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Monday, August 19, 2013

A Montessori Reader's Workshop

The following question was recently emailed to me:

"I ran across your blog last year when my teaching neighbor and I were starting to use Reading Workshop.  We teach in a public Montessori upper elementary in Omaha, NE.  We also have just 4th and 5th grade, like you had when you were teaching.  We did joint lessons last year since we were just implementing it.  We were thrilled with our results and the kids loved reading!!!!  Since this was our first year, and no one else in the school does it (yet), we assigned the same follow-up work for all the kids.  We have been discussing how we will progress for this year.  We thought since you did this for years, you might be able to give us some advice.  Did you give one lesson for both groups?  If so, did you make sure there were different lessons so the 5th graders didn't get repetition?  Did you do separate lessons?  I read how you had the 5th graders go farther with their projects.  We liked that idea.  We have thrown around 3 ideas:  1)  Continue doing lessons together.  2)  One of us does 4th grade and the other does 5th grade.  3)  We each teach our own, just differentiate for advancement of 5th graders.
Let me address each question:

Did you give one lesson for both groups?

Yes, I did continue to give one lesson even though 1/2 my class were returning students.  I figured they needed more than one practice and run-thru with the strategy and I specifically focused on different methods to teach the same strategy.  Most kids don't really have a deep metacognitive understanding of the strategy until they have used it extensively.  Returning to the strategy a year later allowed them to spend more time in practice.  With regard to genre, I only taught some genre each year so that in a two year span all the genres were covered. (With the exception of non-fiction; I covered NF for 6-8 weeks as its own unit each year.)  Finally, my students did spend time studying literacy devices every other year.  Their final project was a "Literary Devices Booklet."  My own daughter (Now going into 8th grade) kept her booklet for use in middle school!

If so, did you make sure there were different lessons so the 5th graders didn't get repetition?

Yes, I have notes with references to books and online sites that have many different lessons to teacher specific topics or strategies.  Plus, my last few years my reading and writing workshop lesson were often studying the topic (i.e., character motivation) from different lenses--a reading lens and a writing lens.  Therefore, it was never really the same.

Did you do separate lessons? 

I did not do separate lessons but there were times we used study groups; the 5th graders joined the group as a mentor.  For example, 4th graders picked from several study groups--with topics ranging from developing better fluency to picking newer and more challenging books.  I didn't think the 5th graders needed to do this again, but many of them actually needed more time with the task to deepen their understanding.  Therefore, they became mentors and developed lessons (in a separate group) to help "teach" the 4th graders.  To teach, they all had to go back and review their understanding!  This was a great idea but clunky to manage.  I needed to better build these study groups into my lesson plans.  When I do this again, I will plan better to make sure groups are meeting right after my mini-lesson or even in place of the lesson.

I don't generally recommend splitting the class up for several reasons.  1)  Although reading is an individual task we learn the most when we have to share and discuss our reactions--thoughts, ideas, and opinions--with others.  2)  Just because a student has learned about a topic or strategy doesn't mean they really understand it or use correctly.  Redoing the strategy will ensure that those 5th graders who kinda/sorta "get it" get another crack to deepen their understanding.  3)  You're going to use different mentor texts each year.  Therefore, how you approach and discuss the book will be different from the books you used last year!  Finally, 4)  I tied more and more of my reader's workshop nonfiction focus to our cultural topics.  For example, after the Great River lesson our students often begin researching the human body.  In reader's workshop students brought their own nonfiction reading materials or I provided articles pertaining to body systems and we learned how to read these effectively using the strategies discussed in mini-lessons.

Thanks to Robyn and her teaching partner for these great questions.  I strongly believe that the Reader's Workshop structure is a wonderful complement to a Montessori classroom.

Happy Reading!

Mrs. Perrien

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Read Alouds: The first few days

Every teacher and every reading professional probably has a lot to say about those first few read alouds.  Mine were important to me because of their message!  I have settled on a few gems these last few years and I'll share these books now and why I love them.

First, I begin my very first read aloud with the following book, My Many Colored Days, by Dr. Seuss. I use this book because it focuses on all the colors that represent feelings we have from day-to-day, hour-to-hour, and minute-to-minute.  I remind students that we are a classroom full of many colors, every day!  We have to share a common space and get along.  Learning to exist with others, whether they're having a good day or a bad day, is a valuable life skill.

Next, I read the book, Sneetches, also by Dr. Seuss.  This book is great for an introduction to playground politics.  The playground is an important part of kid's development.  Kids have independent choice (Or at least whatever choice is left over after the insurance company has ruined all the fun.) and make decisions about what to do and who to play with without their parents or teachers telling them what choices they should be making.  They must make tough choices, solve problems, and learn to stand up for themselves.  Sneetches teache about people who discriminate and how those being discriminated against solve their problem.  It's a great story to teach students about solving their own playground struggles.

My school last year chose the book, One by Kathryn Otoshi, to help focus our year-long theme.  It's a great story about being the one!  It's about accepting the differences of others, standing up for others, and learning to be the one and do the right thing.

Another book I read in the fall is about writing and is called The Best Story.  This story is a perfect share you you begin your writing workshop.  The book is about a child who tries to listen TOO MUCH to others' ideas of good writing; she learns to listen more to herself and eventually realizes that the best stories ceme from within us as writers.


One of the favorite parts of my job as a teacher is reading aloud.  (Of course, there are many favorites to my job!) I love reading novels and have some favorites that lend themselves to a fall classroom.  I absolutely love using 101 Ways to Bug Your Parents by Lee Wardlaw.  It's a perfect book for the fall readers and writers workshops.  It helps me teach about the routines of both workshops; plus it lends itself to teaching about writing leads and endings, writing strong dialogue, balancing dialogue and action, plus much more.

In reading workshop we use as students go through the work of getting to know themselves as readers.  We use it to work through the visualization strategy plus teaching about strong characters.  101 Ways to Bug Your Parents is loved by both girls and boys!

There are a lot of other great novels, too, such as My Side of the Mountain and Bud, Not Buddy.  Do you have other recommendations for fall read alouds?


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Teaching about Genres

To begin, let me say that I don't address all my comments about teaching genres to whether or not they meet the Common Core State Standards.  Michigan (my home state) adopted the Core Standards a few years ago so they are the standards that I must teach.  Having said that, I don't plan every bit of my teaching around these standards.  For starters, the Core Standards aren't universally supported by education professionals.  Many in the field are concerned about their implementation across the country and the resulting impact on children.  Others are worried about their appropriateness.  The following link will take you to Appendix A from the Common Core Standards website: 

This link is a discussion of the research supporting key elements of the standards.

Today's post is a simple discussion of genre instruction (and not a post about whether too little or too much time is spent teaching about genres).  The above appendix document spends a great deal of time debating the need for text complexity in K-12 reading.  I don't debate this theory at all.  However, I argue that it matters in K-12 instruction whether or not students understand the difference between mystery, science fiction, and fantasy.  It matters that students understand what makes up a historical fiction novel.  Poetry matters.  The amount of classroom instructional time needed to teach about these genres makes their instruction a part of my reading workshop.  Plus, certain genres ARE required per my grade level's core standards!

To start, I'll tell you how I design genre instruction.  It starts with the idea that we study a genre a month. I write down all the genres on slips of paper, put them into a bowl and each month we draw a new genre.  Of course, I MAKE SURE that we pull certain genres at certain times of the year!  This allows for there to be a level of excitement in the classroom during the monthly drawing. ("Ohhh...I hope it's mystery this month!")  At the same time, someone always's just the way it goes!

Once a genre is drawn I spend at least two mini-lessons teaching about the properties of the genre.  We create a chart that hangs on the Reading Workshop bulletin board and students take notes in their reading journal.  Next, I require a monthly homework project linked to the genre.  Students are required to read a book from that genre as homework (They are required to read up to 35 minutes for nightly homework) and then create a project teaching about that book while using knowledge gained from a previous month's literary skills, strategies, or devices lesson.  So, students might make a character traits poster while reading a mystery.  They might create a conflict diorama while reading fantasy.  Student feedback on these projects has generally been positive.  They know at the beginning of the month their genre and their project.  This allows them to design the reading and the project around their month's schedule.

Throughout the month I check in with students on their project progress and we discuss the books being read.  Students may read these books in class or at home. (I just don't give class time for their project work.)  I also don't like to accept projects early...only because we usually have a "share day" where projects are set up and presented to each other in small groups, partners, or similar.

My favorite tidbit to share from genre instruction, as well as the reason I strongly believe in its necessity is that it helps to create lifelong readers!  I have had many students over the years tell me they wouldn't have ever read a "mystery, science fiction, etc.."if I hadn't taught about it and had a reading/project requirement.

I don't have any fancy handouts, worksheets, etc for this post because they aren't needed.  Simply know that genres necessary for your grade level instruction (see your grade level state or common core standards), teach about them, and decide how students will read these during your school year.

Here's to reading!

--Mrs. Perrien

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Oh my goodness...She's back to blogging about reading!


I'm back and with a purpose.  I have changed perspectives this year and will be attending Michigan State University this fall as a doctoral student.  Yay me!  I plan to focus on literacy instruction.  I'm super excited about this change in my career and in my life!

I plan to spend time updating this blog with all that I can share about classroom reading instruction--specifically the reading workshop method.  I won't bore with what I do those first few months.  (It's  already on my blog...) In fact, I plan to update my readers by focusing these next few weeks on genres and strategies rather than a day-by-day focus.  Follow along, everyone!

Here's to reading!


Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Reading Corner

Most fiction books are located on these shelves.  Subject area books are located in their respective areas:  math, language, science, social studies, and writing workshop.  Students simply write down their name on a clipboard along with the name of the book they want to read.

My reading charts hang just to the right of the bookshelf area.  
An easel is actually JUST to the left of this picture.

Characters in Fiction

For the past week and a half my students have been studying characters in fiction.  Characters are critical to learn and discuss.  Characters are connected to the plot and make a good story great!

We have focused on the following:

Character Traits--words that define characters, both good and bad.

Types of Characters--main and secondary, as well as the difference between secondary and nonessential characters.  It was important for my students to understand that the man serving pop at the restaurant counter (in a given story) is not a secondary character, but rather a nonessential character.

Roles that Characters Take--Mainly, we discussed the protagonist and antagonist and how each are super important to the plot.

Characters Thoughts and Action--Why do characters say what they say and do what they do?  This was a fun discussion, and an important one.  Many of my students identified with a character's thoughts and actions, but many also commented on why they would never do what a character did!

Now my students may respond in their reading journals and discuss characters!

I should also point out that we don't have as much to write about for the past 4 weeks due to testing.  Many days of school in October were test days and that meant adjustments to our RW schedule.  We didn't cover as much to make sure that what we covered would count.

**I would love to post my charts but they all keep loading sideways, despite the facts that they are saved vertically in iPhoto.  Some days...sigh...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Getting to Know Your Reading Self

I believe Lucy Calkins calls it, "Building a Reader's Life."  In either case, we also spent the month of September getting to know our reading selves!  I can't stress how important it is that children be given the chance to learn about themselves as readers.  Consider this:  when was the last time you were asked what books you like to read and the person asking really wanted to know?  Then...that same person asked you to set goals for yourself as a reader?!

This is just one of many questions I ask my students in September.  I also ask (Thanks to Amy Buckner):

  • What is your history as a reader?
  • What keeps you reading?
  • What I know to be true about reading...
  • Books I love!

We also set reading resolutions (A lesson I stole from the Units of Study), discussed how to read faster, stronger, and longer (again...Units of Study), plus learned and practiced the importance of working with our literature partners.

I am excited about the possibilities this year will continue to offer for my students.  I am choosing to embrace the Common Core standards as a way to deepen my instruction and to make my instruction more valuable!

As we worked through this first month we read the following books:

(I'm probably missing one or two..)

We are now reading the following chapter book by the awesome Montessori-trained Lee Wardlaw: 101 Ways to Bug Your Parents.  The lessons we have pulled from this book have been useful for both reader's and writer's workshop.

People have asked, what program do you use for your reader's workshop?  I don't use any one program.  I jumped into Reader's Workshop before it was the "in" thing in my district.  I read Amy Buckner and Frank Serafini in the summer.  I had just finished reading and using the Writing Workshop Units of Study.  I figured that I could do this for reading!  My RW is my own creation.  It is not a curriculum or a program, rather my RW is a framework for instruction.  I use my student's needs to select lessons and guide student learning.  That's how I, "get it done!"