Sunday, September 2, 2012

Pacing our Mini Lessons

During the "beginning of the year" rush, it can sometimes be tempting to want to push through some of the first few lessons on setting up reading workshop with my students.  We have multiple mini lessons to present to our students in order that they begin to see the workings of what our daily routine will look like.  I am so eager for them to dig into reading, to experience new books, and to see the value of conferring and responding appropriately and thoughtfully to books they are reading independently.  In planning for lessons, I see ahead the work I need to do with assessing them with beginning-of-the-year assessments, and it can sometimes be difficult to slow down.  But it's so important to do so.

To ensure that my pacing matches what my students need, I must be an excellent listener during discussions.  If my students have a strong command of the various genres in our classroom library, for instance, I may not need to focus as much on direct instruction on this specific topic.  I will want to gain students' background knowledge of the genres in general so that I can clear up any misconceptions or misunderstandings, but for the most part, I can move on with other important mini lessons once students show me their knowledge about various aspects of reading.  

Using anchor charts is one way to guide our mini lessons.  It's a practice that most teachers find extremely beneficial, because it helps students revisit important parts of reading workshop later on, whether directly in a review mini lesson, or simply when a student rereads the anchor chart on her own for clarification.  Anchor charts allow students to see a "timeline" of their reading learning as the year goes by.  Using these charts promotes what is most important for students to remember as the school year progresses.  One note on anchor charts (as most teachers already know):  I create new anchor charts every year.  I want student language and participation on these charts.  Yes, I may rewrite their ideas and contributions neatly on these anchor charts, but I make it clear to them that it's their thinking that appears on the charts.  Such an action gives students a great deal more ownership of their learning.  They will be more likely to refer to these charts through the year, as a result.

By presenting my reading workshop mini lessons at a proper pace with my students, I know that they truly grasp the purpose behind instruction.  They can see the reason for my taking time to discuss something in detail.  Our mini lessons should represent important aspects of setting up our classroom for reading and writing behaviors, or the focus can also be part of our required curriculum.

By taking the appropriate amount of time with my mini lessons, I am happier in the classroom as I guide my students to understand what workshop will look like in the current year.  Do I want my students to see workshop as a harried, rather frantic period of time, or an appropriately paced (yet busy), productive time?  I want the schedule to flow and make sense for my students. 

In keeping with my personal goal of "quality," not just "quantity" (in reference to my instruction), I challenge all of us to remember that our school year, while sometimes very hectic and certainly crammed with all of our curricular "must do's," will flow much more smoothly (and meaningfully) if we just keep an eye on what we want most from our reading workshop time.  It's not necessarily about crossing off all the standards we need to teach (although that is certainly important and what we are paid in part to do), but it's about creating a classroom community of readers; it's about students who bring their knowledge, their current views on reading, their questions, and their abilities to reach higher in their thinking and love of books.  It's a challenge I look forward to each year with my group of learners.  

I must keep this blog post message in mind as the year gains momentum, and tempts me to go faster, to put more and more into my lessons.  It will be good to recall the recognition I have in this moment, and to focus on meeting my students' needs.  I can then be cognizant about one of my most sacred responsibilities, that of guiding and supporting kids on their journey toward loving to read.

Here is an anchor chart we build together toward the beginning of the year.  I like this mini lesson because it helps readers of all abilities to see what good readers really do as they engage with text.  Additionally, this chart is something I can use as I confer with kids; sometimes I can pull aspects of this chart into setting goals with students as the year progresses.  

Here's to a great year of building our reading and writing workshop with our students, one mini lesson at a time!

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