Monday, October 29, 2012

What is a "good fit book?"

I've been mulling over this question for a while now. What exactly does it mean when we say "good fit books?" After reading Cathy Mere's book More Than Guided Reading and hearing Debbie Miller last year, I knew my definition was evolving. Further conversations with Patrick Allen (as well as many #1stchat friends) pushed my thinking even further. We touched on this topic during last week's #1stchat on best practices in Reader's Workshop. It's helping me to reflect and revisit just what my definition includes.

I do teach my first graders the "I-PICK" method, as Gail and Joan (from the Daily Five/Cafe) suggest. In short, this means...
I - I pick a book.
P - Purpose (Why would I read this book?)
I - Interest (Is it a topic that interests me?)
C - Comprehend (Can I understand what is happening?)
K - Know most of the words

We revisit this often throughout the year. It is usually touched upon weekly before we shop for books for our individual book tubs. As I'm conferring with readers, we take a look at what they've chosen for their book tubs. We also chat about good fit books in terms of the following:
-number of words on a page
-favorite authors
-series books
-recommendations from friends
-books to challenge us
-read alikes (meaning... if you liked that book, you might like this book)
-books about something we love

Who am I to make a decision for a reader about which book they will choose? I certainly don't like to be told what I have to read! Will I give support and guidance to my readers? Definitely! Will I give them books on occasion? Sure! But how will children learn to choose appropriate books for themselves if I don't give them the opportunity to practice?

So, if you visit our classroom and peek into our book tubs on shopping day, you might notice that one of my "D" readers has some easy books in his book tub right alongside the latest Geronimo Stilton book. You might see that one of my "R" readers decided to read the Katie Woo books, because Katie is just so cute. You might notice that our Jan Thomas box is empty because we just can't get enough of her! You might see a reader hand off a nonfiction book about planets to a friend who is enthralled with outer space. You might find someone leafing through our magazines in search of one about baby animals. You will definitely see me chatting with my readers and recommending books, too. After all, if I don't know my books and my readers, who will?

For further reading on this topic, you might want to check out Chapter 4 of More Than Guided Reading, which is titled "Book Selection - Less Leveling, More Focused Choice." (The rest of Cathy's book is phenomenal, too!) Another of my favorite books which pushed my thinking on this topic is Beyond Leveled Books: Supporting Early and Transitional Readers in Grades K-5.

As always, I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on this!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Small Group Reading Instruction

My mind is still racing after Sunday night's #1stchat about best practices in Reader's Workshop  It was a fast-paced, thought-provoking discussion that kept me up way past my bedtime! For whatever reason, the thing that is stuck in my mind is the amount of time I spend with each group during my small group instruction.

I feel very strongly that the time I spend with a group should be kept to 7-9 minutes so that our focus remains one just ONE strategy, skill, or teaching point. Yes, I might address additional points as needed (or if it happens to come up in the conversation,) but I try to set out with just one concept in mind.

When I am meeting with a guided reading group, I have pulled children together based on text complexity and similar needs, based on reading material. I typically have a goal or strategy in mind as we begin, but if something else comes up in the midst of our discussion or reading, I go with it. But I always try to stick with one Most Valuable Teaching Point (MVTP.) In my mind, I am always thinking about what I can do to help these readers move forward with what they need right now. My guiding question is always this...Is what I'm teaching something the reader needs in order to move on with his or her reading life... or is it something they just need to make it through this book?

When I am meeting with a strategy group, I have pulled children together based on a particular skill or strategy that they are all practicing or need to learn. I am concise and direct about my teaching of that ONE point. Yes, readers use multiple strategies simultaneously (and often without thinking about it,) so we'll do the same in our group meeting. I am quick to point out when my readers have internalized these skills and use them without consciously thinking about it.

When I am conferring with an individual, I am using what I know about the individual to plan my conference. Much of what I do depends on that reader, at that moment, with that book. But it is about so much more than that! We do set goals together and talk about what the child is reading. Many times, these conferences reinforce good fit book choices and building our reading lives. I also like to have a book in mind for that reader that I can hand to him/her before we finish our chat. Not only does this help me ensure that the child has good fit books, but it also builds the relationship between readers (myself included!)

No matter the format, I always keep in mind that my ultimate goal is to foster their love of reading and build their reading life. Ultimately, this is what drives my instruction.

I've had many conversations and read many resources that advise spending 20-30 minutes with each small group. I cannot imagine doing this! Brain research tells us that the amount of time a student can attend to a particular task is roughly the same as his age. So that means I've wasted 12-24 minutes if I am meeting with groups for that long! By keeping my small group and individual instruction to those shorter snippets of time, I don't overwhelm my students with way too much information. It also allows them more time to practice the skills we're working on.

That's where my brain is right now. I have a few more thoughts beginning to form, so stay tuned! In the meantime, I'm curious to know how your thoughts differ (or mirror) mine on this topic!

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Lesson Learned from Boy + Bot

I have been absolutely gushing about how much I love Boy + Bot lately! It has become one of my new favorites. I already did a blog post about it earlier in the summer, but now that I've had a chance to share it with my new group of first graders, I had to share more!

For those who don't know it, Ame Dyckman and Dan Yaccarino have created a magnificent story about a boy and a robot who become friends. I love Ame's story, and I love how Dan brings this story to life with his illustrations. I grin foolishly from ear to ear every time I look at the last page in the book. This book has quickly earned a place in my heart! And so...

I "donated" this book to my classroom as my birthday treat when I got a signed copy from Ame. My first graders loved it! They quickly began mimicking Bot and begged me to read it to them again. After our second (or was it the fourth?) rereading, we were at the point in our classroom when we needed to establish some of our classroom culture. I couldn't think of a better way than to use Boy and Bot as our models.

We brainstormed a list of "rules" for our classroom first. They included things like:
No running
No yelling
No hitting
No sword fighting
No tattling
Be nice
No biting

I encouraged my little friends to think about Boy and Bot. Would they ever engage in any of those behaviors? And what exactly does "be nice" mean? We also discussed Jill Fisch's one school rule which is... (and I may have the wording slightly wrong, but you'll get the idea!)
I can do anything I want as long as it doesn't bother anyone else in the world.
This, of course, led to a whole new conversation about what that meant and tons of examples.

Eventually, we came back to Boy and Bot. How would they treat us if they were members of our classroom community? How would they expect to be treated if they were members of our classroom community? How do Boy and Bot treat each other? Here is our final version of our Boy and Bot classroom "rules!"
After this summer's #CyberPD on Peter Johnston's book Opening Minds, I knew I wanted to create a more dialogic classroom where children truly have a sense of agency and are active members of our community. I threw out (literally and figuratively) my monthly discipline calendars and am relying on classroom meetings to help us have the kind of classroom where everyone thrives. It's not easy, but friends like Boy and Bot are helping us move forward!