Non-Fiction Unit, with iPads

Last year I taught a fourth-grade reading class.  One of the units we worked on was Non-Fiction.  I have to say, this might have been the most painful unit I taught last year.  For years our school has used a basal reader and last year we switched to a reading workshop model of teaching reading –  and that was a HUGE change!  I think one of the greatest areas of weakness in a basal reader has got to be the non-fiction section.  Actually, in our basal readers, I don’t remember a section on non-fiction!  That means the only area that the students received instruction about non-fiction would have been in science and SS class!

Because we were basically starting from scratch and our students did not have a large knowledge base on the subject matter we started very slowly!  Our first few days were spent on trying to help the students understand that when we read non-fiction we have to take a “Sit up and learn” mentality, rather than a “Sit back and relax” mentality.  I read a lot on how to teach non-fiction from Lucy Caulkins and her Units of Study.  I took this anchor chart directly from her materials.  I used this anchor chart over a couple of days because it is a lot for students to transition to non-fiction reading.  I wanted them to be excited about learning new content!  We bought a variety of non-fiction books so that students could choose a book to read that was interesting to them and was on grade level.  The students could choose to read one book or all of the books during the genre study. 

Anchor Charts P13After we spent a few days on revving ourselves up for reading non-fiction I started teaching about text features.  I wanted the students to understand the setup of a non-fiction book.  I used this anchor chart to teach text features.  I apologize for the poor picture!

photo (3)After we talked about text features we had the students go on a text feature scavenger hunt!  I gave the students the list of text features and they used the iPad app Strip Designer to search through the non-fiction books and find examples of the text features.  The students took a picture of the text feature and put it in comic strip.  Then, they labeled each text feature they found.  I think when I do this activity this year with my third-grade students I will have them also tell me how to use the text feature.

Below is an example of one of the pages from a students work.  This activity allowed me to see if the students understand the different types of text features in a variety of different books.  The camera on the iPad makes assignments like this so easy!

Ben's Text Features 


Reading Workshop Discovery

Wow! It has been a long time since I last posted, but blogging gets away from me during the school year when the focus is so immediate and pressing in the classroom! Over the past year my role in the school has changed and grown to include Curriculum and Technology. Now, I am responsible for coordinating the curriculum and the technology in the lower school. The model really makes sense, because we know that we want students using technology inside the curriculum, enhancing the curriculum, rather than in insolation. My job is to help teachers become aligned with curriculum and to show them how to embed technology meaningfully into their curriculum.

Last year and continuing on through this year our focus as a school is reading. We are also working through a new math program, which I will post about separately. Our reading model has changed drastically over the past few years. We have completely done away with a basal reader and worksheets. We have moved on to Reading Workshop. We run a slightly modified version of reading workshop, one that fits our school and our goals and I think it has worked fabulously! My dream is for all students to love reading as much as I do. I think that as time has gone by we have somehow forgotten that to teach students to read, maybe we should let them read as much as we can! Our new reading program does just that – the kids are reading all the time!!!!

In K-2, we focus on guided reading with our students. We still use a workshop model, where we teach a mini-lesson, read a read aloud to model the mini-lesson focus, and then the students go to guided reading where we reinforce the skill again. The students in k-2 also work in literacy centers while guided reading groups are pulled. We utilize our reading specialists and our teaching assistants in these classroom to try and pull all of our guided reading groups each day! That way our students are growing as readers and getting the support that they need each day. We have also implemented independent reading time each day. During independent reading our students are reading a just right book and the teachers are conferring with the students. The students must have 20 minutes of independent reading each day, with the teacher conferring. We have set a goal that a teacher should confer with their entire class at least once every three weeks – struggling readers should be conferred with more often.

In 3rd-5th we have implemented a core/choice novel model. We feed into a traditional middle school, so we alternate the core and choice novels. The students will read one novel that the entire class reads, and the discussion is teacher directed. Then, they will alternate to a choice novel, where the teacher teaches a mini-lesson, models the skill with a read aloud, and then the students work with the choice novel they are reading. The students are LOVING the choice novel units. We usually give the students a choice of 5-8 novels to read and they are able to read as many of those choices as they can. We have had numerous occasions where the students read all of the choice novels available in the three week time frame we give for the novel. The kids love being able to choose a just right book and being able to read what they want to read.

Right now as we kick off the schools the teachers are busy with running records. We require 3 running records a year for our students – one at the beginning of school, one in January, and another at the end of the year. We have seen tremendous growth in our students through the transfer to this teaching model. It breaks my heart to see students all reading the same book in class and doing worksheets, when there is a better way to teach reading. For anyone interested in learning more about this model of teaching I recommend reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and Growing Readers by Kathy Collins. Also, if you search the web you will find a lot of information on running reading workshop.

Over the next couple of weeks I will post example lessons from K-2 and 3-5 of how we are using this model at my school.

The Daily Five – Book Study

I subscribe to a lot of teaching blogs (I know they aren’t on my blogroll – one of my to do’s this summer is to revamp my blog!) and there is a lot of discussion around the book The Daily Five.    In my school we have been working on reading workshop and moving away from the basal reader and the dreaded WORKSHEET!  I spent a lot of time in classrooms during the second half of the year (we didn’t fully get our brains wrapped around workshops until Dec!) showing teachers how to use a read-aloud and have students use readers notebooks.  My principal and I are both going to The Teachers College Reading Workshop at Columbia University this summer and I am so excited about that!  And NOW, I have found The Daily Five!  I am a participate book study posted on several blogs – Today’s posts are from Teaching with Style and Seusstastic Classroom Inspirations.

I decided to use a Reader’s Notebook approach to this book study because 1) I have to take notes when I read to help maintain my focus and memory and 2) I like things to be neat and pretty :-).  Below are my pictures of what I put together for the first chapter.  I wrote down the quotes and ideas from chapter 1 that jumped out at me.

2012-06-13_14-21-53_2402012-06-13_14-22-02_1052012-06-13_14-22-09_3642012-06-13_14-22-15_9582012-06-13_14-22-25_925    2012-06-13_14-22-34_4952012-06-13_14-22-39_728The part of the book that stuck out the most to me was, “The way teachers structure the learning environment and the way students spend their time influences the level of reading proficiency the students have attained at the end of the academic year”.  This is SO BASIC, yet for many years in my teaching career I missed the mark on this one! 

During the last year or two while I have been learning everything I can about reading workshop I realized that the one aspect of the reading program I was teaching that was missing was READING!  It is amazing to me that we think we are teaching out of a basal reader, one story a week, and we think we are doing a great job teaching reading!  The “Just Right Book” concept blew my mind and I know that The Daily Five is going to have a similar effect. I love independence in the classroom and have always taught that way, so I think the D5 is going to be a wonderful addition to my reading class (I get to teach a 4th grade reading class this year).

Here are a couple of other links to The Daily Five book study:

Mrs. Freshwater’s Class – grades 1-3 book study posts

Live Love Laugh – Kindergarten D5 Book Study

Dilly Dabbles Doodles – Grades 1-3 book study

We Read, We Blog, We Teach – Upper Grades Book Study