July 3, 2015

Organize Your Literacy Block, Without the Headache

Let me see how close I am... You woke up this morning, made a cup of coffee, maybe scrolled through your Facebook feed read the newspaper, stopped your children from chucking puzzle pieces at the cat watched your children build a puzzle together, even binge-watched four seasons of Parenthood on Netflix caught the tail end of a fascinating documentary on the History Channel.

But then you started thinking about how to structure your literacy block for the upcoming school year, because well, you are a teacher, and teachers can only not think about school for so long. So of course you go directly to The Thinker Builder blog browse through Pinterest, looking for some inspiration, and you click here.

How'd I do?

(Click to download)
Regardless, I'm here for you. Let me be your sounding board as you continue thinking about setting up your literacy schedule, and I'll help you stave off the headache from too-much-to-think-about-at-once. So grab a blank sheet of paper this free planning template and a pencil and let's get started!

Core-Beliefs

What do you believe in your heart, grounded in best practice, about how best to teach children to read and to write? What do you value? If you are a seasoned teacher, think about your past experience... what works? If you are a new teacher, you might not have filled that place in your heart yet. Here, borrow some of mine:
  1. I believe the biggest factor in becoming a strong reader is to read. A lot.
  2. I believe the biggest factor in becoming a strong writer is to write. A lot.          (Pretty simple so far, right?)
  3. I believe in meeting each student where they are, as readers and as writers, and coaching them forward.
  4. I believe in using authentic, engaging texts.
  5. I believe in pushing students deeper into a text, both read and written, than they are comfortable with, in pushing them to challenge their own thinking and that of others (respectfully), and I believe in doing so by modeling these practices myself.
Jot down some key words and phrases inside your "Me" circle.


Influences

Take a minute and think about the influences surrounding the decisions you are about to make regarding your literacy day. This is going to help us approach from the right direction. Think about curriculum already in place, administrative/district demands, literacy frameworks (e.g. Daily 5, Reader's Workshop), state standards, but don't lose sight of your core beliefs about reading and writing.

Write down your influences at each arrow on your planner. Here are mine:


Components

It's time to list the actual components that may comprise your literacy block. For now, don't think about how much time to devote to each part, or even if you have the time for it. Let's use a balanced literacy approach to get started, with pieces for reading, word study, and writing. I've pre-filled many components onto your planner.


Now let's think about the importance of each component. This will help us with how much time to give each piece, and guide us when we have to make the tough decisions on what gets the short straw. Let's use a 0 to 3 star scale:
  • 3 stars: Vital. Non-negotiable. Reserved time daily.
  • 2 stars: Needed. Important. Daily or almost daily.
  • 1 star:  Helpful. Two to three times per week, or integrate into other pieces.
  • 0 stars: Extra. Only do when needed.
Remember that once you get to know your students, your priorities could (and often should) change based on their specific needs. Also remember that many components can be done together or in parallel (e.g. hold small group sessions during independent work/reading). But let's go ahead and get a starting place. Here's mine:


Schedule

Let's start filling in a possible schedule now. On the planner, I've laid out a flexible horizontal grid. Think of it like a football field, but instead of five-yard increments, we have five-minute increments.

First, draw a solid line to block off how much total time you have for your literacy block, as well as a double-line to show any breaks within the block, like for lunch, recess, etc. I'll show you how I did mine from last year:


You can see above that I had 140 of literacy, with a break at the 120 minute mark.

Alright, we need to get into the heavy work now, where we'll place components into the schedule. Here are some tips to think about as you are tinkering:
  • Think about the amount of time needed for each component in relation to other components. For example, keeping in mind my core beliefs, influences, and priorities, I know that however many minutes I devote to writing lessons, I need to devote more time to students actually writing.
  • Some components may not fit in every day. My biggest example is with "Word Study." While I do word study every day, I don't fit in every piece of Word Study. We may focus on grammar one day, while we focus on vocabulary another day. (This is where influences, like student needs and curriculum maps, play a role.)
  • Use your breaks as natural transitions. Does a component naturally fit into a certain slot?
  • What "pairs well" together? For example, I like to have a Small Group/Daily 5 session back up against my Whole Group Reading lesson, to set up an opportunity for students to apply what they just learned.
  • Keep in mind the number of transitions you create. Each transition takes time, especially if students get up and move to a different setting (e.g. desk to carpet), but it can also serve as a natural brain-break.
  • Don't forget about time for assessments. It might not directly change your daily schedule, but most of us give weekly, or at least bi-weekly assessments of some sort, which could affect the schedule for those days.
Below is how I filled in my literacy block, using three Daily 5 sessions.


The last step is to simply add in the actual starting times for each of your components. Here's mine:


I put together some alternate sample schedules for you to look at. This next one uses 140 minutes, but with a Reader's Workshop framework instead of Daily 5.


120-minute Sample Schedules

Here is a sample schedule for 120 minutes, using Daily 5. Another way would be to have two longer rounds of Daily 5 (20-25 minutes each) instead of three shorter rounds (15 minutes each).


And here's a version using Reader's Workshop.


90-minute Sample Schedule

Only 90 minutes for an entire literacy block is really short. I'm not sure how you would even fill the rest of your day. But even if you have more than 90 minutes, it's a great exercise to try filling out a 90 minute literacy block. It forces you to make some tough choices, even if they are hypothetical. Your core-beliefs really rise to the surface. Here is a sample I came up with:


Getting Started

Most of us don't dive right into a regular literacy block schedule the first week of school. My district uses a hybrid of the "First 20 Days" approach (a Fountas and Pinnell thing) to set up procedures and routines and build stamina (in a Daily 5 sort of way, for me), as well as work through beginning-of-the-year assessments.

So during those first couple of weeks, as you get to know your students, bounce that knowledge off of your schedule ideas. Do you have an extra wide range of abilities this year? Maybe decrease minutes for whole-group lessons and increase minutes for more differentiated instruction.

Once you get started with your regular schedule, time management can be tough. I have the most trouble being concise with my whole group lessons. No big deal every now and then, but running 10 minutes over can easily become the norm. My extremely low-tech solution to help myself stay on track with our schedule is to simply put sticky-notes directly onto our classroom clock.

I hope you got a good head-start on organizing your literacy block! In my next post, I'll zoom in to the guided reading component of the literacy block and share some ideas on how to organize and manage that. (Click HERE to be taken there.)


11 comments:

  1. Michael-I am so glad you wrote this post up. I've had quite a few ask about scheduling, and I think it is a challenge to figure out and depends so much on the time and needs of the group. I shared on my Facebook page, so if you'd like to respond to questions, hop on over.
    Carla

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  2. This is an AMAZINGLY helpful post! Thank you so much for the time you take to share your WONDERFUL ideas! My question is: what materials do you use to teach "Word Study"? Thank you for all that you do! :)

    Jenny
    http://captainplan-it.blogspot.com/

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    1. Hi Jenny!
      Thank you so much for your feedback!
      My district has a core reading program (National Geographic's "Reach for Reading"), which has a pretty comprehensive word study component. So that's the short answer.

      I really like the program's vocabulary component, and it's nice to have the vocabulary piece tie so integrally to the texts we read. The grammar piece is fine: at least it gives us a scope and sequence for the year. When we work on sentence structure, I like to supplement with PowerPoint presentations that I created to make it more engaging. For phonics and spelling, my team and I tied those pretty closely together, and since we have a teacher trained in Orton Gillingham (a phonics-based method), we were able to base our instruction on some of those principles.

      I also have a word study piece to our Daily 5, where students practice vocabulary and spelling through activities and games. One of these I use is my Making Words activity.

      I hope that helps a little. Without a core literacy program that gives you at least a scope and sequence (and even with one), I think it's most important that whenever possible, we make word study authentic and integrated into real reading and writing, to give it a purpose. The more isolated I make it (e.g. "Today we have a lesson on verbs, and this is the only 15 minutes of the day we will discuss them"), the less meaningful it is to students. But that's tough, and not always practical. But I think that's the right mindset.

      (You can find my sentence structure lessons/powerpoints and my making words activities in my store, if you're interested. I didn't want to come off too promotion-y.)

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  3. Exactly where I am at in my scheduling! Thanks for the info and the planning tools. I will use that!

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  4. Thanks for the super helpful post. I love the sticky note on the clock trick - I will be using that next year (in addition to the helpful schedule template!) to keep me on track. I found moving grades and a new school schedule really threw my timing off. Thanks!!

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  5. 140 minutes?! Wow! I would LOVE 140 minutes! I only get 90 minutes (really more like 80 with walking to lunch/specials/etc.). I teach 3rd/4th/5th grade Reading & Writing and scheduling is ALWAYS an issue. 90 minutes is NOT enough! Thank you for this post!

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    1. I'm in the same boat! It's not enough time!

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    2. I'm down to about 70mins once you take out fruit break and morning assembly. and I'm working with yrs 3-6 all at once so finding it super hard to accommodate everyones abilities in such a short period of time. super helpful post :)

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  6. I just cannot seem to get myself figured out this year! I've never had a dictated schedule and it's been hard adjusting to that. Thanks for this post! Good ideas for me to try to use!

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  7. I am so thankful for this post, I was in the middle of restructuring literacy in my classroom and I found this. Thank you so much.

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