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Friday, June 27, 2014

Diggin' Into Next Year - Organization of the Literacy Block

Welcome to week 5 of the Diggin' Into Next Year linky party hosted by Laura from Where the Magic Happens. This week's topic is organizing the literacy block. I work in a district that is very committed to guided reading and balanced literacy. For the past 7 years I have organized my literacy block with the district's time guidelines in mind:
  • 60 minutes for shared reading/writing
  • 60 minutes for writers' workshop
  • 60 minutes for guided reading
If you do the math and add in everything else such as math, recess, lunch, PE, music, library, science, social studies, computers, etc., you quickly realize the day is not long enough for it all. Integration has been my get it all in method. That's worked pretty good for me. However this past year I started a professional book club among the teachers at my school. We voted on books to read and our first book was The CAFE Book by The Sisters. There were many things I liked about the book but as I already said my district is very committed to guided reading. Plus I am teaching first grade right now and guided reading is a great instructional strategy for emerging readers.

Today I'll be diggin' into what really hit me from The CAFE Book and how it changed my organization of the literacy block.
And that was how much they broke up the instructional time. Their students did a round of independent reading, then they did a group activity, another round of independent reading, more group work, and so on throughout the day. Yet here I am asking my first graders to independently work at their centers for 60 straight minutes. I started thinking about how much more productive they would be if they were only asked to work for 20 straight minutes at a time. So right then and there I made the change. Yes, it was January and I thought why not give it a go for the third term. It actually meant a lot of changes. Before this my centers were a little more loosey goosey. I figured I didn't care what activities my students were doing as long as they were reading and writing. I used a must do/can do approach. There were two things they had to do (independent book bag reading and one other activity of my choosing) and then they could pick from any literacy center activity. I realized that if I was going to break up my center times, I needed a more organized approach to centers. I quickly read The Daily Five by the same authors.
This is a new edition of the book. I need to order it and see the changes they've included
 because I've only read the original version.
Now in the past I have hated a timed center rotation with a passion. I have always thought it was difficult to have all the centers last the right amount of time, plus what if I needed extra time with a group or less time with another. Of course, this was in the old days of a different center activity for each center, each day. The Daily Five actually gave my loosey goosey approach more structure.  Almost all of the activities I already had established fit into one of their "daily five." 

Ok, so there's six here. Respond to Reading is an added one, but I rotated it with Word Work so that we only had 5 on any given day. I had my students pick the center they wanted to start with but then they had to rotate from there in a certain order. I put smaller versions of the cards for the daily five activities in my pocket chart. As students came in for the day, they put their name under the activity they wanted to begin with and then I rotated the cards as we switched throughout the day. Now I have to admit that this REALLY broke up my day. But you can't believe how fast the day went - we were just moving. Talk about improving my pacing! The day looked like this:
  1. Math Calendar
  2. Round 1 of guided reading
  3. Whole class time - 20 minutes
  4. Round 2 of guided reading
  5. Whole class read-aloud - 10 minutes
  6. Round 3 of guided reading
  7. Recess
  8. Math
  9. Lunch
  10. Round 4 of guided reading
  11. Whole class time - 25 minutes
  12. Writer's Workshop mini-lesson whole class
  13. Writer's Workshop
  14. Computers/PE/Music/Library/Art times
Now as you can see, there's not a lot of time for whole class lessons. That was hard for me. So I had to look for some things to cut out. First on the list was phonics and handwriting practice. I realized that phonics and handwriting practice was probably not as effective in a whole class situation. With a full 20 minutes per reading group, why not fit them in there? Think about it this way - If you are teaching students how to use a final -e to make a letter use it's long vowel sound to the whole class, you probably have a big chunk of students who already know this. Now they are either tuning you out or yelling out answers before others have time to think. You also have a group of students who are still struggling with their short vowel sounds. You are now teaching something they aren't ready for. They are either tuning you out or starting to feel frustrated. So what does this leave? THE group of kids who need this. They are the ones ready to learn this. But all around are kids that are tuned out, yelling out answers, misbehaving, etc. because they themselves aren't ready for this. So why not take a small focused group and teach them exactly what they need. A 20 minutes lesson to everyone can probably be condensed into only 5 minutes with a small group. Now what about handwriting practice. Yes, I want my students to learn to correctly form the letters. But with 26 kids, it's hardly a guided practice. For some it just became practice in the wrong formation of the letter because I couldn't catch their mistakes right away. Once I put this into a small group, the practice took a minute or two and I was right there to help everyone.

Now this past year, I was lucky, my overload technician was a credentialed teacher who is now going into the classroom as a teacher. She had also been working with me for 3 years, so I had her take over my calendar time and I actually got in a sixth group each day. That's 30 guided reading groups per week. I was meeting with every group, every day and the results were amazing growth. It's really made me more committed to making this work again. year I won't have someone to take over calendar. So there goes one group per day. I could still get 20 groups in per week and my class size should be a little smaller so maybe I could have 5 groups and still get everyone in. But the schedule just doesn't leave enough time for everything. So next year I need to work on integrating more into our daily center activities. When we are writing informational books about spiders, I'll have my students read spider books and record new information during read with someone. When I have writing activities outside of our writer's workshop, we can use our work on writing center. I don't need another whole class lesson time when I can integrate these activities into our daily centers. Also, I think I have to consider going to 4 days a week or maybe 4 groups per day at least for part of the year. Still working this out in my mind. I would love to hear how others are doing this. How do you get it all in and what do you feel like you can leave out? I would love to have you leave some comments.
I know I mentioned that I was trying it for the third term, well, I didn't go back. I kept it this way for the fourth term too. Why? Because in an hour of guided reading, I was talking to kids constantly after the first, maybe the second group. They just couldn't go for an entire hour independently. By breaking it up I found that my students were more focused, they were able to work independently in 20 minute blocks thus cutting down on behavior problems and they were more productive. They were using their time better. I will definitely break up my time next year too. You probably already noticed that I don't have just an hour of guided reading, with this new schedule I'm actually getting in an hour and 40 minutes. I definitely want to keep that the same.

You may like some of my free word work activities:

During my guided reading word work I use Guess the Missing Word on the iPad. It's so easy and already prepared.

My next post in the Diggin' Into Next Year series will be on July 13. We'll be talking about writing instruction that week. Hope you'll come back for it. In the meantime, you can head over to Where the Magic Happens to look for more link ups about organizing the literacy block.

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