By Julie Wright
I have the pleasure of working in many schools across the country. The schools I serve are unique in their own ways. Size of schools and classrooms vary. Start and end times vary. Mandated curricular materials, initiatives, special projects, and school culture often vary. Number of preps, number of meetings, number of students with diverse needs…all vary.
Schools are unique, there’s no doubt. Sometimes, however, the ongoing problems of practice have similarities across states, districts, and schools. For example, there’s never enough time to get everything done. The school day is not getting any longer, yet the curricular demands continue to increase. There’s no such thing as a NO VACANCY sign above our classroom doors in the public sector (thank goodness!). Yet, it’s our job to meet the needs of individual students. In addition, a common occurs when competing opportunities and initiatives make it hard for stakeholders to know what’s most important, yet it’s our job to champion the goals.
|What are the problems of practice that show up in your school/district? Jot them down.|
While problems of practice can seem daunting at times, they often have silver linings tucked inside that help us find our way. Once we name the problem of practice, we can figure out how solve it, making the system better. School folks (administrators, teachers, support staff, parent volunteers, etc.) working with students regularly have a unique opportunity to make high-leverage moves with and for all individual students. Sure, these high leverage moves can look, sound, and feel different depending on the time of year, grade level, and individual classrooms because kids are dynamic. But, high leverage moves become easier and more personalized when we know the students we serve. Proximity helps us get to know students and then, in turn, use that intel to plan curriculum, instruction and assessment. Take a look at 3 high leverage moves that solve problems of practice by maximizing learning time, addressing students’ talents, needs, as well as creating clarity and focus.
High Leverage Move #1: Use the reading workshop model to capitalize on small group learning.
Getting to know and meet students’ needs is a challenge when schools or classrooms lean too heavily on whole group. This happens when small groups feel unmanageable. The workshop structure pictured in the graphic below makes small group learning possible because of the increased amount of time dedicated to student work time. Work time is where students have opportunities to read and work independently AND where small groups can meet. Whether you teach in an elementary or secondary setting, you might consider looping workshop across 2 days as pictured on the right. Doing so maximizes students’ work time while connecting learning from one day to the next.
The first step is to take stock of your reading workshop structure by mapping out how much time is dedicated to student work time. Take stock by listing the total minutes you have during workshop and then add up the minutes that are dedicated to work time. Kids deserve ⅔ of the total number of minutes during workshop time to do the work of learning. Handing that time over to them, regularly and consistently, is important. If you’d like to take stock of how much time readers are really working, download this template.
We know proximity matters. The closer we get to students’ conversations, interactions, and their work, the more we will meet their needs. As the next graphic suggests, small group is a sweet spot during reading workshop because proximity creates greater chances for knowing and meeting students’ individual needs.
Big Take-away: There is never enough time, but when we use the workshop model we have a better chance of maximizing student work time and meeting students’ individual needs.
High Leverage Move #2: Kidwatch to get to know students’ interests, curiosities, habits, and needs.
Educators have been studying students since the one-room schoolhouse. Yetta Goodman and Gretchen Owocki’s work helped give definition to the term kidwatching (Heinemann, 1994). My co-author and I studied kidwatching while writing our book, What Are You Grouping For? by Wright & Hoonan (Corwin, 2019). We use the term Kidwatching 2.0 because kids, and the world around us, are constantly changing, requiring us to fine-tune our observation skills. We kidwatch because it’s the purest form of student data and significantly impacts our decision-making. Kidwatching helps us know what students know and what they can do, as well as inform us about what they need next. Kidwatching helps us capture students’ strengths and areas needing a lift.
Take a look at the picture below. What do you notice? Take a look at facial expressions, seating arrangements, materials, and so on. Make a jot list in your head or on scratch paper.
Or, you might consider using the note catcher below. Here you would note what you see (since it’s a picture), why what you see matters to student learning, and any wonderings or questions you have.
|What do I see/hear?||Why does it matter to student learning?||Wonderings|
This group of 5th grade boys are digging into several texts– picture books, biographies, sports joke books, a trivia calendar, and more–focused on sports. This small group previewed and oriented to the texts before choosing one to read. You may have guessed that they excitedly grabbed the Sports Illustrated for Kids because they wanted to see which all-star player was featured in the center fold out. If you are kidwatching in the classroom, your notes would also include what you hear. Student talk is really important because it gives a clearer, richer picture of student thinking.
Kidwatching notes often lead to teacher and student conversations which lead to more kidwatching. Intentional kidwatching almost always feeds new inquiries and new interactions because it’s a recursive process. If you’d like an electronic version, download this Kidwatching 2.0 template.
Big Take-away: When we get to know students’ interests, curiosities, habits and needs through kidwatching, we have a better chance of meeting students’ individual and collective needs.
High Leverage Move #3: Curate to inspire students to be connoisseurs of text.
Think about all of the things you learn about students by observing, listening, interacting, and studying their work. We must use all that we know about our students to curate texts for them to read. As teachers, we curate to meet students social and emotional needs. We gather texts that we think will stoke students’ personal interests and passions. Sometimes we curate texts to nurture students’ knowledge development and/or conceptual understandings. And, of course, we collect and use different texts to address curricular demands and to differentiate instruction to respond to students’ individual needs. Inviting students to curate texts for themselves and others is important too because doing so,
- Fosters student independence,
- Invites student choice and voice to selecting reading materials,
- Increases reading volume,
- Develops skills and habits that carry over into adulthood.
Take a look at the tub in the picture below filled with texts focused on women who have influenced and/or made contributions to our world.
The teacher read aloud the book, Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Familys Fight for Desegregation. Students were surprised by the lasting impact that Sylvia Mendez and her family had on changing California desegregation laws. This story sparked interest which resulted in a small group of 6th graders diving into different texts focused on women who made significant contributions to the world. Some of these texts were curated by the teacher, while others were curated by the students. When students curate texts for themselves and others, it promotes autonomy, student independence, and an increased desire to read. As you might imagine, the number of texts in the bucket increased over several days and the number of texts that students explored and read consequently increased. Teacher and student curation provides opportunities to increase reading volume, student choice, and independence. If you are interested in curating texts based on students’ individual needs, consider using the A Little Bit About or Tell Us Your Thoughts.
Big Take-away: When we curate texts for students, and invite students into the curation process, we are prioritizing increased reading volume, student choice and independence.
Which high leverage moves will you use to solve your problems of practice? Consider using the reading workshop model to capitalize on using small groups to increase proximity and maximize student learning time. Use kidwatching in order to get to know students’ interests, curiosities, habits, and needs so that you have a better chance of meeting students’ individual and collective needs. Curate texts that inspire students to be connoisseurs of text so that the priority becomes increasing reading volume, student choice and independence.
Clinton, C. (2017) She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Owocki, G. & Goodman, Y. (1994) Kidwatching: Documenting Children’s Literacy Development. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Schatz, K. (2015) Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future!. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books.
Thimmesh. C. (2002) Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Books.
Tonatiuh. D. (2014) Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Familys Fight for Desegregation. New York, NY: Abrams.
Wright, J. & Hoonan, B. (2019) What Are You Grouping For? How to Guide Small Groups Based on Readers–Not the Book. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
JULIE WRIGHT is a teacher, instructional coach, and educational consultant with over twenty-five years of experience in rural, suburban, and urban education settings. She holds National Board Certification as well as a B.S. in Education, M.A. in Language Arts and Reading, a K-12 Reading Endorsement, and extensive school leadership post-graduate work, including a pre-K through grade 9 principal license from The Ohio State University. Julie serves as an Adjunct Faculty Member at Ashland University and is the co-author of What Are You Grouping For? How to Guide Small Groups Based on Readers–Not the Book (Wright & Hoonan, 2019). Follow Julie on Twitter @juliewright4444 or for more information on how she can support your efforts, visit www.juliewrightconsulting.com.