Week Three–Reading Workshop, Book Clubs, Units of Study

Is it spring break yet?

I am exhausted. . . . Spring has sprung; the pollen has really created allergy issues for me for the last three weeks or so.  I love spring; my flowering cherry tree was beautiful this year, and the plum tree was pretty.  I love driving to school and seeing the wisteria in bloom, and the daffodils and jonquils, too.  But. . . . the sniffles and sniffles have overtaken me and sapped my energy (not to speak of some other issues related to my two-year journey learning to live with Type 2 diabetes).

I am still working on implementing the reading workshop format in all of my reading and English classes.  I have two more or less traditional middle school reading classes, grades six and seven, and one accelerated eighth-grade English I class.  I jumped in with both feet and no life jacket to do reading workshops, implementing pieces of the workshop format a little at a time.  I haven’t gotten to individual conferring yet.

I have to deal with a couple of “problems.” The first is that I have 48-minute class periods.  I struggle to get my mini-lessons down to ten or fifteen minutes, but I am holding sacred the twenty-minute silent reading time four days a week.  I have to have some kind of grade to put in the grade book, and I allow one day for some kind of formal assessment.  My English I students do a close reading and annotation of a passage, followed by a writing task that relates to the skills I focused on in the mini-lessons. I am working on getting my sixth and seventh-graders to do more of that kind of analytical writing as well.

I have purchased several of the Lucy Calkins middle school reading units of study, and I have used them to help me choose the teaching points for each class.  Although I have been teaching for over forty years, I find that having these units of study as guides is helping me.  I honestly don’t follow the “script” verbatim; I don’t even follow the organization.  I “cherry-pick” the lessons my students need, and I combine units of study.  For instance, my English I students are reading The Maze Runner as a whole-class novel.  I have chosen some lessons from the Calkins’ Dystopian Book Club unit of study to teach the characteristics of dystopian literature.  I will return to this unit of study next week to wrap up and teach theme.  I took some lessons from a Deep Study of Character and Investigating Character as well to combine with the Dystopian unit of study.  In the sixth and seventh-grade reading classes, I am leaning on the two character study units.

Over the summer, I plan to purchase and plan the writing curriculum using the units of study Calkins and her team have written.  (I love teaching literature; writing, not so much, even though I love to write!)

My second problem is assessment and grading.  I can usually tell any parent their child’s strengths and weaknesses as a reader and writer.  I can tell whether students have mastered a skill or are still in the process of acquiring the skill.  I can give students tests and quizzes and assign projects and writing assignments until the cows come home!  But–how does one truly put an accurate grade on the kind of work that goes on in a reading workshop setting. Oh, I take up students’ sticky notes once a week or so to hold them accountable for writing down their thinking and give them an “effort” grade. But doesn’t that, in part, defeat the purpose of the goal of using reading workshop, independent reading, and students’ choice and voice?

I need to find that book called Pointless, a book about untraditional grading in English and ELA classes.  I know it’s here–somewhere!

So, I will keep on with this reading workshop format until the end of the year, and maybe, by then, I will have some answers as well as some kinks worked out.


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