Q&A from the Hello Literacy Inbox: "Am I Doing My Literacy Block Right?"

I get a lot of emails from teachers asking me general and specific questions about literacy instruction...99% of the time, I answer them and if I don't, it's because they get lost in the email abyss that happens between my iPhone and my real Inbox...and to the 1% that did not get a reply from me, I'm truly sorry.  I do, however, think that others might find value in others' questions as well as my response.  Therefore, from time to time, I will publish the questions of others and my email reply.  So here goes, an email I received today from Amy (first names only).

Hi Jen!

I'm a follower of your blog.  I have been teaching First Grade at ABC Elementary for six years.   

After reading many of your blog posts, I was wondering if you could shed some more insight.  I really like your CC ELA Comprehension Sheets.  After looking at those, it made me question my "Daily Cafe" block.  I've had an internal struggle for the past year that it doesn't look "correct" in my classroom.  We adopted Letterland [phonics program] this year, so one of my mini-lessons goes to that.  My other mini-lesson is usually a reading strategy of sorts.  I guess my biggest struggle is TIME! How do you get a good mini lesson in and get to more than 2 Daily 5 rotations!?  

Before adopting Daily Cafe last year, I was used to having "Shared Reading" where I used the basal or another picture book and then we usually practiced with a comprehension activity (pencil/paper/whiteboard/smartboard).  Since the Daily 5 adoption, I've tried to incorporate some of those activities, but it feels like they are too lengthy and cut into the "rotation/small group" time.  

I know I'm probably being repetitive, but I would appreciate any insight you can provide!!  

Thanks so much!

Hi Amy!

At Lake Myra, we don't do The Daily 5 structure.  Although the Common Core does not prescribe this structure or that to accomplish the teaching and learning of the standards, we do not feel that the structure of The Daily 5 best meets the needs of the students at our school, where our vision is, Preparing All Learners For Their Future. We do not do a pure Readers Workshop either, nor do we use a basal reading series. I would call our model a marriage of Guided Reading/Reading Workshop/Independent Literacy Centers.  (See my earlier post on my definition of "Independent", what it is and what it isn't.)  We do follow the CCSS pacing guides created by our county, which is "THE WHAT" students need to know, but at Lake Myra, we purposely collaborate, plan and craft "THE HOW" students will be taught it and hopefully, learn it. We select the appropriate text for the objective, either from books or magazines from our guided reading book room, our media center or the internet, we plan if they will do it for Guided Reading (with teacher support) and/or a literacy center (with peer support, without teacher support), we plan if they will read it in a small group, in a partnership or individually, we plan if it will be read it via book, paper, or digital device, and we plan some differentiated options for the product, project or result that best suits the teaching and learning of that objective or objectives.

When one observes my literacy block, which is 60 minutes with 24 3rd graders, of which they got a 15 minute reading mini-lesson with their teacher and a 15 minute word work mini-lesson from their teacher as well, and a 30-40 minute writing workshop block outside the reading block, too....the 60 minutes in my room are spent in 2 - 30 minute blocks...that's what works best for kids when you are trying to increase rigor, discussion, stamina of effort and perseverance and critical thinking...(it's very difficult to have a meaty text based discussion in under 15 minutes)...besides if students get 4 doses of a group at 15 minutes each per week that is the same as getting 2 doses of a group at 30 minutes each per week...why are letting the sun and moon determine what's best for students? 

So, 6 students come to me for guided reading and the rest are in cooperative, speaking & listening based groups doing higher level literacy activities, like Shades of Meaning, Picture of the Day, Analogies of the Day, Fluency & Word Work Center or a Research Center. They build their independent reading stamina outside my time with them in a sort of DEAR time outside the literacy block, which helps build the love and joy of reading because there are no instructional strings, extrinsic rewards or expectations attached to this time...it is purely about THEM, the books THEY want to read, THEIR reading interests, developing THEIR reading identities and what THEM getting what THEY want to get out of reading. Sadly, too many students don't love reading and this time is an attempt to counteract or prevent that...if you are looking for a research base for this, it's called the affective domain of learning, one of the three domains labeled by Bloom in the 1950's...the cognitive, the affective and the psycho-motor. The teacher is not correcting papers or busy on her computer. The teacher is READING STUDENTS CLOSELY, learning more about them as readers, researching her/his students, learning all the intricate details about them in order to know them well. 

As far as keeping the mini-lesson mini, that is KEY! Too many teachers, including myself are guilty of talking TOO long and teaching TOO much and turning a mini-lesson into a maxi-lesson...and 50 minutes later, you are still talking/teaching and they are wriggling around on the carpet in front of you and you can't figure out why. Teaching a literacy skill or strategy through a mini-lesson takes practice...both creating one and delivering one.  They key is not teaching too much but showing students how that skill or strategy helps deepen their understanding of text when they are reading it independently...in 10 minutes.  To do this, you will create your mini-lessons in the template I provided in this blog post. Then, you will get a timer! You will set it for 10 minutes and begin your mini-lesson, with it sitting on your lap if you have to. Stick to the time frames. This forces you to be concise and purposeful and stay on time and most of all, gives students enough time to work on it independently.   

So then, for the most part, students are doing, creating, discussing, researching on their own (but never alone...together collaboratively with their group) and reading and writing with me at guided reading.  I was recently observed by the IRT at a nearby school and after the hour was over, she said, "Wow, your literacy block is like the anti-sisters." She said, "At our school [a Daily 5 school], when students are doing Reading to Self, they are silent, when students are doing Reading with Someone, we also want them to do it quietly, when students are Listening to Reading, they are silent, when students are doing Word Work, we also want them to do it quietly, but nothing about what I heard or saw today was quiet.  There was a buzz of learning, interacting, cooperating, agreeing and disagreeing, students were talking and exchanging ideas, sharing ideas and forming new ones through the literacy centers I saw and heard in here today."

I'm sure you could tweak what it is you are having your students do while you call it Listening to Reading. For example, students could watch a YouTube video that is complex, like Michael Jordan's Nike Failure commercial, (remember that videos are media which is informational text) but would also be required to analyze and evaluate it.  They *could* do this by themselves, but it would be hard to agree and disagree with yourself. Now, I feel like I'm always thinking and asking myself, "How can I incorporate the Speaking and Listening strand into everything the students do?"...because as Jim Argent, principal at Lake Myra, has always said, "The person doing the talking, is the the person that's doing the learning."  When students are Reading to Someone, they are speaking and listening with one another, but to what level of fidelity of they truly agreeing and disagreeing with each other.  I feel like my Shades of Meaning Center accomplishes this.  Are they reading continuous, connected text with a partner? No. Are they reading words and discussing different contextual meanings of words with a group of students? Yes. Are they practicing the skills of 21st century learning...communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking? Yes. 

I guess the best way to answer your question is with a question.  To what degree of practice, fidelity and accountability are the students in your Daily 5 stations practicing communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking?  If the degree, fidelity and accountability level is something you can live with, then keep doing what you're doing.  If it is not, then change something.

Anyway, I hope I've addressed some of your concerns and questions and that my response has helped you in some way. Thank you for reading my blog and I'm glad it's helpful, too.

Take care,



Shakwana Rosenthal said...

This was so informative! You make me excited to finally do what I desire to do and that is coach teachers! Thank you again!

Anonymous said...

Can you recommend types of cooperative group activities for 2nd grade. Would you do shades of meaning and analogies?

Jennifer Jones said...

I absolutely would. Choose 3-4-5 words for 2nd grade and work up to 8. They also have the analogies book beginning in 1st grade.

Stacy Bigham said...

Great post! It's important to remember that Daily Cafe' is simply the structure of the literacy block (sounds like exactly what you are doing) and not the "teaching itself". I think it's very hard for teachers to wrap their heads around that fact because, for so many years, literacy instruction has been presented as a "program". The beauty of Daily Five is that you indeed get to make it your own. If you want to use Shades of Meaning as the expectation at Word Work/Listen to Reading, etc, WONDERFUL! My problem is when teachers create "lesson packets", expect kids to read them and work on them and call it "Read to Self". Make it meaningful and motivate those readers by giving them CHOICE (a Daily Five hallmark!). :)

staci brandt said...

Hi Jen,
I have been following your blog for awhile. I am so excited!! I already do shades of meaning and picture of the day in my classroom! You have changed my life as a teacher :) I absolutely love how you do your reading block. Do your cooperative group activities change throughout the year or are they consistent? If they do change during the year, can you give me more ideas of what you use?

Jen said...

Hi! I have been buying items of yours at TPT and just found your blog. You have so much to offer us! My school has to adopt the Common Core next year. There has been no training, no text book adoptions, no discussion, no anything! I feel like I am on my own to figure it all out and I am really struggling. On the flip side, I can do whatever I want because there is nothing coming from above. Can you tell me if your reading block would look the same for 4th grade as it does as you describe here for 3rd? What other items would you use-would you use the Picture of the Day or the Shades of Meaning? I purchased your CC Literature and Informational bundle and like the quality of your work! Could you run down what your 4th grade set-up would like like (do you only do Reading, or do you teach Writing/Grammar as well) and what other items you would recommend for 4th? On a side note, does your school have a scope/sequence available for helping me plan out my year? Or do you?

Jen (jen@grillo1.com)

Jennifer Jones said...

Although it is a fact that Daily 5, Daily Cafe, Reading Workshop, Guided Reading, etc., are STRUCTURES, many teachers are confused and think they are PROGRAMS because they have such a brand name, which the sisters have so craftily Branded. My problem is with the expectation of noise, or lack of noise. I want to hear my students buzzing, talking, agreeing and disagreeing out loud and with each other...something not encouraged in Daily 5 classrooms of the past.

Jennifer Jones said...

Jen...I replied to you via email. :-)

Crystal Knueven said...

I would like to see your response to Jen. I am not a new teacher, but I am new to fourth grade this year. I have taught first and second in the past and would love to see what you would suggest for fourth graders. I recently found your blog and just love everything I've read. My school was shut down due to mold this year and we have been on a reduced/split schedule this year. We were all moved into the HS building and are sharing rooms this year. I only have students for 4.5 hours this year, so it makes getting anything done in such a short time nearly impossible, but I am planning away for next year in hopes that we will have the portable classrooms ready and will get back to a more regular schedule.
Crystal (crysknueven@gmail.com)

Jennifer Jones said...

Sure! I will publish my email response to Jen. :-)

Jennifer Jones said...

Hi Jen!

I read your comment on my blog. Believe it or not, your lack of distict guidance, is actually a blessing of latitude. Be grateful you can do what you want.

Yes, the literacy block would be the same for 4th grade. 10 minute mini-lesson of word work/phonics/language/fluency etc. somewhere in your day, each day (with centers supporting the objective) and a 10 minute reading mini-lesson before a 60 minute content integrated literacy block. My centers are Shades of Meaning, Picture of the Day, Research (with Technology) and a Fluency/Word Work Center. (I'm developing a fluency product that will help with this.)

Then you will have a 30-40 writing workshop block including a 10 minute mini-lesson in there.

Caitlin Ramseyer said...

Hi Jen,

Thank you for sharing all of your knowledge and research with us. I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog and always take away so many new things I want to try. I am beginning to think of ways to tie your critical thinking centers into our Daily 5 framework (something our entire school is suppose to adopt) and I was wondering if you do Picture of the Day, Shades of Meaning, Fluency/Word Work, and Research each day or do you rotate them out every so often. I saw the literacy block schedule you posted when discussing your literacy block and noticed you only have 4 rotations and one was guided reading and the other was independent reading. I'm just curious! Thank you so much, you truly inspire me to be a better teacher and to ask myself more questions about why I do the things I do!

April said...

Jen... You are awesome! I wish I could follow you around and just do everything you do. So instead, I purchase your stuff and follow you here. Do you have a lesson plan template that you use that you could share? I too teach fourth and would love to see a template of how to plan using this schedule... Thanks for your time!

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