Last year when I took a leave of absence, I let the teacher who was filling in for me know about the rationale for my decisions but also about how I discovered that I would have wanted to try to layer both back in if I was going to be in the classroom again. She met the same challenges with time though.
This summer when thinking through how we could reconfigure the schedule, one option that came up was having a common time where all students are doing their independent reading. I had mixed feelings about it. On one hand it made me nervous. It was hard enough for me and my push-in colleague to feel like we were able to confer regularly enough with all students. How would that feel with all three grade levels in one common time? Nonetheless, when I looked past that nervousness and considered the alternative, facing the time crunch, I realized that it was time to also consider the advantages of the change in the schedule.
The top advantage is that students will have a guaranteed time and space for reading independently four days a week (Friday the schedule is completely different for PBLs and Electives). Another huge benefit that I love about it is that students will get to see all of their teachers as readers and adults who care about them as readers. In addition, students receiving special education services for reading were pulled out during my reading workshop and did not have an opportunity to have choice in what they were reading during their pull-out session. Now they will be able to participate in the independent reading portion of the day and still receive their pull-out services at another time.
I also thought about how while my colleague and I won't necessarily be able to interact with each student as regularly, we will have at least three other teachers to help us. Here is the initial vision of how it will look:
- 6th, 7th, and 8th grade will each be in a classroom. The fourth teacher on our prep school team who does not have her own classroom will be in mine. The push-in teacher and I will have flexibility to rotate around the three rooms. I recently found out that we will most likely also have one special education assistant who will push-in as well.
- Our first priority will be making sure that kids are engaged and motivated to read. As a team of 5-6 adults, we will be closely observing to see who already has an established habit of reading and a high motivation versus students who can use more support to make sure that they have a book they will enjoy.
- My push-in colleague and I will be able to provide support with conferring. The great thing about conferring is that it will not require any outside planning/preparation (other than conversations about it and time to reflect) - something that we wanted to be careful about when considering how the shift would impact other teachers.
- Eventually we will layer in book clubs. Having one common reading time will allow for multi-grade face-to-face book clubs. The groupings will be more flexible. Other teachers will have the option of opting in or to continue conferring, as facilitating a book club would require time outside of the independent reading time slot in order to read a book along with the students. Other staff, such as administrators are interested in seeing if they can participate in book clubs at times as well.
Reconfiguring how the space for students to have choice and read independently shifts other aspects of my typical routines and procedures. I have been thinking through the check-out process for books as well as status of the class. I have been thinking about goal setting and students playing a more active role through self-assessments and reflection.
I look forward to seeing how it all emerges as well as the deep reflection that is sure to come with a shift like this. Sometimes in education, it is necessary to try something even though aspects of it make us a little nervous. Looking beyond those feelings to consider how there is the potential for something great and then problem solving how the logistics of a shift can have a big pay off.