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I have said that I would be sharing with you some of the books that I have been reading.  Tonight I am going to share one.  I am going to be sharing a book that I am reading that has to do with my career.  You will find that I am one of those weirdos who does read books to help her become a better person.  No, I don’t only read professional development books.  You will find as you continue to read this blog, and hopefully I continue to write on it, that I read many books – science fiction, novels, drama, religious, young adult, kids, etc.  Tonight, I am choosing to focus on a professional development book, because I am trying to finish it with the end of the school year here.  The book is  Pathways to the Common Core.  I am reading it for two reasons.  The first, when I went to our State Education Departments network training earlier this year, people I met and talked to recommended it.  As a matter of fact, I am going to be seeing one of them soon when I am in Georgia for a conference.  I am excited to meet up with this teacher.  We actually have seen each other a few times since the State Ed training.  We are both excited to know that we were chosen to go to the conference in Georgia as now we will know someone else and can hang out – haha.  Anyway, it was recommended because they said that it helps you to understand how to adapt to the Common Core and it also makes you feel better, because you will find out that you are doing some of it.  They said you would not feel so overwhelmed.

The second reason why I am reading this book, is because of the conference I am going to in Georgia.  It is going to have some very interesting keynote speakers and I was looking at the program today and I am excited, and hope the workshops are as good as they are being described.  It is all about the Common Core, using rigor, and making it approachable and not so scary.  I want to read this book so that I am prepared and can really focus on how I need to change become a better teacher.  As I said in a previous post – I like the Common Core Standards.  I do not have a problem with them.  The problem I have is how they were rolled out with the modules, etc.  For more information, go back and read that post.  The standards really are good – I found this out again while reading the book.  This book really breaks the standards down.  Also, it then gives you some suggestions of activities you can do to help you understand them better.  Last, it talks about the progression of how the children build on these standards as they move up the grade levels.  I have found that to be one of the greatest points that this book brings up.  You can see how each year, the students dive a little bit deeper into the standard.  It really does make it seem not so overwhelming, and I am more comfortable.  You can see how all of the standards are related and build on each other.

What else do I think about the book?  Well, I will be honest with you… I still have about 40 pages left.  I am DETERMINED that I will finish it before I leave Saturday.  It is a book that you have to slowly read.  I read a chapter, then think about it. So, it has taken me a long time to read it.  I will say that what people said about it is true.  I have learned a lot from what I have read so far, and I am not so overwhelmed.  What makes me extremely happy about this book is that they say this……Children will become better readers reading high quality books, articles, and authentic literature rather than basals.  Basals are not the answer.  It also says that the more children read and write, the more they become better at it.  You need to teach them the different forms of writing, and then give them time to practice the skills.  It focuses on the Writers Workshop technique. Also, you need to give the children some choices so they have some ownership over their learning.  I loved reading that!  You do not understand how much I loved reading that!! I did the happy dance in my head!  I do NOT like scripted programs.  I have not used a basal in years.  I am happy to say that our administration has put their foot down when the subject of getting a basal reading series comes up in faculty meetings. Believe me, it comes up all the time!! I cringe when it comes up.  I am very happy that administration has put their foot down though!  I am sorry, but a basal reading series will not help children.  It is not an end all be all.  I am amazed when I go to our area BOCES workshops and talk to other schools.  Some schools use a basal and some do not.  Either way, we are all getting the same results.  We have some at my school that still use the old basal series.  I actually put mine in storage and it got thrown away.  I am okay with that!  I do not even miss it.   I prefer to use novels, magazine articles, and yes I do use an online reading program where you can print books, but they are entire books.  What I choose to use is authentic where the kids are handling real articles, real books, real magazines! The problem with basals, in the upper grades, is that they are only bits and pieces of novels and trade books.  It is much better if they read the entire trade book, article, etc.  I am also a firm believer in giving children some choice.  I use a modified Daily 5 in my room.  I also have some time in the day where the children just read.  If you value reading and pass that onto your students, they will learn to value reading.  I am happy to say, that that has happened the last 3 years.  They beg me to have more reading time.  Also, it is important that you model the love of reading, too.  I find that at the end of the day, when many of my special education students are being pulled for resource time, my struggling readers are pulled for RTI time, other students are being pulled for speech, etc is the best time to do extra reading.  At the end of the day, the children are tired, so they are shutting down.  But reading, helps them. During this time, they are allowed to read any book, magazine, etc. of their choice.  I stay away.  If they ask me for a recommendation I give them one, but they can read what they want.  We talk about how to pick books on their level, how it is okay to read an easier book that you love at times more than once.  Also, we talk about how sometimes you can abandon a book.  Maybe it was not what you expected, or you just don’t like it.  It is okay.  I find that  they are totally focused on their books. Plus, the ones that are being pulled are not missing important instruction.  It has worked wonders.  If I need to pull students to do a fluency check, or maybe help them get caught up if they were absent on work, etc. it is a great time because they are not missing instruction and getting more behind.  Next year, our schedules are totally changing, but I am sure that whenever the students are being pulled I will incorporate more reading time.  It is during this time, when I am also reading if not working with students.  I make sure that I at least spend some time reading,not always working with students.  Also, it is important to know that this is not a time for teachers to bebcorrecting, doing busy work.  This is NOT a time for teachers to be cleaning their rooms, checking their email, etc.  This is a time for us to model reading.  I may be reading a professional development book, a book one of my students recommends, a book I am thinking of reading with a reading group, etc.  Most importantly, I am modeling a love of reading.  Usually once a week, I pick someone to share the book they are reading.  This is great, because then you see other students write their name down on the book “waiting list”.  The only way to become a better reader is to read, read, read!  You need to be able to read to succeed.  Also reading helps make you a better writer!

During Daily 5 center time (if I am not meeting with their guided reading group, the children are busy at one of the Daily 5 centers – word work, writing, read to self, listen to reading, read to someone, math, or special center (think special occasions working on a card for Father’s Day, maybe working on a gift around the holidays, etc.)  All of the centers are not busy work, but a time for the children to practice skills.  In read to self, they are reading books on their level.  In read to someone they are reading magazine articles, or the book they are working on in their guided reading group to someone to work on fluency. They love reading to each other.  It is also interesting to watch them talk about what they are reading.  What kid does not like playing teacher :-).  Listen to reading, they are listening to the book on CD or using an iPad to listen to an audiobook. Word Work they are working on spelling (not a worksheet or workbook but using letter tiles to spell their words, sorting their words into spelling patterns, using scrabble tiles to add up their words points, giving each other a practice test on white boards, etc.,  Writing, they are working on writing to practice writing.  They might be working on a a rough draft, peer editing, working on a final copy, or writing in one of our classroom journals, or a free write in their journal.  Math is usually a math game.  Yes, it is not ELA but they need practice in math as well.  Very RARELY do I grade anything from their centers.  I am a firm believer in the fact that you can’t just use worksheets to grade. As a matter of fact, I rarely use worksheets.   If you spend more time grading than it takes for your students to complete the worksheet then it is pointless.  The point is that the children are practicing important skills.  They can easily do this WITHOUT a worksheet!  I want to use authentic practicing.   You will know if they are indeed practicing when it comes to listening to them read, having discussions and writing conferences with your students, grading their final published pieces, when they take an end of book assessment, their spelling test, etc.  At the beginning of the year, it takes many weeks of practice before the children are used to this routine.  They do know that they are held accountable for their behaviors, and we talk about being self-directed learners.  With practice, it is wonderful!  Soon,  I know that I can be working with a reading group and the others will just go to to their centers, choose an activity,  and work away. Then when we switch, it is a smooth transition.

My district has now adopted the Lucky Caulkins Writing Worskhop for next year.  I am super de duper excited about this.  I have always read up on this and wanted to try it. I do use a writing workshop technique (or at least I think I do, but I know it is not totally correct).  We are going to be having a training this summer.  As a matter of fact, the principal just delivered our “Units of Study” kits and the mentor texts to us today.  We are able to take them to look at them.  I am excited and hope that I get the chance to do this before the training.  I am not sure with the conference, but I am going to try.  I will at least glance at them. What I do know from reading the book Pathways to the Common Core is that it talks about how writers workshop gives the students lots more ownership and choices over their writing.  I strongly believe that children work better when they feel as though they have some control over what they are writing about.  I am excited about this opportunity.  I definitely hope that it does help our students develop stronger writing skills.

So, if you are looking for a book to read to help you become a better teacher, I highly recommend this book.  Do not let the title scare you.  You will not read it fast.  Well, maybe you will …I tend to always think so it takes me a bit longer to read books like this.  However, I think that you will enjoy it and find out that you do not have to totally  change your entire teaching philosophy since Common Core came along.  Yes, you will have to make some changes, but you will find that you do not have to change everything.  Again, feel free to adapt and adopt.

Happy Reading!