being me, ideas, Reading

So What Has Actually Been Working – 7th Grade Readers Workshop

Every year I start with so many ideas of what we will try, what will do, things we can accomplish.  Every year, I have a long list of all of my ideas from the summer waking me up at night, getting me excited to teach again.  And then…the year starts, I try some things, others are forgotten, some work, some don’t.  This year with a new grade level and a new subject and only 45 minutes, there has not been a dull moment yet.   So why not share, hopefully we can learn from each other.

What has worked:

  • Starting with independent reading.  Jillian Heise shared this wonderful idea of having the first 10 minutes dedicated to independent reading,  and while that cuts class time down to 35 minutes, this is the best use of 10 minutes I can think of.  Students get settled, they actually read, and we all get a nice start to class.
  • Status of the class.  This great idea from Donalyn Miller is a simple check in tool where students write down what they read in the 10 minutes.  I use it to have students track their reading habits, such as whether or not they are actually reading and whether or not they are picking good books.
  • The “What to Read Next List.”  Rather than showcase new books one at a time, I save them up and have book shopping time.  Yet, with 5 English classes they cannot take any of the books until the end of the day.  Thus the need for somewhere to write it down.  Students get free time to browse the piles of books on the tables and share their excitement with others.  They always have a book they cannot wait to read without it taking too much time.
  • Blogging!  I was very nervous about whether we could fit blogging in but I am so glad we found the time.  We blog every other week in class but then the students can blog as much or as little as they want outside of class.  They can’t believe the comments they are getting, I cannot believe how much I am learning about them, but again, their voices and ideas are getting a place in the world, which matters so much.
  • Mini-lessons.  I wasn’t sure how 7th graders would respond to this but it has worked well.  We are able to get through the teaching so they can get to work.  They don’t mind gathering on the carpet in chairs or on the floor and I like that we have a smaller area for discussion.
  • “Adult” discussion.  We actively work on how to discuss our thoughts without raising our hands, I love how the students are figuring out how to do this while listening and responding to each other.  We have a long way to go but the seed has been planted.
  • Choice.  These students need to choose their books in order to keep reading.  I have been a proponent of choice for many years and even more so with this age group.  Some of my students hate reading with a passion and much of that hate comes from being forced to read certain books.
  • Picture books.  I wasn’t sure if 7th graders would be too cool for picture books, but once again these timeless tales are capturing their audience.  I love when I see two 7th graders sharing a picture book somehow thinking they are getting away with it.  Reading is reading no matter what.  And there is always time for a great picture book.
  • A huge library.  I knew I needed a lot of books to keep 121 7th graders reading, and boy was I right.  The taste, abilities, and needs are so varied that I am so glad I didn’t get rid of my “easier” books, nor nixed some of my tougher ones.  Sure the library is a bit more messy than it was in my 5th grade but it also getting a lot of use, even though we have a fantastic library here too.  I have even had teachers come in and borrow books, now that is a success.

What has not worked:

  • Post-its for all.  I really drove the use of post-its home with my 5th graders but have fund it less useful with my 7th graders.  Some need the, some use them, others don’t need them at all, and stil others need an entirely different system to get them thinking.  What matters is that each child is on the path to figure out what works best for them in order to push their thinking.
  • Outside reading.  I have yet to see a huge growth in outside reading.  While the students know they are supposed to read, some choose not to, some don’t have time, and others forget.  I am not enforcing it through a system simply restating the expectation every day.  I will keep working on it.
  • My old conferencing ways.  I used to call students to my table with all of their stuff but have found this wastes too much time.  Instead I pop next to them with a sheet of address labels and I write my anecdotes on those.  They then get transferred to an “I Have Noticed” sheet that I keep in their section binder.
  • Partnering students.  I had partnered students based on personalities and not friendships, this has definitely backfired.  I forgot how shy some 7th graders can be and have to re-think how to partner them better.  They do not have assigned seating which has been fine so far so perhaps self-chosen partners wont be a bad idea.

While this is just a snapshot, I am happy to see more ideas that have worked than not.  Working under the 45 minute time constraint has given me a whole new appreciation for middle school and high school teachers and all they do.  Whew, there is a lot to cover int hat amount of time.  What has been working for you?

10 thoughts on “So What Has Actually Been Working – 7th Grade Readers Workshop”

  1. Great post – very interesting to me as a new-(almost)-teacher and usually subbing only in HS. (I do love the Middle School ages.)
    –>Blogging: “their voices and ideas are getting a place in the world” – VERY cool thing about blogging. I’m excited it is working out for you. AND, I LOVE your idea of “a sheet of address labels and I write my anecdotes on those. They then get transferred to an “I Have Noticed” sheet that I keep in their section binder.”


  2. I also have 45 minute classes. For the last six years I have started class with ten minutes of free reading. It is hands-down the best thing I do even if it leaves less time for other things. I have seen real improvement in their writing and it sets a great tone for the class. I did find that with only 35 minutes left, I cannot do reading and writing workshop on the same day, so I alternate days.

  3. Loved reading your thoughts–trial and error–always. What’s working for me? I moved from 5th to 1st. Our library was meager, but another teacher gave me many DRA level 3-10, and I had all mine labeled with levels. Many in my collection are too high for my readers–say 20 and up–but it won’t be long before several can try those. What’s working is putting books by level into 5 bins. I put their names on index cards on each so they know their “comfy sneaker fit.” In the morning they each select any book from their bin for reading to self at center time. My students LOVE to read! Today one finished morning math work and asked “Can I read?” They love reading to me! They take home any book they want to read to a parent in a Ziplock bag with their name.

    Another good thing is read aloud at the end of the day. Can I just say first graders are wild at day’s end! So, after we finish math and all the jobs and backpacks are packed, we all pile into the Cozy Corner for chapter books reading. This is when they are allowed to lounge. They are stuck on Magic Tree House–we are on our 4th. 🙂 I plan to introduce many series. The tricky part is many are selecting MTH titles to read–but they can’t. I remember your students saying they hated being told a book isn’t on their level–but gosh–they are not on their levels! So–I have them read the first page to me so we can see it’s not a comfy sneaker fit, then I encourage them to take it home to have a parent or someone read to them from the books every night. That’s tricky. One boy, at a DRA level of 3, brought in a MTH book his parents had purchased for him. He carried it around all day. 🙂

    The awesome news is parents bought many books from the Scholastic orders this month (you just never know) and I have 10,000+ bonus points to spend!! There are over 120 books headed our way–and I still have 3500 points left. HAPPY DANCE! The students voted–and #1-48 of the Magic Tree House series was ordered. 🙂 I ordered many duplicate titles for buddy reading and boy are my students excited about that.

  4. I am teaching block periods of reading/writing (50 minutes each) for sixth and seventh graders. I, too, find that 10 minutes of free reading to start off our reading block is magical. While they settle in and start reading, I can touch base with any student who was absent the day before and take attendance. I then read alongside my students which they love. Reading my book when I am finished has turned out to be so popular that I had to draw sticks to see who the lucky readers would be. Because they are seeing me read in class, they are quick to talk to me about my books and give me book recommendations which start interesting conversations I don’t think we’d have otherwise. I just started using Google Classroom with them and it seems like it is going to be really successful. I can post writing assignments, link to YouTube videos, connect them to links or attach a document easily. Everything is submitted electronically which simplifies the process.

  5. Your blog has been so helpful for me this year, Pernille. Thank you. I, too, have a meager hour to teach Literacy, and in that hour, I also need to cover spelling/word work. Grammar and Writing is with a separate class–4th grade. Very hard to manage! I am trying to figure out what will work best. So far, this year, we have used the workshop model, where we begin with a mini-lesson, spend most of the time reading, then meet back for “share”. It’s been working, but I’m thinking I have to dedicate at least one day to Word Work. I’m trying to integrate it into my mini-lessons, but I am considering taking a break from the workshop and doing it one full hour a week. I’d love your input! Thanks!

  6. Love all of your ideas and wish my 7th grader was in your ELA class! I really like the sound of calm. Though it’s probably not how it always sounds in the classroom, you’ve set a calm tone that I’m sure kids sense. I hope we get to read some blogs posts of theirs someday.

  7. Last year I taught middle school and I found many of the things you mentioned. One thing I did slightly differently that worked well for me was the use the status of the class to check where kids were during that first 10 minutes of reading (kids would read and I’d go around the classroom and write down the page number–and have tiny conversations with kids as I did). This gave me a sense of who read the night before (if they were on the page they were on in class yesterday or 100 pages further),and then I could chat a little with each kid about the homework (I see you read a lot last night. It doesn’t look like you read this book last night. Tell me about your reading homework yesterday.)….for what it’s worth.

  8. Hi Ms. Ripp! My name is Sabrina and I am a student at the University of South Alabama in the EDM 310 class. I was assigned by my teacher, Dr. Strange, to read and comment on your blog. It’s part of gathering our PLN and also getting to see what real teachers are going through and learning from them. Your blog was the perfect one! I am studying to be an Elementary teacher, but I loved your ideas of choice and encouraging the 10 minutes of reading at the beginning of the class. That is something I feel would work great if I am teaching 4th grade and up. It’s a great way to get the class calm before digging in. I know as a student that always made me a little stressed out or wired when we just dove in.

    I am assigned to comment next week also, so I am excited to dig deeper into your posts and see what awaits. I will also be commenting on it next week in my own blog, here. I am also going to start following you on Twitter, because I think you have some great insights and would be a valuable addition to my PLN. Again, thank you and I hope you have a blessed day!

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