickr

I have a rather terrible habit of assuming conscious negative intent when “higher-ups” (or their potential henchpeople) mention professional titles.  I anticipate more bolted-on, poorly supported shifts in curriculum and practices that don’t end up benefiting students as promised and promoted.  So during the last week of school, an enthusiastic literacy coach dropped the title Cracking Open the Author’s Craft by Lester Laminack in my ear.  Visions of yet more “stuff” plopped on the heads of myself and my teaching pals danced in my head, so I ordered this book and decided to play detective.

It’s okay.  Laminack has used a picture book memoir he wrote, Saturdays and Teacakes, to examine a handful of “craft moves”.  I wish I’d run into this three years ago when I was floundering to figure this out.  But plenty of others are still floundering, and this is the perfect way to ease in to teaching writer’s craft.  The book comes with a super-handy DVD with Laminack reading his book and talking through several potential focus lessons-worth of craft points to ponder with students.  By using just one text, he makes it seem very manageable, and gives suggestions for other texts that display similar craft work.

He relies pretty heavily on the work of Katie Wood Ray, which I appreciated since I do the same when it comes to craft work!  But I have found that my colleagues who show interest in learning more about writer’s craft cringe at the size of her book Wondrous Words.  Laminack’s slim volume invites even reluctant teachers to consider teaching writer’s craft and facilitating text inquiry.

So now instead of impending dread, I look forward to using this resource as a teaching staff–viewing portions of the DVD, discussing what it means to “read with writer’s eyes”, and imagining together how we can use the study of craft to grow our young writers.