One of the question I am asked the most is how do you teach English in 45 minutes? Not just reading, not just writing, but everything that English encompasses. And I can tell you; it is not easy, nor is it perfect, nor do I have everything figured out. The 45 minute block of time is the bane of my English existence. Yet as I have figured out it is within our biggest problems that we find our biggest inspiration, and that is very true for this situation. I have to try to make 45 minutes work while my students and I pine for more time. In fact, this is the core of the book I am currently writing; how do you create passionate readers when you barely have any time to teach, let alone have conversations?
I am not alone in this quest to solve it. Many great minds of literacy such as Nancie Atwell, Penny Kittle, and Donalyn Miller have all helped shape my thinking. As have countless English teachers that have trodden the path before me. While I rest my class on a workshop foundation, I have had to make some tweaks to make it work for us. So I thought I would share a few ideas here.
We start with 10 minutes of self-selected independent reading. Every day of the year, almost. This is the very last thing I will take away from our schedule. From the second day of school this starts and the students know to “settle in and settle down” as they fall into their book. I spend the 10 minutes conferring with 2 or 3 students, as detailed in this post here. Students have done their own attendance, all I have to do is enter it. Students can also book shop during this time. A timer or my voice brings us back when the 10 minutes are over.
2-4 minutes of book talks. I sometimes book talk the same book in all 5 classes or 5 different ones. As the year progresses, students will also book talk their books to the class if they feel like it. Inspired by Penny Kittle I do not just book talk books that I have read, but also new books that I am excited about. These book talks are a must as students try to figure out who they are as readers and should be transferred to the students when possible so they can find their reading buddies.
10 minutes or less; teaching point. I used to do a full mini-lesson every day but my students asked me to please stop. They made me see how varied their needs were so depending on what we are doing, most days we have a very short whole class discussion point or lesson. My students have asked me to instead do small group lessons or one-on-one conferring/teaching based on needs. The text that I most often use for a mini lesson is a picture book. Almost all new concepts are introduced through picture books, before we move into nonfiction, multimedia or short stories. Picture books allow us to get to the point quickly and in a way that allows all readers to access the text. They also bring a lot of joy back into our reading community. To see some of our favorites, please see all of the lists here.
The rest of class time; student work-time. Again, this looks different based on what we are doing, but most often I am either conferring with students as they come to me or I am going to them and doing coach-ins over their shoulder. If we are doing book clubs then I listen in on conversations from the side, if students are writing then I most often confer with them at a side table. All writing conferences start with me asking them what I should be looking for. They need to be able to come up with a goal for me instead of just having me check “whether it is good or not?” This is a great way to get students to take ownership over their writing and start to understand what they need to work on. Reading conferences always start with “What are you working on as a reader?”
The biggest learning point for me has been to limit my teacher-talk in order to get students to have more time. If we have a day where I know my teaching will expand beyond the 10 minutes, then I often tell the students that so that they know to expect. That way they can also understand the purpose of the lengthier instructional time. As far as figuring out which child needs what, which yes, is one of the biggest challenges, I have students self-reflect a lot, but I will also be using a sheet like this more often so that they can tell me what they need to work on.
I am not sure this post is even helpful, It could be about 30,000 more words or so, however, this should offer a small glimpse into what a typical day in our classroom looks like. We do not do reading or writing separately but often have both in a day, what we do though is have different focuses for our quarters, so quarter 1 and 3 are more focused on reading explorations, whereas quarter 2 and 4 are more focused on writing explorations. Please feel free to leave your questions in the comments if I can help in any way.
I am currently working on two separate literacy books. While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher. The first book titled Reimaging Literacy Through Global Collaboration is scheduled for release November, 2016 by Solution Tree. The second, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge. So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.