Summer time is what I like to think of as "Institute Season." This is the time year that I either teach or attend course after course. By mid July, my mind is swimming with new ideas for my teaching, inspiration, and of course, a long list of books I'd like to own.
With all the courses, twitter chats, institutes, and seminars going on, it's sometimes easy to lose sight of what teaching reading and teaching writing are really all about. Lucy Calkins once told a group of us, "If you try to do everything, then you wind up doing nothing." And it's true. It is overwhelming to add anythign and everything to next year's plans, without a clear sense of priorities. One powerful tool I have learned to depend on is what my colleagues at TCRWP like to call "Bottom Lines."
Ask yourself, "What are my bottom lines for teaching reading?" Right now, on a piece of paper, jot down your top five (or ten) things that you believe must, absolutely MUST, happen in a reading workshop.
Now do the same for writing.
Chances are you did not write about the color of the borders on your bulletin boards, or the brand of carpet in your meeting area. When you boil it down, there are a few things that really matter a lot in teaching reading and writing.
My bottom lines are a combination gathered from my experience as a staff developer, from professional books and conferences, and from research on effective teaching (Danielson, Marzano, Hattie, and Cambourne especially). These bottom lines are a living document, changing and growing along with my practice.
Here are my current bottom lines:
1. Readers and writers need to read and write a lot. Volume and stamina matter, and any model of instruction absolutely must provide time and space for practice, practice, practice. Reading and writing workshop need to happen every day if we expect to see results.
2. Instruction is most effective when it is relevant and meaningful to kids. Planning and teaching units of study, launching and celebrating units, and planning for authentic audiences and purposes are all ways to make instruction relevant and meaningful.
3. Clearly articulated expectations and goals are a good thing. Displaying exemplars, using kid-facing rubrics and checklists, displaying anchor charts and examples of all kinds of student work, demonstrating how to make mistakes and try again--these are all ways of making expectations clear, and supporting kids to set and work toward goals.
4. Teachers are researchers, adapting instruction according to what we learn about the kids. To teach effectively we use multiple forms of assessment to gather information and get to know students so that we can differentiate our instruction.
5. Reading aloud to kids is crucial. It is one of the few things that every researcher, every teacher, pediatrician, and every parent pretty much agree on. If I could only choose one thing to do each day with kids, it would be read aloud and talk about books.
6. The classroom environment is my coteacher. If kids can see it, then they are learning from it. Everything from the way the tables or desks are arranged, to the charts and student work on the walls, to the lighting, the way the books are arranged in the classroom library, how I make materials available (or not), the tone of my voice, and the words that I use with kids implicitly or explicitly teaches kids something (whether I intend it to or not). Classroom environments are worth spending time on and planning for.
7. Teaching reading and writing effectively requires a reflective stance. Every minute I am thinking, "How did that go? What could I do differently next time?" Teaching is all about starting over and trying again. Each day there are multiple opportunities to outgrow our thinking and do better. Each day a new beginning, each unit of study a fresh start, each year a new group of students.