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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?