Reflecting on Reading Workshop

My school is on spring break this week and I am enjoying some much needed rest and relaxation. However, I am also using this week to do some reflecting and planning. Last night I ordered a few books that I want to use in planning our April Poetry Month and our upcoming Holocaust unit. But today I finally sat down and did some of the professional reading I have been putting off.

I read about half of Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak’s Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop: Making Informed Instructional Decisions in Grades 3-6 and can’t wait to read more! As Franki and Karen say in the beginning of the book, there is a dearth of professional literature related to reading and writing workshop in the intermediate grades. As a 6th grade teacher, I have a hard time finding appropriate professional reading. Books either focus on early readers or middle school readers. Perhaps if my 6th graders were in a middle school environment it would be easier, but we are in an intermediate school. In our district, 7th and 8th graders are in the middle school. Thus, I have been looking forward to reading this book. I had no idea how awesome it would be!

Franki and Karen have broken down their reading workshop into manageable chunks. I am thrilled that each chapter deals with a different routine in reading workshop, including how much time is spent on each one. Very few books get into the nitty gritty of a teacher’s routine and even fewer include as much real classroom anecdotal evidence. I’ve been reading, flagging, reading more, jotting ideas, and flagging more. I’ve already come up with a few new ideas to integrate into my workshop. Even better, I have a new perspective on my reading workshop. I’ve struggled with assessing my readers this year. While I know I have succeeded in creating a room full of passionate, habitual, and critical readers (Atwell) I also know I have not done the best I can in terms of assessment. I need that hard data to back up my choice to use reading workshop (it’s not used in the intermediate/upper grades in my district) and Franki and Karen’s book is full of authentic and realistic assessments that I can integrate into my workshop routines.

This type of reflection and reading energizes me.  I am brimming with new ideas for my classroom and can’t wait to implement some of them!  I am also planning to attend TCRWP Saturday Reunion this coming weekend, which will also be an inspiring bit of professional development.  I should be rested, relaxed, and re-energized when we get back to school next week!

I’m only about halfway through the book right now but I expect to finish it tomorrow. I expect I will re-read it over the summer when I am planning for next year. I can not recommend this book enough!

Quote of the Day

While handing in a grammar quiz this afternoon, one of my students (a reluctant boy reader) was walking to me desk with his quiz in one hand and his head buried in “The Giver”.

”Wow! I have never done this before…..walked and read a book at the same time. I have never wanted to walk and read at the same time!”

I wore the biggest smile for the rest of the day. This boy is a very reluctant reader, and when he does read the books are fairly low-level. ”The Giver” is not an easy book by any means and he is loving it! It was a proud moment.

Speaking of reluctant readers, Jen over at Jen Robinson’s Book Page has a great post up today about helping kids learn to enjoy reading. She gathered advice from teachers, librarians, parents, and authors all over the kidlitosphere and compiled it into a wonderful article. I strongly encourage you to head over to her blog and check it out!

How Today’s Students Learn

Watch this short video summarizing some of the most important characteristics of students today – how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime. Created by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University.

While the video is aimed at college level professors, the statistics apply to almost all of our students. While my students don’t spend time on facebook in class, they do spend hours at home on Myspace (which they are not even old enough to be a part of) and AIM. I think many new teachers, and some older teachers, are seeing this and adjusting their teaching for it. But too many teachers are continuing to teach out students in archaic methods that don’t apply to their lives. I love telling my students that many of them will have careers in industries that don’t even exist yet. However, we must do our best to prepare them for this. Make technology a part of your daily classroom lessons!

A new year, a fresh start

As I sit here, getting ready to go back to school, I am getting ready for another beginning. My class wrapped up a few units before break and we even did our midway through the year reading and writing surveys. Tomorrow begins a clean slate, new units, and some new ideas I am planning on implementing.

-New seating chart: My kids have been begging to change seats and I have gone even one step farther…completely rearranging the seats. Instead of tables of 4/5, we will have two rows of 5/6 on each side of the room, with a walkway down the middle. This allows for cooperative groups, room for the kids to move around when we have book clubs/literature circles, and keeps that open space in the middle of the room that I love.

-New reading unit of study: I am not even close to having it all planned out yet, but we will be focusing on science-fiction/fantasy and using “The Giver” as our read-aloud. I plan to have literature circles up and running in a couple of weeks. If anyone out there has a unit of study for science-fiction/fantasy (any grade level!), I would love to see it!

-New writing unit of study: This year, our state standardized testing was pushed back to May. This allowed me a lot more freedom in planning my writing calendar of study, thus we will be starting persuasive writing tomorrow. This will overlap with our research paper unit (a Women’s History Month project I designed) and will allow me to teach essay, persuasive writing, and citing sources in one unit.

-More poetry in the classroom: I am officially instituting Poetry Friday in my classroom. Students will still be responsible for one poem each month, but I will be sharing poems each Friday. So far, I am using Opening a Door: Reading Poetry in the Middle School Classroom as a guide. I also desperately want to get my hands on a copy of Georgia Heard’s Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School but I am supposed to be on a no-buy for the month of January (only buying necessary items) and I can’t break that rule on the first day of January! Also, I want all this poetry to lead to more writing of poetry. I am involved in “Voices….From the Land” through my monarch organization and I really want it to be a success!

-New read-aloud: Both classes are almost finished with Tony Abbott’s “The Postcard”. While the class will be reading “The Giver” soon, I need a new, fun read-aloud. I want the read-aloud to be on the shorter side (maybe 125-150) pages. I may wait to see what wins the Newbery before deciding! However, I am more than open to suggestions. Any ideas?

Wow! I didn’t even realize all the “new” things we will be doing in 2008. It’s going to be a busy few months! What are you planning to do in the classroom this year?

To Do

I have a few things I want to do before I head back to school on Wednesday: 1)make new seating charts  2)write my plans  3)start my persuasive writing unit of study  4)write up a post with my reading resolutions  5)finish and review at least one more book 

Last Minute Shopping

I was silly enough to venture to the mall yesterday to pick up a last-minute gift that my mother needed. Needless to say, I have sworn off the mall until after Christmas now! However, I know there are still people out there who have some more gifts to buy. If you are still looking for a gift for a teacher, bookworm, teen, or just that person who has EVERYTHING, may I suggest a gift certificate from I know I have put this on my list anytime I have been asked what I want for Christmas. Everytime I look at my 15-page Amazon wishlist, I know I can never afford all those books on my own, so I look for gift certificates every chance I get. So for those of you who still have some shopping to do, get a gift certificate!

While at the mall yesterday, I managed to walk around the bookstore with Libba Bray’s Rebel Angels and Anna Godberson’s The Luxe for about 20 minutes. I really, really wanted to buy both of them but shouldn’t be spending the money right now. After wandering the entire store and stopping to read the first few pages of The Luxe (which I loved!), I managed to convince myself to leave them at the bookstore until after Christmas. Hopefully, I can spend some gift card money then and not my own! Eh, who am I kidding? I will definitely buy them, regardless. I just promised not to buy any gifts for myself until after the holidays. :)

Speaking of Libba Bray, I bought A Great and Terrible Beauty months ago. I read the first 100 pages or so, and just couldn’t get into it. I put it aside to read something else and never looked back. Last week I decided to give it another try after seeing blog after blog mentioning the forthcoming release of the third book in the series, The Sweet Far Thing. I picked it up on Monday and….well, I loved it! I couldn’t put the book down this time and need to read the rest of the series as soon as humanly possible. I also shared this story with my class, to show them that sometimes a book just isn’t right for us. However, when we abandon a book it doesn’t mean it won’t be right for us at a later time. It was a great lesson for my class and me!


Ruth, over at Inspiring Readers and Writers, has posted some though-provoking questions on her blog. I’ve been mulling them over for the last few hours and decided to share some of my thinking here on The Reading Zone.

-Do teachers have time to write & read for personal reasons? If we don’t have time for it, then why would we think our students have time for it? Plus, in reality, it’s not about having time, but making time.
This question immediately hits home for me. As an avid reader, I do see my time for reading sometimes diminishing. I choose to watch TV or even nap instead of reading. Every so often, 2-3 days will go by and I will realize I haven’t been reading. When I don’t read, though, it’s almost like there is a dull ache deep down inside of me. Reading is such a huge part of my life that its absence is noted almost immediately. In all honesty, I really do make as much time as possible for reading, specifically reading for pleasure. I may not review every book I read on the blog, but I am constantly reading. This is something I am always bringing up with my students.

I try to discuss my own reading on a daily basis in my classroom. In my booktalks, while helping readers choose their next book, and when having conversations with students- I will talk about the books I have read lately. I know they keep track, because they will frequently respond with “Ms. M., you were just reading another book! You are already on a new one?” or “Wow, you read a lot!” This always makes me smile, because I know they are paying attention to my reading life. I also share my experiences with abandoning books and why I choose to read certain books over other books. It validates the choices that my students make when they see their teacher making similar decisions. By this point in the year, my students are even comfortable disagreeing with me and telling me that I should give a book “another chance”. Sometimes, when I abandon a book I think it serves as a better advertisement than my book talks! Certain students flock to my abandoned books list because they know they enjoy books I usually dislike.

In the classroom, I advertise my reading life on a bulletin board. It’s actually not a real bulletin board….it’s just the front of my desk covered in butcher paper and surrounded by a border. Every month, I tape my reading log to the front of the desk so my students can see the list of books I completed that month. By the end of the year, I will have 9-10 lists on my desk. This matches the reading logs my students keep in their reading binders, again validating the work they are doing in their reading lives.

As for writing, I admit I am guilty in letting that slide. I want to write. I want to be published. I want to be an author. But I suffer from the same confidence problems that my students do. I am not confident in my abilities and tend to put my writing to the side, choosing other hobbies instead. However, blogging has been a new outlet for my writing, forcing me to reflect on my teaching practices while also writing daily (or almost daily)! Plus, Writer’s Notebook Wednesdays force me to publish something on my blog every Wednesday. It’s great motivation!

-What about teachers who “don’t like” writing or reading? Yet, everything academic revolves around reading and writing.

This statement is all too true, and all too annoying! Everytime we have a grade-wide language arts meeting at school, I am surrounded by groans. As most of our teams are departmental, not everyone teaches language arts in our district. This means many teachers are quite vocal about their hatred of the humanities. I frequently hear how much this teacher hates reading or that one hates to write. How can you be a teacher and dislike reading? Regardless of the subject, you must read in order to teach, study the latest pedagogy, and be an informed citizen for your students. The same goes for writing!

I do think that when teachers say they hate reading and writing, they are referring to reading and writing for pleasure. I can name on one hand the adults I know who read and write on a daily basis (not related to work). It is an unfortunate effect of living in the digital age. I do my part though, constantly making book recommendations and passing on books I have enjoyed. Sometimes, I think my books are the only books some adults around me read all year! Yet, as I said above, I can’t imagine not reading 100-150 books each year, personally.

-Is it a realistic expectation for teachers to read and write for their own personal reasons, outside of teaching?

This question forced me to really sit down and think. Is it unrealistic to expect our teachers to read and write for pleasure? The language arts teacher, writer, and reader in me says “No!” Reading and writing should be a part of daily life for all adults. But another part of me says that’s wrong. I would be highly offended if someone told me that I needed to study history and math for my own personal reasons, outside of school. I don’t teach those subjects and they very rarely come up in my own classes. I can understand a math teacher saying that they never have an opportunity or reason to share their reading/writing (or lack thereof) with students, thus rendering it useless as a model for them. In that same vein, I can’t recall ever discussing math with my students, other than the occasional reminder of how to figure out their averages. While I surely use math in my own life, it’s just not something that would come up in my lessons at school. If I don’t enjoy doing math problems in my spare time, and it wouldn’t be useful in my classroom, why should I force myself to do it?

Wow, what great questions, Ruth! As I was answering them, I came up with even more questions of my own. Is departmentalizing the right thing to do for our students? When we compartmentalize each subject into its own sepatate niche, are we doing our students a disservice? Should they be immersed in reading and writing in all subjects? Obviously, I have a lot more thinking to do. In the meantime, check out this post from the The Book Whisperer. She has some similar thoughts.

Miley Cyrus?

I am slowly morphing into a 6th grader……I have been listening to Miley Cyrus’ latest single on repeat for almost 30 minutes. This is what happens when you are around 12 year olds all day! (For those wondering, the song is “See You Again”).

Tomorrow we start NaNoWriMo in class. I have run off 38 copies of the Young Writer’s Workbook (much to the chagrin of everyone else waiting for the copier this afternoon!), picked up 38 composition books, and teased my kids with the promise of an awesome project for November. I think we will be aiming to 10,000 words written by the end of November. Or we will make it our goal to fill out the composition books we start. I also plan to write alongside the kids, because I know how hard NaNoWriMo is and I want them to see that I will also struggle, but that I will battle through and reach the goal! (Notice the positive thinking here….hehe).

Tomorrow we will begin by signing our “contracts”, beginning our workbooks, and doing our first writing. We’re off to the races!!

Parent-Teacher Conferences

While jumping from blog to blog, I stumbled upon a post at Learning and Laptops. It immediately caught my interest because I am still exhausted from our parent-teacher conferences last week. We have 3 nights of conferences and one afternoon and we make appointments with parents for 15 minutes each. Ninety-nine percent of our parents come to the conferences and they normally focus on grades and a lot of small talk. It always bothers me that conferences seem to serve as nothing more than a face-to-face reading of the report card (or the report card to come!). Learning and Laptops has taken conferences in a new and exciting direction!

Instead of reviewing grades, Learning and Laptops discussed what students were actually learning. Her students filled out assesment where they answered the following:
Assess your learning in class so far this semester. Look at your participation, growth in writing, comprehension, etc..
Where, in terms of your learning, do you want to be at the end of the semester?
How are you going to get there?
What can I do to help?
Write a message to your parents.

What an amazing concept! Students filled out the assessment and brought a copy home before conferences so parents could read them. Then, the parents and teacher were able to discuss that student’s actual learning and feelings at the conference. What a valuable use of time! Parents were able to take the time to react to the assessment at home and then reflect on it with their child’s teacher. Many parents and students took the time to reflect on the conferences and their thoughts regarding the new format right on the blog- most of the comments are positive!

This is definitely something I am considering for the next set of conferences, in the spring. I would have to rework the student assessment slightly for my grade level, but my students are definitely capable of reflecting on their learning. I think metacognitive thinking is so important for learning at any age and a habit that students should get into. I already build metacognitive strategies into my reading and writing workshop, and would love to bring into more areas of the classroom.

Stress Relief

Last week we had Parent-Teacher Conferences at school. No matter how prepared you feel, this is always a very long and stressful week. I started thinking about how I destress and wanted to share what I came up with.

See, I am still a little kid at heart. When I want to escape from the world, I grab a book, run the tub, and take a loooooong bubble bath. I have a small addiction to a great bath products company and my bathroom is full of shower gels, bubble bars, and bath bombs. The company is Lush, a company that specializes in handmade bath products. If you love indulging yourself while also using vegan, fresh, and handmade products, I highly recommend checking them out! Tonight I took a long hot bath with an Ocean Salt body scrub and an Ice Hotel bubble bar slice. I finished a decent mystery book and relaxed, completely unbothered by the rest of the world. :)


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