Sunday, March 17, 2013

Instructional Practice and Purpose~ Are They Inline?

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller is this year's focus for the Literacy Connection in Central Ohio. My reflection today in on Chapter 6, Cutting the Teacher Strings. As I started to read this chapter I thought the chapter would share ways to make kids more independent. I was surprised to see my thinking turned more to myself and my practices. Doanlyn asks us to look at our teaching, do you have a "Tried and True" that really isn't so true? Do you need to cut your teacher strings? 

Looking at Instructional Purpose~ 
In Chapter 6, Cutting the Teacher Strings Donalyn challenges us to look at our current classroom practices and ask ourselves if our methods are achieving the goals we intend. Or do we find practices that are so engrained in what we do we do them automatically without considering the effect or purpose?  Donalyn borrowed a term from educational policy leader Richard Elmore "unexamined wallpaper" to describe these engrained practices.  Donalyn shares with us how she closely examines common practices in reading and works to adapt these practices to be more in line with the habits of real readers, her beliefs about readers and motivating to students.

I Was Surprised ~ 
Donalyn goes on to share her thoughts on several common practices in reading classes and her ideas to refocus these practices to meet the needs of real readers, not school readers. Of the several practices shared one really caught my attention, whole class novels. Those of you who know me or follow my blog know I teach first grade so I am sure you are wondering why this particular practice struck me. Of course the readers in my class aren't reading a whole class novel?! But what I do practice that is similar is our content instruction.

My Unexamined Wallpaper~
We all have those units, books or strategies that we turn to each year, our fallbacks. The ones we can turn to in a second and begin teaching. I am a purpose driven teacher, I am always asking, "Why are we doing this? What's our purpose?" So when I started to think about my current practices, the ones I have repeated, I was not expecting to have something JUMP out so easily! But I did-
I struggle with making content instruction engaging and motivating. Our current practice is a class read aloud or shared reading with a collection of books on a particular topic, class discussion and some type of charting or independent writing. This practice is most certainly unexamined wallpaper! Many of the kids are often disengaged and in need of more involvement and discovery.

The Alternative~
Donalyn suggest book groups as an alternative to whole class novels. Book groups allow kids to be actively involved and working from a variety of texts (at varying levels) and to build a common understanding. Book groups are developed around understandings you want your students to gain. Donalyn begins by writing a few guiding questions students will work to answer. This provides the evidence of student understanding. She uses a book pass strategy, which gives the students an opportunity to choose books they would like to read during the study. This strategy also helps the teacher determine the members of the book groups.

All reading and discussions are centered around the same guiding questions, all kids work on a common topic and work at an instructional or independent level. Book groups provide more involvement and discovery giving the kids agency over their learning. Reading from a variety of texts gives the readers differing points of view which builds deeper discussions and provide broader understandings.

Envisioning Book Groups in First Grade~
I envision book clubs in science and social studies first, but I could see book groups in comparing characters over stories, comparing authors style and craft as well as other literature themes. Book groups have great potential to increase student engagement, differentiate learning and guide understanding. By determining our guiding questions, collecting text at various levels, and working in small groups kids will be able to do the work collaboratively. Discussions would be centered on our guiding questions,  I would simply be conferring and recording learning.

Book Groups in a Workshop Model~
Book groups would begin with short focus lesson based the guiding questions and student needs (demonstrating collaborative skills, recording information, sharing information, working to a common understanding, determining importance etc.). The focus lesson would be followed by groups of 3-5 members working collaboratively to discover understandings to the guiding questions. All conversation and student writing would be based on evidence from the text and shared in a variety of ways. Students can choose from post-it-notes to computers, adding even more differentiation and motivation. Following the work session book groups would gather in a share circle to share their learning and learn from others through class discussion, led by the groups.

My Role~
Determine content area of focus and guiding questions.
Gather books, web sites, poetry, magazines and other print media at a variety of levels on one topic.
Lead Focus lesson.
Confer with groups during work time to determine support and understanding.
Record common understandings during discussions.

While I am not practicing whole class novels in first grade I do see book group practices to be more in line with the habits of real readers, my beliefs about readers and motivating to students!

You can read more about Chapter 6 Cutting the Teacher Strings at Enjoy and Embrace by @MandyRobek.

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