Nearly a year and a half ago, I read about a literacy strategy on one of the many education-focused blogs and newsletters I follow. The strategy is called “Walk and Talk” and it consists of doing just that: having students walk and talk about literacy. Now that we are getting down to the last few days of school, Miss C and I decided to use this strategy with our learning buddies today.
We were a little uncertain how well it would work with kindergarteners and fourth graders, but if there is nothing else we have learned from our five years of buddying our classes together, it has been that our students will rise to the occasion whenever we give them the opportunity!
Armed with a book, a clipboard, a pencil, and a graphic organiser, the buddies started at the beginning of the loop around the front of the building and wrote a brief synopsis of the beginning of their selected text. Then they walked about halfway, talking as they went, before stopping to write about the middle. They then continued their way, still talking, until they got to the end, at which point they, of course, wrote about the end of the story.
It was a simple task but one that had multiple benefits:
- Students were able to talk to one another about literature
- Students were able to demonstrate an understanding that a story has a beginning, middle, and end
- Students were able to move freely, getting some physical activity in instead of sitting in one place
- Students were able to enjoy the warm weather
If that’s not a successful activity, I’m not sure what is!
(I know, I know, I haven’t updated all week. The first full week of school has been super busy but, on top of that, I’ve had my mother-in-law’s third degree black belt testing and graduation–she passed!–and my wife hasn’t been feeling well so I’ve been taking care of her plus I started my graduate classes this week. So I’ve had to prioritise what I do and, at least for this week, writing a blog post has not been as important as family and classes. I will make an effort to post more regularly in the coming weeks. I am also going to resurrect an old practice and allow my students to write a blog post each Friday during Read, Write, Think!, which is what I call our weekly preferred activity time. All of which is really neither here nor there in terms of the purpose of this actual post.)
This past summer, I had the opportunity to participate in a district workshop entitled “For the Love of Literacy.” Once a week for several weeks, I gathered with elementary teachers from across grade levels throughout the district and looked closely at the tools, resources, and assessments we use when teaching our students to be literate. We explored the Continuum of Learning associated with Irene C. Fountas & Gay Su Pinnell’s Benchmark Assessment System. We delved deeply into the Daily 5 and CAFE frameworks developed by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser (the “2 Sisters”). We looked into the Writing Workshop curriculum written by Lucy Calkins back in the 1980s and 1990s but recently updated to reflect the targets established by the Common Core State Standards. And we talked about literacy: what it is, why it is important, and different ways to teach it.
During this intense study of best practices in literacy instruction, I found myself thinking about what I can do to provide quality experiences for my students and their learning buddies who are in kindergarten this year. When Miss C and I first started collaborating, her students were second graders. Then she taught first grade for three years. Year five of this collaboration is seeing her with a kindergarten class now, which has forced us to shift what we do and how we do it yet again. One idea that came to me was the use of readers theatres.
I, personally, have disliked readers theatres since I was a teenager and was forced to do one for a church activity. I thought the script was bad, the story weak, and the characters boring. And I never looked back.
Until this summer.
I started thinking about what we could do, and then I learned that my students would be doing Dance & Drama during their first six-week rotation of fine arts. The fine arts teachers are always looking for ways to infuse arts into the classroom and I realised that readers theatres would be a perfect opportunity. I talked to Mrs. T about it and she was excited. We met, we planned, and we began implementing today.
She came down to our room this afternoon during our literacy block and introduced the differences between plays and readers theatres. Then we had the students divide up into groups of three, four, or five and gave each group a script to read. The students took turns with the different roles, experimenting with voice and helping each other with unusual vocabulary and new ideas. (One group of boys read a script for a retelling of Chicken Little and declared it to be inappropriate for kindergarteners because, in a shocking twist, all of the characters died!) We worked on this for about half an hour but I had the distinct impression I could have let the students keep going until the end of the day and they wouldn’t have minded in the least!
We are going to read the scripts again tomorrow and then the students will be performing for their classmates on Monday. Then we are going to select books that are of high interest to our kindergarten friends and each group will write a readers theatre script based on the story. Then they will perform for the younger students and we will record them so that Miss C can share with her class again. (I will also be posting the videos online through a private link so that we can share with families.)
I am really excited about this project and so far get the impression that my students are excited about it, too!
[NOTE: This was a guest post I wrote for the Nerdy Book Club. I am sharing it here, but I would encourage all to go check out the other posts by my fellow Nerdy Book Clubbers!]
When it comes to writing a blog post, I can usually sit down and start typing and the words just flow. I’ve long been comfortable expressing myself through writing, and often feel that I can do so better than through speaking. Of course, as an educator, that’s just not an acceptable choice. Don’t get me wrong; I am quite comfortable expressing myself through speaking! (My wife will tell you that I probably talk too much, in fact!) That’s why it surprises me when I prepare to write a post and then I just blank. What to write about? What to say? How to say it?
Do my students feel the same way about writing? I can only imagine they do! But this post isn’t supposed to be about writing; it is supposed to be about reading. Now, sure, I tell my students all the time that reading and writing are both aspects of the same process, and yes, it is true that good readers are good writers and vice versa, but it is also true that the aspects can be separated from time to time. And, if I am to be honest with myself, I was a reader long before I was a writer.
I still remember the first book I ever read completely on my own. It was Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff. Before reading this wonderful treasure of a story, I relied upon my mother’s assistance. She taught me how to read using an old copy of McGuffey’s Eclectic Reader for Young Children. Once I completed the lessons and read about Danny and his wonderful dinosaur, I was off and running! I seriously doubt that a single day has gone by since that day some 24 or 25 years ago that I have not taken time to read on my own and for myself. I almost always have a book or two with me that I am reading, which is one of the many reasons I tend to carry a bag around with me wherever I go. In middle school and high school, this was a backpack. Sometime during college I upgraded to a messenger bag (which my family and friends called my man-purse). And if I don’t have a bag with me, there is still a book nearby!
I have always been one of those people who can’t keep quiet about a good book. I read them and then I find others and make them read the books, too, so we can talk about them! My baby sister, who is 11 years younger than me, was a frequent target of my insistence that she read a book. One of my favourite book series is The Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. I told my sister for =years that she should read these books and promised her she’d love them. She resisted because, like many in my family, she is stubborn. Then one day when I was in college she finally borrowed my worn and battered copies that I’d had since fourth grade and started reading. She called me up the next day and said, “Why didn’t you make me read these books earlier?! These are amazing!” I simply replied, “I told you so! Now, next time I recommend a book, are you going to resist?” She meekly replied, “No.” She is now in college herself, but that hasn’t stopped her from calling me up and asking me to recommend a good book. And I call her and ask her for recommendations, too. In fact, she is one of my main sources for selecting new books for my classroom library.
When I was growing up, my living room was full of bookcases stuffed with books. As I grew older, I started my own book collection that soon spread onto several bookcases. As an adult, my living room is my library. My wife and I have lined the walls with bookcases, stuffed the shelves with books (last tally was 1,894 books, but that has already increased), and we have two comfortable chairs nearby where we can quietly read and share our books with each other. And my baby sister, who at first refused to read the books I suggested? She now has her own library at home including, of course, The Dark Is Rising sequence that I got her for Christmas after she kept trying to steal my set.
Today I was a kindergarten teacher at Dr. Howard Elementary in Champaign. I’ve always enjoyed my work at Dr. Howard. The classes are smaller, which makes it easier to work with the students in a meaningful way, and the faculty and staff are extremely supportive. However, it was still kindergarten.
You may have noticed that I have not yet taught kindergarten this year. There is a reason for that. I don’t really like teaching kindergarten. Don’t get me wrong: I love young children. They are typically sweet, innocent, and fun. They have a great desire to learn, and they usually want to please their teachers. My dislike for kindergarten is not the students; it is the subject matter. I am just not thrilled with teaching the calendar, counting from 1 to 103, and discussing the weather. I also prefer it when students are able to engage is abstract thinking and higher level thinking.
Another reason I avoid kindergarten assignments is the fact that children in kindergarten have a nasty habit of wiping their noses on everything except tissues. I’m not usually a germaphobe, but I prefer it when people don’t use books, pencils, palms, fingers, and me as tissues.
So why did I accept the assignment in the first place? The answer is quite simple: I didn’t. The teacher for whom I was subbing used to teach 2nd grade, and she was still listed in the system as a 2nd grade teacher. My first major substituting assignment in Champaign was teaching 2nd grade at Dr. Howard, and I still have a great relationship with the teacher of that class. So I was looking forward to working with her again. I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when I heard that I was actually teaching kindergarten today!
Despite all this, I actually had a fairly pleasant day. Most of the kids were really helpful and we had a fun time. Only a few boys caused frequent disruptions. My favourite part of the day was when we had an impromptu lesson on appreciating one another’s differences. It came up when one of the boys who causes frequent disruptions made some comment about my curly hair and started laughing about it. I pointed out that we are all different: straight hair, curly hair, brown hair, black hair, blond hair, brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes, hazel eyes, light skin, dark skin, tall, short. I ended the lesson by asking what they would think if everyone looked alike. They all agreed it would be boring and confusing.
I’m glad that I had a great day with a kindergarten class, but I will probably avoid accepting such assignments. I just prefer to work with the upper primary/intermediate students.