Sunday, September 25, 2011

My First Month in 6th Grade Reading

So I've been in school with my students since August 25th. A month.  Time for me to look back and think about how things are going.  And since I only teach reading this year, this is deceptively simple.

The year started with some chaos about what materials I was going to use.  I made a plan to use Reading Street and then changed it to use Elements of Literature.  I'm generally happy with that decision, even though I now have a set of Reading Street textbooks (and leveled readers!)

Why am I happy?  Well, my school has over 100 copies of Elements of Literature.  After a few weeks of using it, I was able to approach the principal and write a permission slip for families to check out a textbook to keep at home.  The kids do not need to carry it with them daily, since we are only using it once a week or so in class.  So this is a good option - the real test will be how many of the textbooks we get returned later in the year.  I'm hoping for the best (but prepared for the worst - I only gave out copies of the books that were damaged in some way, not the nicest ones.  That way not too much is lost if the books aren't returned.)

I've started "centers" as the district expects.  The original centers just didn't work out - not enough accountability, too fun centered, not rigorous enough.  I revamped them (keeping in mind the kids' needs and keeping it simple for planning) and started them again on Thursday.  What a difference!  The biggest drawback is the amount of copies I'm now using.  I hate it but for now there is no way to avoid it.

I need the kids occupied and semi-quiet because I've been asked to assess all my students using the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment kit.  This reminds me of my years in 2nd grade, doing DRAs on my (17-20)students 4 times a year.  Luckily, I think I'll only be doing this 3 times a year (now, January, and May) but I've got almost 80 students!  I've been told to start with the lowest and move up from there.

I have 3 classes - a high group with many AIG kids, a low-ish group with my special ed kids, and a low group with kids who have fallen through the cracks.  I really feel the high group needs to be doing more Reading Workshop style things - conferring and spending most of their class time READING.  My lower students do need the structure of centers, at least until their stamina develops. 

We have a curriculum night scheduled with a set of 7th grade teachers - we are going to talk to parents and students about 6th grade and then what to expect in middle school.  I'm really looking forward to this - I want to adapt my classroom (later in the year) to be more like what students will encounter in middle school.  I am fairly confident that students aren't doing centers and meeting with the teacher in small groups, but I could be wrong. The students will benefit from the structure of middle with the support of an elementary school setting.  I'm hoping it will ease the transition, especially for the low performing students.

I'll end with how I've beaten some of the stress - by getting crafty! The giant binder I need to use as a data notebook had an ugly, stained cover.  Here are a few pictures of the cover I made.  (And I can't have a post with 0 pictures!) It was super simple and I'm now looking for fabric to make several more covers - we teachers use a LOT of binders.

How has your year gotten started?  Have you had to majorly revise your plans and expectations?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It Pays to Plan

A quick post to share some good news! This is a lesson on why it pays to have a plan.

We had grade level meetings on Wednesday.  We'd been hearing from the Tuesday groups and the early Wednesday groups that it would be rough.  We made a few little jokes about flak jackets and braced ourselves.

And imagine how surprised our team was to hear that everyone (principal, assistant principal, instructional coach, and most importantly district folks) was happy with our PLANS and said to, "Leave them alone."

Happy Dance!!
We are so relieved.  The math teacher has worked really hard to improve his instruction - he's got a great plan for individualizing math instruction for mastery. Awesome stuff.  And you know all about my plan.

So let this be a lesson to us all - working on a plan pays off! (And it is now posted on my school website for parents to reference throughout the year.  No more explaining how things work!)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Where to start?

I had gotten in a good blogging mode in July and early August.  I was feeling reflective and had big plans. Funny how going back to school changes plans!  The early mornings and long to-do list just zap my energy.  Here are my thoughts on the first 7 days in 6th grade.

We started school on 8/25 and let me say - I'm so glad! It was awesome to begin on a Thursday - I didn't feel guilty for not beginning academics. I took (and am still taking) the time to teach routines, procedures, and expectations.  Since the kids are 6th graders, they know most things (especially school wide stuff) but it never hurts to go slow now to go fast later.

The first full week wasn't without its issues.  We still aren't on a regular schedule (won't be until this Friday) because of the 10 day attendance counts.  We have to wait in homerooms for the principal (or data manager) to come count the kids each morning.  Also, we have  a block of intervention time (for RTI) that we are currently using just as a cushion since we are getting a late start.  We have Benchmark/Universal screening day on 9/12, so after that we'll get groups set up and start Tier paperwork.

I'm surprised by how my classes have sorted themselves out. We knew one group was high - it has the AIG kids and potential AIG kids in it.  We deliberately made that group larger (29) so the lower functioning groups would be smaller.  I was initially nervous about having 29 kids in a group - but it works.  Now I just have to figure out how I'm going to manage them.  My feelings (and I've got some back-up from various sources) are that they are high enough (mostly at or above a 7th grade level) to not need typical guided reading groups.  They need more of a reading workshop approach (like I've been reading in The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell and Teaching Reading in Middle School by Laura Robb.)  I've got my Google forms set up so I'm in good shape for this - I can conference, they can read.  Perhaps the last 30 minutes will be "centers" so they get word study, writing, etc and maybe I'd pull a small strategy group.

My 2 other classes - whew!  The 2nd is low, it is where my special ed kids and ESL kids are.  I've also got a TA during this block.  She will be providing support for them when they do centers/independent work.  I think it will also work well because she can help with providing their accommodations and modifications during classwork and testing.  My 3rd class, which is after lunch, is just your run of the mill LOW kids.  There are a few who are doing ok, but they all did poorly on the first administration of the EOGs last May.  A few passed on the retest, but most did not.  This group is more boy heavy than the other 2 classes.  Add to this that we meet after lunch and you've got a recipe for disaster.  I'm really banking on them being motivated to go to recess (which is RIGHT after this class.)  I've got support from the other 6th grade teachers that if they don't get their stuff done, they stay in and work until it GETS done.

That's an overview for now - there are a boatload of other things I need to blog about.  Here's a list so I can remember them all: (I'll try to come back and make these links as I write the posts.)
  • Reading Street (remember this debacle??) - I've now got SOME (used loosely) materials for it, not sure how to use it with it being so incomplete
  • Spelling
  • Guided Reading vs. Reading Workshop
  • Computer testing expectations
  • Uses for TAs in upper grades (must be student centered, not clerical)
  • Centers/Stations during Guided Reading
  • Books I've read (wow! some awesome ones out there!)
How has your year started?  Have you got any suggestions on what on Earth I can do?