Yesterday was like a black hole of a day. I was so busy every second and so discombobulated that at the end of the day I realized I couldn't remember a single thing I had taught. So is it any wonder the kids can't either?
Today I learned that I am doing a lot of things wrong. And it's not because I'm a bad teacher or an unintelligent person; it's because the procedures for teaching reading at my school are so arcane and so intricate that I feel like I need a second master's degree in how to fill out all the paperwork I'm expected to maintain. One of the things we have to do when meeting with a guided reading group is set out a "purpose for reading." We tell the kids that before they begin to read the book independently, they should keep in mind X or think about Y while they are reading.
(Quick tutorial for those of you who don't teach elementary reading: In a guided reading group, you pull all your kids who are reading at a certain level, and you read a book with them that's one level higher than their "just right" level. You sit down with them and preview the book, give them the gist of the story, show them some of the tricky words they'll encounter, and then you coach them and "guide" them as they read independently or out loud to you. Then you wrap it up with a teaching point you want them to remember. And then on the third day of a guided reading group, you do some kind of word work or word study activity based on the text.)
My students are all reading fairly low level books, and they finish them pretty quickly. So on the first day of a guided reading group I've usually made the "purpose for reading" some kind of comprehension question or a "pick your favorite page" thing. But then on the second and third day, since my kids have such big issues with fluency, I've asked them to think about reading in a smoother voice or pay attention to the rhyming words they hear.
Apparently this is a no-no, which is kind of a bummer for me, because it was going really well. During literacy coaching today our coach told me that the kids should not be reading the whole book on the first day of guided reading, but honestly, how do you split a 6-page book with one sentence on each page into three days of guided reading?
I think I am really doing my best to stay on top of things. I read all my memos and discuss them thoughtfully with my colleagues. When they started pulling out huge chunks of my AIS group during reading this week, so that I only had 3 kids there instead of my usual 10, I re-arranged my guided reading groups and strategy lessons so that I wouldn't be caught unexpectedly with nothing planned for the kids I had remaining. When we somehow ended up three teaching points short for the month of September, I planned my own mini lessons based on what I thought my kids needed to learn.
But unfortunately, all I ever hear about at my school is covering myself -- making sure I have enough labels on each kid once they come looking at my binders, making sure I'm planning my strategy lessons based off our reading checklist so that I can show evidence of why I decided to teach the lesson in the first place, making sure I'm checking everything off and filling everything out the right way. It makes me feel a little under-valued as a professional, like I can't be trusted to plan anything using my own discretion and judgement about what my students need. It's frustrating because in order to fit everything in (a mini lesson, guided reading, a strategy lesson and a share), I feel like by the end of the period I'm talking so fast and everything devolves into a half-assed, rushed lesson, even when I notice things that I really want to address. In fact, I find myself not really caring whether the kids actually got it or not, as long as I have something to write down on my checklist and labels! And some days I feel like a trained monkey could reel off the Teachers College mini lesson script as well as I can: "Readers, we have been learning that good readers ____. Today I want to teach you that good readers _____. Watch me as I show you how good readers _____. Did you notice how I showed you how good readers _____? Now it's your turn to try it. Take out one book from your book baggie and practice _____. Readers, I noticed how some of you ____. Today and every day I want you to remember that good readers _____. Off you go!" In fact, funny story: Today I sat down to guided reading with one of my beginner ELLs who's reading at a level B. With our beginner ELLs, we're doing a modified guided reading where we read the text aloud to them. So I read him the book, and then he grabbed it from me and said: "Now I will try!" because he's probably heard that "Now it's your turn to try it!" line so many times.
Even though I'm still having a much better time of it this year than last year, I will say this: Last year I had a lot more freedom to be creative, and that showed in my lessons. This year I'm starting to race through everything in order to follow the script, and my lessons are suffering for it.