Advice on Creating Multiage & Multigrade Curriculum Calendars for Reading & Writing Workshop

 Which of these describe your classroom?

  • A range of readers whose reading stages and interests span everything and anything.
  • If you look at a list of independent reading levels for your class, you would see a good portion of the alphabet!
  • Some of your students have expansive vocabularies, while others do not.
  • Some of your kids have the habits and stamina to read and write for long stretches of time, while others have trouble keeping themselves focused for more than a few minutes.

There's a good chance that at least one of these describes your classroom, whether you teach more than one grade, or you teach a single-grade classroom. No matter the configuration, there will always be a wide range of personalities, levels of experiences, student needs, and learning styles. In a multiage or multigrade classroom, it simply becomes even more apparent.

Teachers of multiage and multigrade configurations know how to differentiate for students, regardless of the grade level to which they are assigned. They are accustomed to teaching an overall unit of study to the whole class, while conferring with with individual students and teaching small groups to tailor their instruction. That is, in essence, what teaching multiage just is, making reading and writing workshop especially well suited for a multiage or multigrade classroom.

First things first: What's the difference between multiage and multigrade?

In daily conversation the two terms are often used interchangeably. However, researchers and nerds like me tend to use the two words differently. Multiage refers to a classroom composed of children who are more than one year apart in age, who aren't necessarily designated a grade level. Instead, the teacher differentiates instruction for each student according to their developmental, social, and academic stages -- regardless of age. In the United States, toddler and preschool classrooms are often organized this way--it is less common once kids arrive in kindergarten.

Multigrade classrooms are just as the name sounds -- more than one grade level combined. Often multigrade classrooms are created not only for educational purposes, but also for practical purposes - to address low enrollment, or to immerse groups of less mature children in the positive behaviors and communication skills of the the older children (i.e. separate large groups with major behavioral issues into smaller groups). In multigrade classrooms, children within the classroom each are designated to a particular grade level, and move on to the next grade level each year. However, many of the same principles of differentiated instruction, and accommodations for developmental, social, and academic needs still apply.

Potential  Benefits of Multiage and Multigrade Classrooms

  • Children ideally "loop" with their teacher, meaning they stay with the same teacher (and some of their classmates) for more than one year. This consistency had numerous potential benefits -- so long as the child's relationship and experiences with the teacher and classmates are positive.
  • Younger children, and children who have less experience outside of school with books, language, and literacy, are immersed in a classroom full of children who are older and potentially have more experience with books, language, and literacy. The older children (along with some younger children) model communication skills, vocabulary, and literacy skills that benefit the younger or less experienced students.
  • Children develop connections with classmates across grade levels and classrooms, creating a school-wide community, a network of friendships and relationships that span across classrooms.
  • Teachers in multiage and multigrade classrooms must be able to differentiate instruction for a wide range of ages, stages, and learning styles -- as all teachers must. The necessity of differentiation is just much clearer in a multiage setting.

Researchers generally agree multiage and multigrade groupings are on par with single-grade level classrooms academically, socially, and emotionally. Some researchers have found positive benefits to multiage classrooms -- however those benefits are strongly tied to teacher philosophy, training, and implementation.

Planning a Curriculum Calendar for Multigrade or Multiage Classrooms Using the Units of Study Series

The wonderful thing about the Units of Study series is that although the minilessons in every book may be geared to grade-level standards, they are actually multi-level in many ways, and are often quite transferable to more than one grade level. Even though the box may say “Grade 2” on it, in many cases it is quite easy to transfer many of the strategies up or down a level or two. If you teach multiage, you basically have the advantage of having twice as many units to pick from. Personally, I wish every teacher could have access to the grade above and the grade below sets of books, multiage or not.

Of course, all of the principles I describe below would apply to any reading and writing workshop - even if you aren't necessarily using the Units of Study. For ease and efficiancy, however, I've written this advice for teachers using the series.

The key is to make decisions based on students' actual writing and reading work, rather than their age or assigned grade level. When you put the "official" grade level aside and just see them as a group of kids with a range of needs, things come into focus.

For example, a 1/2 class will have a wide range of readers & writers --- but so does any single- grade classroom. To plan a calendar of units for your school year, gather up as many various assessments and samples of student work as you can. Look to last year's teacher for the students who are new to your classroom. This might include running records, conferring notes, sample post-its or responses to books, published and "raw" writing samples, letter-sound identification, high frequency word recognition, spelling stages... everything you can get your hands on. Some people like to use a chart to organize all that data. Click here to see a few examples. 

Then use the combination of the first grade boxed set, the second grade boxed set, and the If/Then book to create a calendar that makes sense. You might refer to the link below for additional considerations for yearlong planning:

Creating A Yearlong Curticulum Calendar (Originally posted October 3, 2015)

Tips on Adapting an Existing Unit of Study

In some cases you may be able to teach a single grade unit "as is" in your mutliage/multigrade classroom. But you will want to be prepared to adapt the unit to match the instructional goals of your own students (this is true no matter what kind of classroom you teach in!). A few simple ideas for adapting a unit:

1. Consider adding or swapping out minilessons using a unit of study from one grade up or down. You might do this if you notice particular minilessons missing from the unit you've selected, but a more likely scenario is that you'll want to add to the minilessons that are already there, to give your children extra practice using other, similar minilessons from another unit.

2. Consider skipping or adding in "Bends in the Road."  The Units of Study for Reading and Units of Study for Writing are all organized into 2-4 parts, called "Bends." Each bend is a string of lessons that fit well together. Organizationally speaking, they are quite easy to remove, add to, or swap. You might, for example, decide to do only the first two bends of a lower grade level unit, and then move over to the first two bends of a similar upper grade level unit. Or you might decide to do only the first three out of four bends of a more challenging unit. Or you might design your own bend to introduce a unit, before teaching the first bend as it is written.

3. You'll notice that within the Units of Study for Writing, there are always a few lessons in every unit introducing a checklist to help students set goals, self-assess, and reflect. There are similar goal-setting units in the Units of Study for Reading. With a multiage or multigrade classroom, you'll want to introduce more than one checklist so that each of your students is working from a checklist that is "just right" for them -- aim for a checklist that will allow the student to check "yes" to a number of items, but not every item - there should be some work to do on that checklist!  In a 2/3rd classroom, for example, you may have a handful of students still working from the first grade checklist, groups using the 2nd grade, 3rd grade, and even a handful using the 4th grade checklist. You might decide to teach the checklists and rubric lessons via small group work instead of whole class.

But what about the start of the year in a K/1 classroom? I don't have any student work to look at for my kindergarteners yet.

You could use what you know about last year's kindergarteners to anticipate how much experience your incoming students might have had with books and being read to. You could reach out to families and preschools over the summer with a questionnaire, phone calls, or even home visits. Even a little bit of information about each child will be helpful in anticipating how best to launch your literacy year.

Many K/1 classrooms tend to teach kindergarten units first, and then switch over to first grade mid-year -- Unit 1 in first grade will dovetail with Unit 4 from kindergarten. You might decide to use the nonfiction unit from the If/Then book instead of the first grade nonfiction unit depending on the time of year.

The first two units for kindergarten are perfect for emergent readers but will not give your conventional readers the strategies they need for anything past levels A/B.  The If/Then guide to instruction included in all of the Units of Study boxed sets is a great guide for your small group work. Look to If/Then Word Detectives unit if you need more print strategies for small group work early to mid-year. You could teach the minilessons that seem to apply to the biggest number of students in your whole classroom, but then get busy pulling small groups aside to differentiate. It'll be more important than ever to keep your minilessons "mini" so that you don't use up all your conferring and small group work time.

Here are a few links to resources keeping your minilessons brief, engaging, and succinct.

Top Ten Ways to Keep Minilessons from Turning into Maxilessons

A Short & Sweet Minilesson Formula

How to Plan A Minilesson from Scratch

There Are More Than One Ways to Teach A Minilesson

Minilessons: It's All About the Link

Instant Minilesson Follow-Up

Should I always teach the same unit to my whole class?

In general, research suggests that ability grouping doesn't pay off. The social aspects of learning together simply outweigh any potential reasons to split kids up - not to mention the precious minutes spent traveling from one room to another. Kids thrive on consistency and relationships -- with the teacher and the other students. So, sending one group out of the room (or to a certain part of the same room) to do something else while the rest of the class carries on is obviously not a great instructional model.

However, I'm reminded of a challenge that we ran into this year with a 2/3/4 multiage classroom I work in. (Yes - that's three grade levels combined!) During persuasive/argument writing the team (two teachers) did decide to break into two groups - one group to write reviews & letters, and the other to study literary essay - the split was mostly 2/3 & 3/4 but there was a 4th grader or two that they kept with the reviews/letters group. In this situation, the decision to split was not necessarily along grade level groupings, and felt different from traditional ability grouping. Though they preferred to keep the class together, they decided to give it a try and seemed to be successful. 

What does a multiage or multigrade curriculum calendar look like?

Take a look at the following examples from different first/second multigrade teams I work with.

1. In the both examples, the teams were new to reading workshop, and decided to launch with the first grade unit to support routines, volume, stamina, and to foster great book selection habits.

2. We also aimed to alternate between fiction/nonfiction reading, and we made sure to touch on narrative, informational, and opinion types of writing. 

3. In the first example, the team knew that the first graders coming in, as well as the second graders, would benefit from some foundational skills teaching at the start of the year, so they selected 2nd Grade, Book 1, as their second unit of study, knowing that in this unit, they will be able to differentiate the type of word-solving and other foundational skills all of their students might need. They also liked that both of their first two units allow students to shop from the entire classroom library, which seemed like a great way to get started as teachers who are new to reading workshop, and have limited supplies of books.

4. In the second example, the team knew that their readers would need lots of practice thinking deeply about books: making inferences about characters, comparing and contrasting books, and elaborating on their ideas, especially. So they created a calendar that would allow them to emphasize the units where comprehension is made big. (Tip: In general, the reading units are more specific to particular stages than the writing units. When you're designing your yearlong curriculum map, it might be helpful to consider the needs of your students as readers first, and then align the writing units accordingly.)

Last, But Not Least: Examples

I often receive requests for example of various grade level configurations. Here are a few others that might serve as inspiration for you work with your colleagues: Disclaimer: None of these are meant as recommendations--only examples of how other schools have done this work. You absolutely must consider the needs of your students first, as well as your own familiarity with each unit. For example, some of these plans include test prep, which is not something that I necessarily endorse or recommend, but is a requirement for some schools.

 

 

 

 

The Last Few Days of School: Simple Ways to Support Free-Range Summer Reading & Writing

The last few days of school, which once seemed so far-away we could barely imagine them, are on the horizon, coming into sharper relief and clearer focus every day. As your last few days approach, you might consider planning to do a special wrap-up to reading and writing workshop, and set your students up to read and write all summer long. 

Knowing how crazy and hectic the last few days can be, I've created a possible outline of the last five days of school for reading and writing.

Day T Minus 5 Days and Counting: Take Time to Reflect

With five days left of school, you might take 15-20 minutes to reflect on reading workshop by bringing out all the read-alouds and shared reading texts from the year and giving students time to talk with a partner about their favorites. Students might look back through their reading notebooks, or browse the classroom library to make a stack of their most favorite or memorable books. As a class, you could create a list of favorites. You might watch a quick video clip of the class talking about a read-aloud from early on in the year, followed by a more recent video-clip and discuss how they've grown as readers and thinkers.

In writing workshop, you might take 15-20 minutes for students to look through their yearlong writing portfolios, talking with a partner about how they've changed across the year. You might also display all your mentor texts, and your own teacher-created writing for kids to discuss favorites (and not-so-favorites) as a class.

Day T Minus 4 Days and Counting: Making Plans for Living the Writerly (and Readerly) Life

As the end grows nearer, you might consider giving kids a chance to select the type of reading and writing they hope to do over the summer. Encourage them to read and write anything and everything! You could share a list of possible ideas for inspiration like any of these:

Find out if your school can allow kids to take home a baggie of books or a collection of library books to read for the summer. This would be the day to fill those summer book baggies. This would also be a great day to give kids a fresh writing notebook or folder to use over the summer to continue their writing lives. Many schools encourage kids to come back to school in the fall ready to talk about their summer book baggies and summer writing folders/notebooks.

Day T Minus 3 Days and Counting: Make Some Plans

If we really want students to read and write over the summer, they'll need very clear realistic plans and deadlines. Today you might give kids time to create a plan or a calendar for their summer reading and writing. Even the littlest kids can create a plan by drawing a place where they plan to read and write, or making a list of people they'd like to read with. Older kids can mark deadlines for themselves on a calendar.

Day T Minus 2 Days and Counting: Freedom to Read and Write on Their Own

Today is the perfect day to set aside some nice quiet, relaxing time to read and write completely on their own. Put on some soft music in the background, turn down the lights -- better yet, go outdoors if you can, and give kids time to practice summer reading. At the end of their quiet reading and writing time, they might reflect in writing or by talking with a partner on what they think will be easy about summer reading and writing, and what they think might be challenging.

Last Day of School!

On the last day of school, you might celebrate by sending home special reading and writing tools, along with their book baggie, writing notebook/folder and plans. I always loved "Reading Kits" and "Writing Kits" that contained special pens, post-its, bookmarks, flashlights for reading under the covers and other book-lover goodies to inspire kids to read and write all summer long.

Fifth Grade: Classroom Library Books to Support Reading Workshop

Welcome back!

If you're just joining me, over the past week this series has focused on suggestions for organizing beautiful classroom libraries. Each day this week, I posted suggestions for each grade level, based on the Units of Study for Teaching Reading by Lucy Calkins et al. (which I am honored to have played a role in creating). In previous posts I outlined suggestions for: kindergartenfirst gradesecond gradethird grade, and fourth grade classroom libraries. Today I have suggestions for fifth grade.

Fifth graders are a delight to work with. They have an awareness of what others think, are developing their own opinions about important issues, and often passionately concerned about justice and fairness. They sometimes seem so grown-up, but deep down many of them are still drawn to stories with animals as main characters and love silly humor. They often have a craving for fairy tales and fantasy, for singing songs, and being read-aloud to. For fifth graders, books can be simultaneously serve as a way into young adulthood, and a way to escape it.

Your fifth grade library can reflect the interests, personalities, and needs of the young people who will be reading from it. Across the year, baskets of books can rotate in and out of the library to support the work of each particular unit, and keep kids interested in finding new books. Throughout the year, your library will be filled with fiction or nonfiction books to match the range of reading levels and interests of your fifth graders. Dividing your library into two halves - fiction and nonfiction will help you organize for upcoming units and manage book shopping more easily. During a fiction unit, you can simply pin a curtain over the nonfiction half. During nonfiction units, the curtain can come down to reveal fresh nonfiction titles.

As you build your collection, be conscientious about the groups who are represented on the shelves of your classroom library, analyzing through many lenses. How racially diverse are the main characters in your books? Are there both male and female protagonists? How do the characters in your classroom library defy stereotypes (or not)? Is there a diverse representation of families, lifestyles, traditions, socioeconomic status, disabilities, and characters of all shapes and sizes and walks of life - in both fiction and nonfiction? Consider this always a work in progress. If you're not sure where to begin, the official site of the #weneeddiversebooks campaign is a good place to begin to educate yourself on the need for more diverse books, and where to find them. The publisher, Lee and Low Books, specializes in multicultural books for young readers, and their website and blog are a terrific resource for learning more.

Traditionally, a classroom library might be organized by baskets of leveled books. However, I want to encourage you to go beyond baskets marked by reading levels. Of course, you might have a few baskets marked this way for convenience, but you may want to downplay levels and instead highlight baskets filled with favorite authors, topics, themes, genres, character traits, and other, more enticing ways of encouraging kids to find a book they really want to read.

Unit 1: Interpretation Book Clubs: Analyzing Themes

It is said that books can serve as "windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors" (Bishop R.S., 2015 ). Your fifth grade library can provide a window for students into lived experiences from a wide range of perspectives. Through books they are offered a glimpse into many cultures, time periods, and other worlds, while at the same time books can provide a mirror--a place to see their own identities and familiar experiences reflected back to them. Author Grace Lin spoke eloquently about the importance of windows AND mirrors in her recent TEDx talk. If you haven't seen it yet, be sure to watch it soon. For this unit, look for books that lend themselves to meaningful thinking and conversation.

It will be incredibly useful to organize books for this unit by themes or issues that characters face, so that clubs can easily make plans to read multiple books on one theme, allowing them to compare and contrast, and think deeply about how different characters experience similar themes or issues. Some of the suggested themes might include issues of cultural differences, overcoming obstacles of all kids, fitting in, loneliness, loss and grief, family struggles, race and identity, growing up, healing emotional wounds, and others.

In any club unit, it's ideal to have multiple copies of each title, so that partners or groups of kids can read and talk about the same book. However if you are short on books, you can scrape by with kids reading individual books and then swapping with a partner. Remember that depending on the length of the text, you can plan on clubs reading approximately a book a week (a week and a half at the most).

This unit builds nicely off of the work your students may have done in the fourth grade character unit (Fourth Grade Unit 1, Interpreting Characters: The Heart of the Story). In fact, you may be able to borrow or share books with your fourth grade colleagues to provide more choices of titles. Chances are, you will have some titles that you aren't using and so will they. In some schools, all the best multiple copies of books with strong characters and themes are placed on rolling carts so they can easily become a rolling library to be shared from classroom to classroom.

Unit 2: Tackling Complexity: Moving Up Levels of Nonfiction 

For this unit, you may want to pin a curtain over the fiction side of your library, or swap the books out to create excitement over the nonfiction books your kids will be reading. You will want the shelves of the nonfiction half of your classroom library to be pouring with high interest, engaging informational texts. Put out information books of all types of text structures, with all kinds of engaging features. Organizing books into bins based on topics (rather than levels) will help your students find books on topics they are curious about. The books inside the bin might be marked with a dot or a letter, or some other marking, to assist students in finding a book they can read with accuracy, fluency, and deep comprehension -- but it will be important that students go beyond the sticker. They'll need to open books up and read a few pages to truly get the sense of how challenging the text will be.

Unit 3: Argument and Advocacy: Researching Debatable Issues

In this unit, your student will be reading as many sources as they can to research debatable issues like deep sea versus outer space exploration, the benefits versus the risks of extreme sports, animals in zoos, and the pros and cons of plastic bags. The authors of the Units of Study for Teaching Reading have made some text sets available in the digital resources that come along with the units, so all you'll need to do is print them out and get them organized, along with additional books and texts that you'll want to add to the online starter sets.

For organization, you may want to compile the articles and other printed resources for each topic into packets that students can have for their own, to reread often, highlight and mark up. Each club can store their packets, books and other materials in a shared bin, so that everything they need for studying their topic and preparing for debate is in one container.

In addition to the texts students will be reading to research their chosen issue, you might have students shop for one additional book, one that is purely their choice, fiction or nonfiction, to keep their personal reading lives alive and well. 

Unit 4: Fantasy Book Clubs: The Magic of Themes and Symbols

This is a unit that you and your students will look forward to all year long. In this unit, your students will work in reading clubs to read a fantasy series of their choice. The goal is for them to read an entire series, or as many as they can, across the unit. You'll want to scour your classroom, as well as your school and community library to pull together as many books as you can for kids to choose from. Keep in mind that the first book in any series is most important, so prioritize those.

If you are short on books, you can still have a very successful unit of study. One option would be for partners of students (instead of clubs) to each read one fantasy book and then swap. Another option would be to adapt the unit so that students read individual fantasy titles, rather than series -- of course, you can group similar stories and characters, or books that contain similar themes, or elements, so that they are somewhat like a series, and kids can still do most of the work of the unit.

Third Grade: Classroom Library Books to Support Reading Workshop

Welcome back to my classroom library series!

In this series, I hope to provide advice for organizing beautiful, engaging classroom libraries to support reading workshop. Across this week, I will share suggestions for each grade level, based on the Units of Study for Teaching Reading (which I am honored to have been a part of creating). In previous posts I outlined suggestions for kindergarten, first grade, and second grade classroom libraries. Today I have suggestions for third grade.

I do want to say (again) that there is one thing that all of the books in the world cannot replace: You! No matter how how many books you have in your classroom library, it is your love for books, and your dedication to teaching reading that is crucial. While having an amazing classroom library is incredibly helpful, there are many ways to make the best with what you have, adapt, stretch and still have an engaging and successful reading workshop. This series will suggest some goals to aim for, and you and your colleagues can work together to figure out what makes sense for your team.

With that said, think of your third grade classroom library as a tool for making kids fall in love with reading. Picture how you will display books, recommend titles, and draw kids in. Your classroom library isn't simply a place for book storage -- it's a place to put  books on display, highlight favorites, celebrate new arrivals, and broadcast your own love of reading as well as the kids'. Think about ways to make your classroom library inviting and attractive -- a place in your classroom that kids want to be. 

Traditionally, a classroom library might be organized by baskets of leveled books. I want to encourage you to go beyond baskets marked by reading levels. Of course, you might have a few baskets marked this way for convenience, but you may want to downplay levels and instead highlight baskets filled with favorite authors, topics, themes, genres, character traits, and other, more enticing ways of encouraging kids to find a book they really want to read.

Across the year, baskets of books can rotate in and out of the library to support the work of each particular unit. This has the added benefit of keeping the library fresh and new. Throughout the year, your library will be filled with fiction or nonfiction books, and sometimes a mix to match the range of reading levels and interests of your third graders. Dividing your library into two halves - fiction and nonfiction will help you organize for upcoming units. Many teachers simply pin a curtain over the half of the library not currently being used, to manage book shopping more easily.

Unit 1: Building a Reading Life

This unit is designed to get kids hooked on books, and in the spirit of things, you'll want to search out all your best, most engaging, enticing, beautiful, funny, meaningful, and exciting books. Look ahead to your upcoming units -- you will want to save your nonfiction for Unit 2 and Unit 4, and you may want to save your best realistic fiction series books and character books for Unit 3 (though you might sneak a few of those books out if you know they'll hook a reader).

That means this is the perfect unit to arrange baskets of mysteries, fantasy, historical fiction, sci-fi, graphic novels, picture books and chapter books to match the range of reading levels your third graders will need access to. Take full advantage of the chance to encourage kids to read humor and action stories. Look for high interest books that you know will get kids looking forward to reading workshop. Hook them with your best stuff!

Unit 2: Reading to Learn: Grasping Main Ideas and Text Structures

Chances are, when you were a kid, you learned to "skim and scan" nonfiction books to collect facts -- often in the name of research for an assignment or a project. This is not that kind of reading. In this unit, kids will be filling their book bins or baggies with beautiful nonfiction books and reading them, cover to cover. Traditional reference books, textbooks, encyclopedia-ish types of text and the like won't work well in this unit. 

Nonfiction books for children have come a long way in the last two decades, and it isn't difficult to find engaging, rich informational texts that kids want to read. Publishers like DK and National Geographic publish gorgeous nonfiction series books for every reading level. Aim for a wide range of topics to suit the interests of the kids you teach - everything from animals, pets, plants, and nature, to monster trucks, outer space, extreme sports, and Star Wars. In this unit, your aim will be to gather as many different individual titles as possible -- unlike other units, the emphasis here is not on reading one topic, or necessarily reading the same text as partners (that comes in Unit 4).  

Nonfiction tends to be more difficult for some readers, so you may want to especially focus on gathering easy just right books - ideally enough books for every reader to have 5-6 new books per week, depending on the length of the text. It's common for students to find just right nonfiction books that are one or even two levels "down" from their fiction just right books -- but it all depends on the topic, vocabulary, and reader interest.  

In the third bend, you'll teach kids strategies for reading narrative nonfiction. For this part of the unit, you might want to make it easy for kids to find those books in the classroom library by creating bins designated for narrative nonfiction, so that students won't have to search the entire nonfiction half of your library for narrative text structures.

If nonfiction books are in short supply, you might arrange baskets of books for groups of students to share, instead of each student having their own 5-6 books. You can also use the nonfiction you might have otherwise saved for Unit 3 to bulk up the baskets and give kids more choices. Magazines and online resources (I rather like Pebble Go) can also be used to bolster your nonfiction collection - though these do tend to be more challenging for readers. 

Unit 3: Character Studies

In this unit, you can pull the curtain down from the fiction half of the library to reveal baskets brimming with strong characters and series books. Keep in mind that often genre-fiction, like mystery and fantasy, at typical third grade reading levels (M/N-P/Q) tend not to have very well developed characters. These books work great at the start of the year for hooking readers and for plot work, but they aren't ideal for deep thinking about character development, character change, complex relationships, theme or lessons learned. Realistic fiction books and series tend to have better developed characters. You might organize books by author, series, or gather up similar types stories into bins (ex. adventure stories, school stories, characters who overcome obstacles, sports stories). You might organize some baskets by style (ex. funny, books that make you think, books in poem form, short story collections), or by character traits, even (ex. tough cookies, overcoming shyness, super smart characters, goofy). For this unit, it's ideal to have multiple copies available so that partners or groups of kids can form clubs to read and talk about the same book. However, in a pinch, the unit could also be successful with kids reading individual books and then swapping with a partner, or simply reading on their own.

Unit 4: Research Clubs: Elephants, Penguins, and Frogs, Oh My!

A main feature in this unit will be reading multiple books on one topic to build content knowledge and vocabulary, compare and contrast sources of information, and to read increasingly difficult texts. As such, you'll want your classroom library to support this work by creating sets of nonfiction books. It's highly recommended that you gather books about animals, since many of the reading skills will model using animals as an example. However, you could conceivably teach the unit using animals as your example in minilessons, with kids transferring those skills to books about any topic. Fortunately, for many of us, nonfiction animal books aren't very difficult to find!

What is a challenge, however, is gathering books that kids can read with ease, fluency, and deep comprehension. You can combine 3 levels of books in a topic basket, to stretch your resources, so long as each student is matched up with basket of books that is either just right, or easier -- never too hard.

Whether you are ordering books, or gathering books from the school or community library, select the animals that seem interesting to your students or connect with your science curriculum, then find 15-20 titles about each animal, keeping in mind you'll need multiple titles at each reading level range. 15-20 books will be enough for a group of 4 or 5 students to share for about a week. Then do that for as many animals as possible, to offer as many choices of animals as you can to each group of students. You'll need a minimum of 3 different animal baskets for each book club (one for each bend of the unit) -- but keep in mind some baskets can be swapped from one group to another.

Multiple copies of each title in the basket cold be used, but really are not necessary. Kids could read a book, put it back in the basket for another member of the club to read, and in a short time they all will have at least one book in common to talk about.

If books are in very short supply, consider making your topics broader (sea creatures instead of sharks, for example), or broadening the range of levels in each baskets (levels J-M instead of J/K), and making the clubs a little bigger (5 students instead of 3-4). If this is the case, make it a goal to build your collection over time and make use of school and community resources to provide more books on each specific topic, and better fit in difficulty levels, so that you can have fewer students in each group. 

Classroom Libraries to Foster a Love of Reading

Recently Kylene Beers, researcher and educator extraordinaire, posted this humorous anecdote on Facebook:

kylenebeers.png

I think this post resonated for so many of Kylene's readers because of the truth of it: books make all the difference, yet schools often continue to search for some other magic bullet. Often we (all of us: parents, teachers, and administrator alike) go looking for programs even when independent reading time is continually shortchanged in our buildings and good books are in short supply.

Donalyn Miller recently wrote an excellent post summarizing the research on the effectiveness of independent reading. This is research that every teacher needs to know about. It resonates with what in our heart of hearts we already know to be true: kids need lots of time to read books in school, and they need access to lots and lots of good books to read. 

A first step toward making your classroom into a place that inspires kids to want to read a lot of books is to do a quick self-reflection on how things are going for you in your classroom.

Classroom Libraries:

1.     Is the classroom library inviting and attractive? Does it inspire kids to want to read?

2.     Is the classroom library organized by topics, interests, authors, characters, genres, and other categories that will spark curiosity?

3. Can kids find books that they can read with ease and fluency, whether they are marked with a level of some kind or not? If the levels are marked somehow, are you confident that the levels are somewhat accurate (to the extent that is possible since no leveling system is perfect)? 

4.     Are there enough books? (See below for a tool to help you with this).

5.     Have you considered putting aside some of your books for later in the year? (For example, books that are clearly too difficult, or books that will be wonderful for a later unit of study).

 Book Baggies:

 1. Are there enough books in each book baggy to easily last a child one week? (10-12 for beginning readers, levels A-F, 8-10 for transitional readers, levels G-I, and 6-8 for early chapterbook readers, levels J-L). Do they swap their books routinely (about once a week) for fresh, new, exciting books?

2.  Are the most of the books in the baggies matched to the reader for independent reading (with deep comprehension, ease, and fluency), plus some books that are instructional or practice texts?

 3. Do the books support the work of your current unit of study? Are you sure? (Not all fiction books are equally supportive for interpretation work, for example. And that is a topic for another post!)

 4. Are there any tools for reading workshop in the baggy? (For example, pointers, bookmarks, mini-charts, personal word wall, alphabet or blends chart, conference or small group reminders). 

5. Looking across baggies: Is it clear that baggies are differentiated? Can you tell that kids choose their own books? Can you tell that tools that are geared for their particular needs? (Red flags: All kids have exactly the same tools and materials in their baggies, or an adult routineley selects books for students.)

Now that you've done a little reflecting, you may need to look a little closer. It might be helpful to do an inventory, to see what kind of books you really have and how many. Recently I did a quick informal inventory of every classroom library in our district (phew!). Through some trial and error, I created a template that you might find helpful as well.

Classroom Library Inventory Template (Excel Version)

Classroom Library Inventory Template (Google Sheets Version)

Once you know how many books you have, plus have an idea of what you need, you can create a wish list of ordering and donation requests. 

Kids love a classroom library that looks like a fun place to be. Check out 4th grade teacher Katie LeFrancois's classroom library at Richmond Elementary School in Richmond, Vermont. Her books are organized in baskets based on interesting topics, favorite authors, genres, and characters. She's always hunting for more books, looking for new ideas, and sharing her love of reading with her students:

Here's more of Katie's inviting library:

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A close-up of some of those basket topics:

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Kathleen Sokolowski's third-grade classroom at Saltzman East Memorial Elementary School in Farmingdale, New York, is the epitome of organization. She uses the space so well. Even the tiny area between the windows is used to display more book covers that might hook kids!

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The book covers and photos of authors on book baskets draw kids in. It's so easy to take these small details for granted, but these are things that kids are attracted to, and will remember long after they've left your classroom behind.

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Wouldn't you love to be a kid in these classrooms? 

Need some more inspiration? Chances are you need not look any further than your own school building!

The next chance you get, pop into some of your colleagues' classrooms and gather some inspiration of your own. Bring your camera and take some notes on the pros and cons of different classroom library systems. Your kids will thank you for it!

 

 

What, Exactly, is Shared Reading?

Shared reading is when you and your students read an enlarged text together. Unlike reading aloud, the children are actually saying the words along with you. Unlike guided reading, there is just one copy of the text, that everyone can look at together (that's why it needs to be enlarged). Unlike some versions of close reading, shared reading involves reading the same short, engaging text, each day for many days. Usually (though not always) we're reading the whole text in one short ten or fifteen minute sitting.

The focus during shared reading is in on joyful reading for understanding, attending to the print and practicing foundational skills. Shared reading is also especially well-suited for studying language: vocabulary, patterns, rhymes, and can incorporate phonemic awareness in a meaningful context: initial sounds, ending sounds, onsets and rimes, and more.

You can use a wide variety of texts for shared reading: big books, songs, poems, readers' theater scripts, easy-to-read websites, short stories, speeches, diagrams, maps. Choose anything that is short, engaging, and lends itself to the skills you were hoping to focus on. For example, if you'd like to emphasize one-one matching, then you probably want a big book or a poem with large print, and plenty of space between each word, like Zoo Looking, by Mem Fox, or I Went Walking, by Sue Williams. 

During shared reading, you and your children read in unison, with "one voice." The book is read over and over again so that the children become so familiar with the how the story goes that they can chime in and "read" along with you. Even emergent readers, who are not yet reading conventionally can chime in. Usually we use short, predictable texts so that it's easy for the kids to learn how the words go, making it fun and enjoyable to read along with you, matching their voices to each word you point to.

Lately, I've been using a lot of the books from the Brand New Readers Series for shared reading. There are many different characters to choose from in this series, and the levels of text complexity are just right for most kindergarten and first grade classrooms. I also love to use classics from the Wright Group, like Mrs. Wishy Washy by Joy Cowley.

Shared reading involves lots of rereading, often multiple times a day, for five days (or more!), allowing you to focus on something different each time you read the book.  Usually the first time through, I read it just like I would read aloud any other book--with one big difference. I do make sure to point clearly to each word, and I use my voice to make the pattern stand out.

The second time through I continue to point to the words, and I also might let my voice trail off so that kids can fill in the missing words. Kids look to the pictures, and they know how the pattern goes, so they are able to figure out the words I'm leaving out. Substituting and filling in words that make sense is an important first phase in learning to read! 

Many teachers make small copies of familiar shared reading texts available to kids in the classroom library, or in special folders or binders in each child's book bin or baggie.  

Some parents will ask you, "But aren't they just memorizing it? That's not really reading is it?" Well, yes and no. When your child knows exactly how the book goes, he or she is able to put together many reading skills at once:  using the picture to remember out what's happening on that page, pointing to one word at a time, making sure to say words that match what's happening on the page, turning one page at a time, reading with expression… and much more. All of these skills can come together somewhat easily when your child knows the story, even when they might not be able to practice these skills at all on "cold read." 

For more on shared reading with young kids, I recommend the book Read It Again!: Revisiting Shared Reading by Brenda Parkes.

You can also learn more by watching this video; it nicely summarizes some of Don Holdaway's important work on shared reading.  

Shared reading is usually thought of as a method for teaching emergent and beginning readers, but the same principles can still apply with older, more experienced readers as well. I've often used poems by Robert Frost, Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech, and lyrics of popular songs as material for shared reading with older kids. The focus is no longer on phonics, necessarily, but instead on figurative language, symbolism, historical context, deeper "hidden" meanings, and author's craft. When a text is loved by kids, it becomes part of their shared experience, fostering a community of readers. Years later, kids will say, "I remember when we did that song!"