Saturday, August 18, 2012

Scheduling, Scheduling, Scheduling

As maybe all workshop teachers, each year is a new opportunity to consider how to maximize the time that I have for each class period, determining how to prioritize. Over the last three years that I have taught the amount of time that I have had has varied as our school has grown and schedules have changed. The third year when trying to squeeze everything in, I ended up not including word study or a read aloud with my 6th-8th graders. Nonetheless, I wasn't happy with the shift. It was just one possible way to try to provide sufficient time for students to read and write, balanced with instruction/discussions. I continued to reflect on the impact of those decisions throughout the year.

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.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

This time last year for the first time since I started teaching I was not setting up my classroom. Instead I was helping a colleague set up her classroom as I took a one year leave of absence in order to fill in as a sabbatical replacement in teacher education. I have not blogged as much as I would have liked to as my experiences last year, possibly because the experiences were different than the general topics I typically write about on my blog.

In many ways, taking the leave of absence was a great way to stand back and reflect on my classroom practice while also revisiting my own teacher preparation program. Interacting with pre-service teachers and seeing education through their lenses reminded me of the dynamics of those in my teacher ed program. It reminded me of my passion and my vision for education before I stepped into my first full-time teaching position. It was a chance to reflect on which aspects may have been forgotten through the busy first years of my career, as well as to celebrate what I was able to do that aligned with my teaching and learning philosophy.

Tomorrow I will officially step back into my role as a 6th-8th grade language arts teacher in English and Spanish at a public dual immersion charter school. I have already set up most of my classroom library, including a new shelf for graduated students who have moved onto the high school. I have been thinking through what the school year will look like and how I will launch reading and writing workshop this year. I will also have the opportunity to provide one period a week of push-in support for a couple of Spanish immersion colleagues in the younger grades. I look forward to learning and growing with them, gaining familiarity with their 2/3 and 4/5 students. Fall term I will also have an opportunity to keep one foot in higher ed as I will be teaching one adjunct course.

Last year I savored the time to think, reflect, and grow through both the final year of my doctoral program and through the sabbatical replacement. I am energized to start my 8th year as an educator.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

November - So Much to Look Forward To...

Earlier I posted about how I was excited for my first annual convention and the release of Notice and Note in November. Now I have two more reasons to be excited...

This week the July 2012 NCTE Council Chronicle with the annual convention preview arrived in my mailbox. As I was skimming through, there were plenty of reasons to know that it will be worth every penny. I loved this line from Sandy Hayes' welcome, "In reading through the mountain of session proposals, I realized that NCTE members share a kind of double vision with Bradbury's time traveler: we have the capacity to see things not only as they are but also as they could be. We aspire to change our world by embracing complexity, considering research, collaborating, working hard, and stretching toward an ideal" (p. 4). Right off the bat with the Preconvention Sessions the tough decisions will begin. All four sessions look amazing, but I will most likely either go to see Teaching: The Questions We Ask and the Answers We Find with Jim Burke, Penny Kittle, and Kelly Gallagher or Building Reading Communities Online and Off with Donalyn Miller, Sara Kajder, Teri Lesesne, and Franki Sibberson. See why it will be so hard to decide!

As if the regular components of the convention weren't enough for building anticipation, I decided that it would be worth it to stay the two extra days for the ALAN postconvention workshop. I have heard about all of the authors present and the box of books that comes along with it from one of my university professors. Originally I held back because of the additional expenses, but this week I decided that since this may be the only time I financially prioritize in order to go to the annual convention, I might as well get the full experience. Of course, as soon as I purchased it, I noticed the CEL Writing as Leadership postconvention with Penny Kittle, Tom Romano, Peg Tyre, Casey Olsen, Kelly Gallagher, and Harvey "Smokey" Daniels. So tempting, but alas, I can't attend both and have already signed up for ALAN. Like the Boothbay Literacy Retreat, this convention will be one of those dream PD opportunities.

When I was still buzzing with excitement over adding on the ALAN postconvention, I happened to stop by the Heinemann site again. Either this was just posted or I completely missed it last time, but an upcoming release for Penny Kittle is listed, Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers. And yes, just like Notice and Note, I automatically pre-ordered it and can't wait for its anticipated November release. Just seeing Penny Kittle's name on it is enough to prompt that though, but I am really excited for the topic as well. It aligns well with my dissertation research and my intended continual focus on engaging and sustaining adolescent readers.

In the midst of the school year, November will be something to look forward to. Two weeks from today I officially start the school year with teacher work days, but between now and then I will meet with K-5 colleagues to discuss how the first year of reading and writing workshop went as well as thoughts for the upcoming year. Then I will also get together with some colleagues for our August for fun book club. Once the school year gets started, the months will be moving in fast forward.

November will be a nice month. The convention will fall a few weeks into the second quarter. The whirl of events that come with parent teacher conferences and the first quarter report cards will be complete. I will head out mid-week and when I return we will be on Thanksgiving break. A nice chance to let ideas from the conference settle and to savor time with family after being away. Both the convention and the quick break immediately after will be a chance to recharge and savor what has happened so far in the year and glimpse ahead to the possibilities for the remainder of the year.

Who else is planning on going to NCTE?

What upcoming professional books are you looking forward to their releases?