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.


Summer Goal Update Part 1

I was on a blogging hot-streak, then sort of stumbled.  But the work toward other summer goals continued…

I just finished Mr. Chickee’s Messy Mission by Christopher Paul Curtis.  I met Mr. Curtis last fall and also had a chance to hear him read an excerpt from his most recent novel Elijah of Buxton.  I was a fan before that meeting and I’m a super-fan now.  I’d read and loved and nudged my students into his writing for years, but I was avoiding the Flint Future Detectives books…because I was afraid they wouldn’t live up to his big fancy award-winners.  But I bit the bullet, and I have to admit they aren’t Newberry-ish.  They are, however, fun and delightful and full of the kind of writer’s craft that fifth graders embrace.  As a Flint native, I laughed my way through this book’s Flint references, including one about the north side of town where I grew up.  I was so caught up in all the Flint-isms that I had to stop and re-read some parts to see if I thought that this book would stand up outside of Michigan.  I think it does–the interplay of friendships and rivalries, parent-child banter, action sequences, and enjoyable main characters make this fit like a glove for the ages I teach.  Curtis keeps things moving, and that’s something both my students and I agree helps make a great story.

I’m also plugging away at the social studies wiki, though I’ve changed tactics.  I started just drafting away, but now I’m collecting materials online, amassing some resources before drafting in the hopes that the resources will help me see the curriculum in different ways.  Thank goodness for my del.icio.us account, it at least keeps me halfway organized.

Summer’s not all me in some geekish fugue, though.  Here’s a pic I snapped at the Detroit Zoo last week of the neph and niece on the lookout for polar bear. 

By Golly, I Like It!

Today I read The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman.  What a cool book!  Very reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (which the author credits as an inspiration in her acknowledgements), this is the story of a boy who makes it into an elite sort of competition run by a toy manufacturer.  The characters are interesting, the story moves quickly, and is full of twists and turns.  I couldn’t help but root for the main character, Gil Goodson, as he struggles not only to win the games but to fight for his family’s good name.

One of the great bits of this book is how lots of puzzles and riddles are embedded throughout the story, so that the reader can try his/her wits out on them just as the characters do.  I think Feldman has created a story that will be favored for years to come in my classroom, and I’ll definitely be purchasing a set of paperbacks for book club work as soon as they are on the shelves.

Two Hot Dogs


Two Hot Dogs with Everything by Paul HavenI try to comfort myself by thinking that all reading teachers have favorite genres, which is likely true.  But still, I know I’ve got to read kid lit that is outside my personal preference if I’m going to be able to continue to perform that fantastic alchemy of taking those series-loving early 5th graders and turning them into committed, self-aware readers in the nine months they spend with me.  I’m surprised at how often that lead turns to gold through the right recommendation from me or a great book club experience.

But I’ve got to know books across the spectrum and on many reading levels, which is one of the aspects of the job that I suspect few people outside of teaching recognize or take seriously.  Which brings me to my latest read (number seven out of the 10-book-goal I set a few weeks ago).  Two Hot Dogs with Everything by Paul Haven is about one town’s love of their baseball team, and one young and superstitious fan’s quest to help the team out of a century-long losing streak brought on by “the curse of the poison pretzel”. 

Now, I personally do not have the love of baseball in my heart, but this story held me with the mythology behind baseball, the importance of superstition, the power of both faith and friendship.  The author does some moving back and forth in time that is reminiscent of Louis Sachar’s Holes (though not as compelling for me as that great story).  So despite my lack of fan credentials, this was certainly a worthwhile read for me, and I can see myself recommending it both to those who read and loved Holesand to my students who love books like Dan Gutman’s Baseball Card Adventures series and are ready for a longer read–Two Hot Dogs comes in at 305 pages.

Reading Sunday

Today was the first day I had not a single commitment to family or friends.  I spent it in my pajamas, reading and sleeping and reading and SMILING.  Not only did this feed the raging introvert that I am outside the classroom–well, it just feels good to read.  I’ve finished two more kid lit selections:

The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas  I picked this one up after reading about it on Literate Lives.  I really enjoyed the main character, Conn, and how he draws people to him.  All the primary characters seem to have little quirks/secrets that kept me reading on.  It is the first in a trilogy, and I’ll definitely follow along, even though the reading level may be just a shade high for many of my fifth graders (just a guess, we’ll see what happens!). 

The Mysterious Benedict Societyby Trenton Lee Stewart  If you love Roald Dahl or Lemony Snicket books, you’ll probably enjoy this book.  It took a couple hundred pages for me to sink in, and I did end up liking it, if not loving it.  The main characters are certainly sympathetic and interesting, and there are a couple of fun twists in the plot.  But the plugs for the joys of individuality and the power of teamwork sometimes felt a little forced to me.  Having said that, I think this book will be a hit with many students.  I had a couple of Dahl fans this past year and wish I’d known about this title to recommend it to help them graduate into some longer fiction works.

That’s numbers five and six out of the ten children’s lit titles that I set as one of my summer goals–read and in a pile to return to my classroom.  Woo-hoo!  Read on!

The Latest Percy Jackson Fan

Like all good procrastinators, when I do dive in to work I start with the work I enjoy most.  In this case, I’ve started my summer with kidlit, specifically with Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, and The Titan’s Curse (see fancy website here).  My friend/tech teacher extraordinaire Barbie said her son Logan was devouring these titles, then I saw some of the blog buzz and thought I’d better check them out.  So glad I did!

The basic storyline is a bit reminiscent of a lot of kid fantasy–unlikely hero finds he has extraordinary powers, is pursued by evil, destined to make a fateful decision.  It’s a classic style of story brought back into vogue by the Harry Potter books, but certainly not invented there.  The great hook in this series for me was that it involves the pantheon of Greek gods and monsters.  I spent a chunk of my childhood obsessed with Greek mythology, and reading Riordan’s imaginings of these mythological figures set in modern times brought back a lot of those classic stories and added to the fun.  For example, Dionysis is punished by Zeus, forced to “dry out” for a century as a camp director for a camp of kids who are the half-blood children of the gods, including Percy Jackson, the main character and son of Poseidon.

Written at upper fourth/early fifth levels, this series is going to be a big hit for years to come in my classroom library for those young readers who enjoy adventure and fantasy but don’t want a Potter-sized odyssey.  Riordan writes with humor, uses snappy dialogue, and keeps the action moving. 

Three really enjoyable kid lit titles down, 7 more to go to meet my summer goal!

What I’m Doing Right…For Once

March Madness is not, in my world, connected to basketball.  March is Reading Month, making it four straight weeks of near-religious observance of the joys of readng.  It has also been the month in which I do my Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) for each of my students.  And this year, the month we finished collaborative digital stories on endangered species, culminating in a mini film festival.  I’m tired.

I’ll be reviewing assessments tonight, and that usually brings me down for a while, since it is my failures that grab my attention.  Yes, there’s still time, but I feel freaked out and discouraged about the progress of a few of my little ducklings–at this point it is tradition.  Sure, I’ll forgive myself, share out the blame among parents, past teachers, God, and the ducklings in question–eventually.  But first I’ll hold myself accountable and feel crappy.

So this might seem like a bad time to review a video  that a wonderful colleague of mine recorded last Fall.  In it I’m doing a focus lesson, guided groups and conferencing for readers workshop.  A lesson I hadn’t taught before.  But I’ve been carrying the thing around for many weeks, and just made myself watch until I got over my bad hair, all the fidgeting with my outfit, and how weird my voice sounded.  And after a few minutes, I started paying attention to the teaching. 

It was good.  I mean, I really rocked that workshop, those kids were engaged, and we were learning.  Is this surprising, even though it shouldn’t be?  Kind of.  It is one thing to have a sense that these things are happening, but another to actually watch the happening from the outside.  My district doesn’t practice video-recording lessons as a regular way to reflect on teaching, so this is the first time I’ve seen myself in action since I student-taught back at the dawn of this millennium.  And maybe, just maybe, part of me was still picturing my teaching as it was captured back then–enthusiastic, but not terribly focused or smooth or, for that matter, student-centered.  Back then I would have killed to teach like I do now. 

So instead of starting to analyze this pile of reading assessments in “hot mess” mode, I actually get to go into the process with this picture of a skilled reading teacher inside my head.  And it’s a picture of me.


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