I can't believe that a whole week has passed since I last posted. This past week was one of the busiest ones of the entire year. So much happened!!!! I was at school until 8PM every night for a committee, a district meeting, the SLT, Parent-teacher conferences, and we even had the first grade parents visiting our rooms on Friday morning. I really tried to pump myself up last weekend and I made a huge pot of homemade chicken soup. It worked. Somehow, I got through this week virtually unscathed both physically and emotionally.
That's not what I really wanted to post about though. We have been told by our administration that we need to come up with our own professional goals and to help our students set their own goals in all subject areas. At first, I was really annoyed that they were saying this with the upcoming parent teacher conferences and all of the stuff I had to do, but I have to say that really thinking about my goals has given me a little push to do better (not that I'm not doing everything that I possibly can each day!!!), but somehow this process got me doing more. I decided that my goal for this year was to send all of my first graders to second grade reading at least close to the June benchmark (level I). Believe me, from past experience, and based on where my kids are right now, this is no easy feat. I have a room full of B and C readers and it is November. I had to tell those 19 out of 26 parents at parent-teacher conferences that their children are promotion in doubt and that they need more support at home. We will do our best at school, but the parents need to provide the basics at home: a quiet place to do homework, a homework routine, take their children to the public library---I even gave them the forms to fill out for a library card and the addresses of libraries in the area. Even the parents who don't read or write can do these things to support their children (they will need support filling out the form, I should make sure they get that help). They all promised to do their part and understood the importance of literacy for their children.
Okay, now to my part. For the past couple of years, I have been working with small groups in reading within the reading workshop. I have done guided reading and strategy lessons, but I haven't been consistent and I haven't used a structure that is predictable to my children. For all of these years, I have attended calendar days at TC and we have had staff developers at our school, and we have had support for planning for small groups, but there was one big missing key--- how to make it sustainable and functional within the classroom structure. You see, TC teaches you to group kids fluidly, which is great. It's true, not all B readers need the same thing, and not all kids are using the same strategies. This idea of fluid grouping was the factor that prevented me from implementing any sort of consistent group work. I was always stressed out about what I would teach, who would be in the group, how I would take notes, which guided reading book was perfect for teaching that skill, how I could confer too, etc.
This year, I just decided, "F--- it!" My kids aren't reading, they're not moving up levels, I am going to make a groups chart (that is not fluid), and I am going to do guided reading with one group each day according to the chart. They will be grouped according to reading level, and THAT'S IT!!!! Also, that guided reading library that I had been hoarding because I didn't know now to catalogue or level the books came out. I dumped all of the books onto a big table and sat there for two hours leveling them and organizing them into leveled bins. It's amazing that after 3 and a half years teaching first grade, I can level books like a machine. I'm pretty confident that I can accurately level at least A-H books myself.
So, I put the chart up with the groups, and we did a shared reading of the chart so the kids could see what color group they were (I labeled them by colors). I told them that I would meet with one group each day and that they would get to read some of these new books (as opposed to the nasty old ones that populate my classroom library). After the oooohs and ahhhhs were over, I did the mini-lesson, and just as I had instructed, the red group stayed on the rug. They made a little circle and put their baggies behind them. I took out the leveled book that I had just organized at their instructional level and I did a guided reading group. I didn't worry about if I was doing it right or not and I didn't pressure myself to teach sight words or this or that. I had changed my whole view of it. I gave the students what I thought they would need to read the book and a little more.
For example, one of the D level books we read had the word "Takes" in it a lot. So before we read the book we talked about a word that they know "cake" and how if they can read cake they can read a tricky work that they will see in the book. I put the word "take" on my little white board and they all blurted out "take." Then we added the "s" and got "takes." I asked if anyone could find the word "takes" on the page, and the lowest of the group pointed to it. When they were reading, a couple of kids forgot our good work and said "tacks." All I had to do was point to the chart and they remembered "takes."
Anyway, this week I met with five groups and I have to say that this is more than I ever did before. I took a step back and somehow brushed off all of that pressure and TC ickyness, and really looked at the big picture. I still don't have time to confer (and that's okay), when they are in those small groups, I am working so closely with each one, that I can confer with a couple of them right there. The other kids are still not reading, but that's okay too. As we cycle through these guided reading groups and as they get more of those scaffolded books in their baggies, I really think that their stamina will improve.
This is like my little mini inquiry for the year. I'm very curious how this will impact their reading if at all.