Slice of Life: Valuing Soft Skills

The rain had just let up.
Skies still threatened.
Outside was off limits.
The first day back, after three weeks without their friends, you can imagine the crazy.
After settling, a little, I asked students if they noticed any changes in the room.

“Ah… Yeah… Like a lot.”

Four bookcases faced them filled with new (to them) books. I love the first day of a new library. The look on kids faces is priceless. They just want to touch those books.

I took them on a tour of the library telling them, “We’re not reading club books, yet. First, we have to brush up on our book club skills.”

“Oh, yeah you mean we have to work on taking notes and meeting our reading goals,”  I heard Trevor* say.

Actually, that wasn’t what I had in mind.

I find my students struggle with skills that have less to do with reading and more to do with communicating. They have ideas, but growing them with others isn’t easy or natural. Reading in clubs might sound like an excellent way to make reading social, but it’s often more about the social and not about the book. When that happens, and it does,  it’s because students aren’t sure how to do the complicated dance of listening, contributing, and collaborating.

Inspired by Jessica Lifshitz’s excellent post you can find here, and the gift of new picture books, I blogged about here, I decided to take students on a journey to work those communication skills in a mock Caldecott mini unit.

The goal of our unit is two-fold:
1. honing the communication skills necessary to be a successful book club
2. using those skills to identify and rate picture books based on specified criteria

We started today, focused on number 1.  Each club got a picture book to read as a club. How kids interacted said a lot about the state of their communication skills. The students who readily shared the read aloud duty, who helped each other with words, who asked questions, who hovered around the book, who pointed and looked at each other as they spoke, all showed a basic level of communication skill.

Some needed coaching, like “one way to collaborate, is by taking turns. How could you do that with this book?” Or “sitting close together helps you listen. How could you sit to help you listen?” Or “Asking questions is one way to contribute to the group. Is there anything you’re wondering about?”

While the second goal of the unit might be seen as of higher academic value, in that it involves identifying evidence that supports claims about texts. I am a big believer in the soft skills: listening, contributing, and collaborating. Communication is complex and essential. Not just for today. Not just for reading. These are skills they need for life.

picmonkey-collageThank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. A place to meet up and share. Read more slices here.


16 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Valuing Soft Skills

  1. What a special glimpse into your classroom and teaching strategies. I would give anything to partner teach with you. Such a joy to listen to someone who values each child and the set of soft and hard skills they must learn in order take full hold of a good life.

  2. I love that you used your Mock Caldecott as a way to review club skills. We are finishing up our Mock Caldecott on Friday and maybe I will have them do their final look through in groups to prepare to speak for a book.

  3. What a great idea for priming the skills needed to participate in book clubs well. Your students are so lucky to have you Julieanne–you know what matters and cut through to it brilliantly.

  4. Love being a fly on your wall as you start 2017. I’m doing a Mock Caldecott Unit too with my 3rd graders. We will vote next week. I’ll share and please do the same and then on the 23rd we can see who really wins the medal. So many great books. Glad I am not charged with picking.

  5. This is how you bring kids back into the routines of the classroom! I loved Jessica Lifshitz’s lessons for a mock Caldecott! I will be awaiting your classes choices.

  6. That “sitting” skill is one that is often ignored, but important for inclusion. When a student doesn’t feel a “part” of the group, she doesn’t “add” to the group or learn about contributing. Love hearing how you’re doing the prep.

  7. As a now retired teacher (ESL), I loved reading your post and learning about what’s happening in a student-centered classroom. The mock Caldecott unit sounds like such an interesting way to transmit all those skills you are teaching in such an enjoyable way. The book club idea and the deeper underlying social and communication skills you are imparting to your students are priceless and will serve them well in the years to come. Great job, teacher! Thanks for the visit to your classroom.

  8. I love your wise and thoughtful approach to everything you do in your classroom, Julieanne. A mock-Caldecott unit is a perfect way to ease back into the routine of school! Looking forward to hearing about your students’ thoughts and choices.

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