Balanced Literacy: Planning for Teaching During Independent Work Time

Balanced Literacy: Planning for Teaching During Independent Work Time

Welcome back to our balanced literacy series! Today the focus is on planning for teaching during independent work time. What happens after you’ve sent the kids off the carpet? You know, when they’re all reading different books and writing different stories?  Let’s talk about different options you have and how to know when to choose what. 

Don’t forget to stop by every Tuesday  to gain a better insight into using a balanced literacy framework within your classroom! 

Off You Go!

You just taught a fabulous 7-12 minute mini-lesson and ended with those three magical and inspiring words. Your readers or writers leap off the carpet ready for action but… you linger in the chair. What now? What is your off you go? There are so many variables that could happen next for you and there is no coach in your classroom everyday to guide your choices. Let’s talk about them and ease your mind a bit so that the next time you say off you go you can go off with just as much confidence as your students! 

Reading: Now What?

First things first before you can work with your readers you need to know where they are. Perhaps your school uses F&P BAS to assess readers throughout the year. Maybe your school uses DRA. Hopefully your school has some sort of system in place to assess readers. If not, it’s your lucky day because now you can become the advocate for your school. Research the systems available and determine which one would work best for your students. I advocated to switch from DRA to BAS at my current school and it took two whole years to do the convincing but now we switched and wouldn’t look back! 

So before you can begin teaching readers you need to assess readers. You need to know exactly where they are. What is your baseline? What do they know and can do independently? What do they partially know but still need teaching on? What do they not yet know at all? You need to be able to answer these three questions for each reader in your class and the class as a whole. Then you need to determine what is the critical next step in teaching that they can work to take on independently and how you’re going to teach them. Let’s go! 

One on One Instruction

Conferring is the primary mode of one on one instruction in reading. There are many different types of conferences you can have with your students. I usually begin my year or my unit with compliment only conferences. This reinforces the skills that students know while I jot down everything they’re going to need to work on within the unit. Then I choose what students I will confer with to meet goals and what students I would prefer to use a small group for.

Some years I have conferred with all readers and done no groups. Some years I have conferred with a limited amount. It all depends on your readers and you. 

Group Instruction

Small group instruction in reading can come in two different forms. Guided reading groups or strategy groups each have their own purposes and structures. It is up to you to decide which is best for your readers. If your readers are grade 2 or above you might also consider book clubs. We won’t talk about book clubs today and instead focus on the other methods. I am going to say this right now so that we’re all clear. Ready to listen? THERE IS NO ROUND ROBIN READING IN ANY OF THESE GROUPS. None. Don’t even think about it. Don’t. Ok, now that you know, let’s talk about each one. 

Guided Reading

During a guided group all students will be at the same level and will all read the same book. Guided reading lessons last for 15-20 minutes. During the lesson the teacher will introduce a new text, students will read the text at their own pace and the teacher will listen in, afterwards the teacher will lead the students in a comprehension conversation. Sometimes a guided reading group also includes word work.

Strategy Group

During a strategy group all students might be at different levels and reading different books. They will be practicing the same strategy or skill. Strategy groups don’t last very long maybe only a week or two, sometimes less. The teacher will teach the skill or strategy and each child will practice in their own text at their own level. Sometimes the teacher will provide the text sometimes students choose what text to bring. Strategy groups will last 10-15 minutes. 

Conferring

Conferring is one-on-one with just a student and the teacher. The teacher typically follows the Research, Decide, Compliment, Teach method. First the teacher will observe and research the skills the reader has and does not have yet. The teacher will decide what teaching is best for this student next. Then the teacher will compliment the reader to reinforce a skill they have. Next the teacher will teach a new skill and practice it a few times with the reader before the reader is left on their own. This lasts about 5-7 minutes. 

Writing: Now What?

One on One Instruction

I would have to say that this is the form of student & teacher work that I engage in most often in writing. I do small group instruction from time to time but have found that writers need more one on one instruction. This is just my personal experience. Take it with a grain of salt because you know your writers better than I do… I don’t even know them at all. Conferring is the name of the game. 

Group Instruction

Sometimes there is a need to pull a strategy group together. When I taught grade 3, I pulled a strategy group on using paragraphs once. Last week I pulled a strategy group on putting spaces between our words when we write. Group instruction should be between 10-15 minutes and should be short term. 

What Now?

Create a document that shows what your readers know and what sort of know and what they don’t yet know. Similar to this one I’ve created below. Please know that these are made up children and are in no way based on actual students in my class currently or in my class previously. I believe it is really important to keep all student data private. The example listed is just for reading. 

 

In looking at this data I might want to do a whole class mini-lesson on 1:1 matching. I realize that we don’t all have a class size of 10… I don’t have a class size of 10! 

Depending on the students I could pull Amari, Ania, Filip, and Oscar into a strategy group on fluency. Since these are just made up children we don’t really know much else about their fluency. As the teacher of your class you would know more details. 

Michael and Rick might get pulled into a guided reading group together. They can work to build high frequency words and work on their 1:1 matching skills. 

Kuba and Piotr might work well in a guided reading group. Kuba might do more of the work during a text introduction while Piotr might do a little more of the work during the conversation that follows reading. Victor could also fall into this group if his needs were similar. Victor could also be a candidate for conferring. 

Randy would be a good candidate for conferring because he needs to work on skills that don’t necessarily match the other readers. 

Knowing your students is the key to responsive teaching. Try to make a chart like this for your class. You might want to add columns to reflect the zone of proximal development. One column could be for known skills, one for skills within the zone of proximal development, and one for unknown skills. This will help you start to look at your class. You might notice that you need to add in a whole class mini-lesson on something. Knowing your readers and writers is essential to teaching. Take the week and get to know your kids! 

What's Next?

Each Tuesday a new post will appear giving you more insight into the life of a balanced literacy teacher! Next week our post will focus on conferring during independent reading or writing time.

Use the comments section to ask any lingering questions or leave any comments with things I can do to better help you on this journey to implementing a balanced literacy framework within your classroom.

How do you look at student data? How do your observations guide your instruction? What questions do you have about planning for instruction? 

Changing Our Thinking: Using Pictures While Reading

Changing Our Thinking: Using Pictures While Reading

There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing young readers using pictures in stories as they read.

What We Used to Think

Checking the pictures in stories used to be seen as almost cheating when reading the stories. I remember as a child thinking that looking at the pictures was meant for after reading the words. Recently a parent was in my classroom reading a story but refused to show students the pictures saying they would only pay attention to the pictures and not the words. Not only were the kids disappointed they missed an opportunity to use the pictures to help them build an understanding of the text as the story was read aloud. 

Pictures are in texts for a reason. They support the reader to make meaning as they work through a text. To not allow a student access to pictures is to inhibit their understanding of the text. Let’s explore this shift in thinking even further.

Text Levels and Pictures

When a child begins to read at lower levels the entire story is in the picture. If the line of print says The car is blue, on the page is a picture of a blue car. The next page says the car is orange and a picture of an orange car is on the page. This is because children at this level need the illustration to support them as readers. To not have the illustration would mean that they can’t decode the text. 

As children move up in levels the picture support within text gradually fades away. As students know more and more words they use the pictures for decoding less and less. Sometimes authors may use the illustrations to add in bits of the stories that aren’t being told through the words. Here are a few examples of texts at different levels and a description of the picture support at that level. 

Level A

At a level A kids are just beginning to develop their reading skills. They are learning that books are read from left to right. They are learning that there is a relationship between sounds and letters. You’ll notice that text in a level A is limited. It consists of one line of print that a student would read using the support of their finger moving from word to word. These books often follow a pattern. In the book above the text follows the “Here is the ____” pattern as the students read about making this rabbit craft. You’ll notice that the words on the page match the picture exactly. Level A provides simple text and the narrative is completely told within the pictures. It is at this beginning level that readers are prompted to check the picture when they get stuck. All information included in the text is included in the illustrations. 

Level D

At a level D kids are finding more lines on a page than they were in previous levels. These readers use the pictures to attach meaning to the story and the picture still provides a high level of support to the story. You’ll notice that possible unknown words such as beach or water can be determined using support from the picture and perhaps initial letter sound. Students read a level D at the end of Kindergarten/beginning of first grade.

Level H

Notice how the demand of the reader has shifted from an D to a H. We expect kids to exit grade 1 around a level I/J. Within that first grade year the demands within the text levels change quite drastically. After level E the high level of picture support for a text begins to shift. In a level H there is moderate picture support. The story is mostly told through the text but the pictures help support readers and they decode a text. If a reader at a level H isn’t sure about the word climbed in the last line they can still use the picture to help their understanding. If they aren’t sure about the word stick, there isn’t much picture support to help in the decoding of that word. 

Level K

In a level K the use of pictures begins to shift. Now readers have many decoding strategies and are able to decode a high number of words with high accuracy. In a level K the text will sometimes demand that the reader search for information in the pictures or graphics. Readers who are still relying heavily on picture clues to decode words often get stuck at a level K because of the limited picture support. Prior to this level many other decoding strategies need to be taught to gradually release the reader from relying solely on picture support. A typical student will approach a level K text about half way through second grade. Notice how the pictures are still important and still provide support however the type of support provided has shifted. 

Level N

At approximately a level N the use of pictures in stories shifts again. Now there is little to no picture support for readers as they work through the text. This picture provides a bit of context. I see two people on a beach. I can tell that it is probably cold out and they are looking at something dirty. If you read the text on this page you will find out a lot more details. The pictures don’t provide support for decoding anymore and they don’t provide additional information to add on to the text. Readers at this level are now reliant on the text and the illustrations are there for enjoyment. Readers reach a level N at the beginning of grade 3. 

As you can see, pictures in stories help the reader build meaning or make sense of a story. If we don’t allow students access to pictures then we are taking away an essential coding system that helps readers work through a text. If students aren’t using the pictures as they read this should be a teaching point that is worked on. Text levels gradually release responsibility to the reader similar to the entire balanced literacy framework. We don’t need and shouldn’t cover up pictures as students work to read texts. 

Three Coding Systems- M, S, V

As readers work through text they use three coding systems: meaning, structure, and visual.

Meaning- Does this make sense?

Structure- Does this sound right? 

Visual- Does this look right?

Using Meaning

We want readers to be cross-checking and using all systems of coding but today we’re focused on meaning. When students are using meaning they are connecting the words in the text, noticing relationships and putting the story together. Illustrations in a text are a source of meaning as a reader decodes the text.

When a child makes meaning of a text they are not only using the words and the illustrations, they also draw upon other sources such as background knowledge and life experiences, sense of how a story works, experiences with books and language.

These meaning cues help readers to make sense of the text as they work through it. Students can use meaning to notice errors in a story when the plot no longer makes sense. They can make connections to their life and what they know using meaning. It helps them to hold the sense of story as they work through page after page of text. Meaning helps readers understand the main ideas in a text and the ideas that support those ideas. It helps them to read with fluency and expression. It even helps them swap out words for words that still make sense (mom for mother). Meaning is essential for a reader.

Prompting

Please check out this post all about using prompts with children. 

As readers we constantly ask ourselves does this make sense? as we move through stories. We want our students to do the same. To do so we prompt our students for these missing skills. This is, of course, after we have already taught and modeled the prompt for them. To learn more about prompting please check out this post. Some prompts for meaning could be

-Did that make sense?

-Look at the pictures.

-What happened in the story when ______?

-What do you think it might be

-Can you reread this?

Additional Professional Reading

The Fountas and Pinnell Literacy Continuum has been my guide for all things literacy for the past 7 years. This year I finally got the new updated version and I could not love it more. 

I know that it may seem costly but you will get your money’s worth out of it. Included in the text are sections about the various components of a balanced literacy framework, the expectations at each grade level, as well as a detailed description of each guided reading text level. These descriptions help me determine how to problem solve points of error amongst students, predict possible areas of struggle and extend the learning within each level. It is worth the investment! There isn’t a single day of teaching that I don’t reference it at least once. 

A preview can be found at the Heinemann link below.

Click here to view on Heinemann, Amazon US, and Amazon UK. None of these links are affiliate links. 

Changing Our Thinking

I hope this small shift in thinking is helpful in your classroom!

Leave a comment below about your shift in thinking, any questions you might have, and how this is working for you within the classroom.

The (Reading or Writing) Workshop Essentials

The (Reading or Writing) Workshop Essentials

Welcome back to our balanced literacy series! Today the focus is on the essentials of workshop model teaching.  This post is meant to build a collective understanding of the workshop model used for readers and writers workshop. If you haven’t read the first two posts of the series, take a minute right now to read about the framework and the components. Don’t forget to stop by every Tuesday to gain a better insight on using a balanced literacy framework within your classroom!

Workshop Shifts In Understandings

One of the major shifts in moving to a balanced literacy framework is the role the teacher plays and the role the student plays. The role of the teacher used to be to have all the knowledge and dispense that knowledge to students. The teacher was the expert in the room and the students trained to catch as much of that expert knowledge as they could. This is style of teaching is often referred to as a sage on the stage. If you were to peek into a classroom often we would see students sitting around a teacher probably at their desks and the teacher standing in front of the classroom for the majority of class time. The focus was on the teacher giving information to the students. This teaching style doesn’t match best practices anymore and it doesn’t work for developing 21st century learners.

In a workshop model the teacher is often seen sitting one on one with kids thinking about all that this child knows and pushing their thinking slightly further in one area or another. Think back to the zone of proximal development post. A teacher knows where each child is in the continuum of learning to read or write. She can then analyze student errors, miscues or self corrects (in reading) and then guide the child with teaching directly targeting a skill in their zone of proximal development. A teacher in this model is a guide on the side. Instead of having children spend the majority of their time listening to the teacher dispense knowledge they spend the majority of the time practicing skills that their teacher had taught them. In a workshop model the teacher only gives whole class direct instruction for 10 minutes. Then the role of the teacher shifts to coach as she walks around and guides each student individually or in small groups. 

This shift in how time is spent in the classroom allows students time to practice their craft. What good does it do if one day I teach you all the ways to decode multisyllabic words and then I give you 5 minutes to practice it at the end of class through a worksheet? It doesn’t help you at all. What if I teach you two ways to decode multisyllabic words and then give you 35 minutes to read a book and try it there? Not only letting you try it on your own but I spend a few minutes with you listening in and then coaching your specific need. That sounds like it is extremely beneficial for students. I can tell you from experience that it is. The workshop model allows students more time to practice skills through authentic situations. 

As I’m sure you’ve gathered differentiating using this model of teaching is extremely easy. First of all, each child will be reading or writing on their own at their own level. Then the teacher is pushing in and coaching 1:1 or in small groups to target the ZPD of each student. Each student is getting exactly what they need. It doesn’t matter if in your third grade class you have a child reading at a fourth grade level and one at a first. Both students are receiving the instruction they need to move forward as a reader.

The workshop model also promotes independent problem solving in students. The role of the teacher is not to provide right answers but to guide students to right answers.  Through workshop I teach my students many independent life skills. My little gems are taught how to staple in writer’s workshop. What do I do if my pencil breaks? What if I finish reading all of my books? These are situations where students traditionally might come and ask a teacher what they should do or sometimes as for permission to do things. In a balanced literacy framework a lot of responsibility falls on the students. This is a good thing! It helps to create independent thinkers. Kids in your class don’t need to ask you for permission to do everything. Supplies should be accessible to them. They should know how to problem solve on their own! We want our students to be independent thinkers and doers. Workshop helps to foster those skills.  

Structure

The workshop model is designed to use one hour of instructional time. This means that if you are teaching reading and writing workshop you would need two hours of time. Now, I don’t have this amount of time in my classroom and I only ever have had it once. At one school they had enough time in the schedule carved out to implement workshop with fidelity. I’m going to explain the ideal circumstances here and then let’s talk real world. 

Workshop begins with all students called to the gathering area for a mini-lesson. This means that you’ll want to create a gathering area in your classroom if you don’t have one there already. At my first grade gathering area kids sit at the carpet. When I taught third grade kids were allowed to drag chairs with them but they had to be sitting at the same level as their reading/writing partner. Teachers do this in different ways to meet the different needs of their students. I will say that kids should be gathered close and in one area. Kids sitting around the room at desks doesn’t create the atmosphere desired for workshop. 

Once the class has gathered the teacher begins a 10 minute mini-lesson. Here she goes through a format that is predictable to both the teacher and the students. During the mini-lesson a teacher has one teaching point. Only one! She models how to do the teaching point, she has students try out the methods on their own and then she says the magic words, “off you go!” Once these words are said all students get up off of the carpet and go off to work. There aren’t a million questions asked. The teacher doesn’t start giving a million reminders. It is quiet and calm as readers and writers go off to try new things and grow into even better readers and writers. 

After the words off you go,  I currently go off to read or write for the first three minutes myself. I started this practice when I was teaching third grade in the States.  I began one day sitting next to a reader who typically would try his best to avoid books during workshop. I say next to him for 5 minutes reading before going off to confer. In those five minutes he didn’t pick up a book but he watched me as a reader. He said things like, your face is smiling right now or why do you look confused? He started picking up on my facial expressions. When he tried to interrupt I simply stated, “I’m working on my reading right now and you should be too.” I started doing this again in my grade 1 writing classroom. I have some students who can come up with a million questions they want to ask right after I send them off. Now I get my writing folder and find a spot to write. During the three minutes I might move around the room, calming kids with my presence and encouraging that they write. If someone attempts to interrupt I calmly state, “I am working on my writing right now and you should be too.” Then once I go off to start conferring the kids are already working independently. 

After the magic words off you go, a teacher gets to work on meeting with students one on one or in small groups depending on student need. During this time the students are working independently. While conferring the teacher is studying the student and watching to find what they can do, what they are almost doing and what they can’t do yet. The teacher then makes a powerful choice and teaches the reader/writer one skill or strategy that fits within their zone of proximal development. The students continue working even if the teacher doesn’t meet with them. If they encounter a problem, they solve it on their own.  The students are trying out all of the various strategies that the teacher has taught. The teacher continues the important task of coaching in and guiding each student forward on their journey. 

After about 40-45 minutes work time it is time for share. Share is sometimes the most neglected piece of the workshop model but it is very important. The students gather again in the gathering area of the classroom. Sometimes they bring something with them as prompted by the teacher. The students then share out what they are trying, what they are succeeding in, and what they are struggling with. The community of readers or writers comes together to give advice, compliments and ask questions. The share is carefully planned by the teacher. Sometimes share might be a quick turn and talk. Share ties the lesson together and brings it to a close. During share the teacher will reference the teaching point again and now ask for student voices to share what happened when they tried things out. 

What do I need to Get Started?

Here’s a list of things you may want before diving into the workshop model. 

  • A gathering area within your classroom
  • An easel to hang things on
  • An organizational system for tracking student notes and records
  • Assessments of your students as readers and writers. Do you have a general idea of where kids are in your classroom? 
  • Books for kids to read during reader’s workshop and paper for them to write on during writer’s workshop
  • Start to look at your schedule and your language arts time blocks. Do you have 1 hour to carve out for reading and 1 hour for writing? If you don’t, do not panic. Next week we’ll be talking about scheduling and what to do if you don’t have the perfect amounts of time. 
  • Write all of your questions, comments, concerns in the comments of this post so I can help you out along this journey. 

What's Next?

We’re going to stay with workshop a while so we can really get into all of the pieces together. Hopefully you’re starting to feel like taking on workshop and balanced literacy won’t be such a large task. We’re going to break it down into manageable chunks. Start to shift around things in your classroom to prepare for workshop. Let me know all of your questions too so I can help you out.  

Each Tuesday a new post will appear giving you more insight into the life of a balanced literacy teacher! Next week our post will center around scheduling. Maybe you’re realizing that you don’t have enough time in the day for this, neither do I. We’ll talk all about what to do about this next week. 

 

Use the comments section to ask any lingering questions or leave any comments so I can better help you on this journey to implementing a balanced literacy framework within your classroom.