Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Reading Centers in Upper Elementary

A colleague, +Shannon AviƱa, recently asked me how I use literacy centers to differentiate learning with upper grades.  Though I have doubts about how easy it is to differentiate with 35 kids, I do try to incorporate small group time to meet them where they are as much as possible.    What I have done is based loosely on the book, The Daily 5, by sisters +Gail Boushey and Joan Moser.  You can read about it at The Daily Cafe.  You can also follow Gail and Joan on twitter.

I am no expert, however over the past 7 years, I have found this approach, with reflection and modifications, to be engaging and effective, based on assessments.

At our school, we use a form of RtI (response to intervention) where readers are leveled and taught in groups across the grade level, Monday through Thursday for one hour a day.  This presents its own opportunities and challenges which may be the subject of a future post.

Once a week I meet for 15-20 minutes with one group (Monday group 1, Tuesday group 2, etc). While the group is meeting with me, the rest of the class does word work on Monday, nonfiction reading/comprehension or vocabulary on Tuesday, comprehension work on the novel we were reading on Wednesday and on Thursday they would work on whatever the rest of the class did the day they were with me.

Clearly, classroom management routines must be in place before you can start this.  Students must know how to work independently.  In my classroom each student has a self-decorated index card on their desk which reads 3B4ME.  This reminds them to do three things before they ask me a question.  Number 1- ask myself, do I already know this? Can I just think about it and know what do do?  Number 2- consult a reference, look up a word, look it up in the table of contents or index of a book, check any written instructions, look it up in the web.  Finally, as long as its not during a strict test, number 3 says they can quietly ask a helpful neighbor.  Once they have completed all these things, they can ask me. However, during center time, there is a 4th step - is there is anything else (including free read) I can be working on while I wait for Mrs. McConnell? If yes, do it, if not, then you I ask. And since they always have free read as a back up option during centers, they never need to interrupt my group work. These rules are posted in the room.

I have used this 'center'  process with lit circles using a choice of books around a chosen theme, but that's a lot to change at once. This year I did not use lit circles but did use novels. I try to use novels that are aligned with the curriculum, for example Island of the Blue Dolphins, Sign of the Beaver, Blood on the River: Jamestown 1607, and Boston Jane.

The kids not with working me may work together quietly. Depending on the maturity of the students, I may  let them choose one of the three things to work on, as long as they finish it all by the end of the week. If they complete all their work, they can free read (at their reading level) or they sometimes grade their papers, to save me time and get instant feedback.

The other 40 minutes of the hour are spent reading the current novel, during which time I can meet one-on-one with students, as needed, for conferences.  How we read depends on their reading ability  - if high readers, they read 1-2 assigned chapters independently then we discuss what they've read, to ensure comprehension. They are allowed to read ahead, but may not share what they have read, so as not to spoil it for slower readers...no spoilers allowed! Sometimes we'd read aloud, though at higher ages that is less effective.

Sometimes I let them buddy read. I think that is my favorite, if they stay on task. In the beginning of the year we discuss and model strategies for buddy reading, as well as independent reading. Usually we'll use the alternate reading format of buddy reading, but with a lower reader, sometimes I have them listen then reread.

At the end of a novel students are assigned a response to literature essay to evaluate comprehension.

I hope this makes sense. Please contact me with comments, questions or suggestions!

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