Slice of Life: Levels as Student Tools

Friday I asked Lori (not her real name) to read a little of her book with me. I reminded her of what we worked on the last time we met, tracking the speaker in dialogue when there are minimal dialogue tags.

She shared this page from one of the I Survived book series.

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The trouble was, there was no trouble.

“Wow, you’ve found a book that fits you,” I said.

What next? I want to honor her choice and teach the next step. I sat thinking of what book would help her work toward her goal.  Choosing one for her seemed complicated and inauthentic.

I went off to anther student, thinking about this trouble and my next step.

Monday I gave it another go and asked Lori, “Is if there is a book you wanted to read, but put back because it didn’t feel right? ”

Lori  grabbed the book Ten, by Lauryn Myracle.  She had looked at it earlier in the day because of its cover, but soon  discovered the inside wasn’t what she expected.

“Let’s take a look, ” I said.

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The dialogue was much harder to follow than her earlier selection. We worked through it.Even with strategies and support, she felt this was too much. The difficulty was more than she wanted to handle now.

I wondered again. “Do you think there could be something in between the two of these books?”

She nodded.

“What could you do to find it?”

She looked at the levels marked on the top of the books. Ten was a ‘T’ and the “I Survived” book was a ‘Q.’

She looked at me and said, “Maybe one that’s an ‘R’ or an ‘S’?”

Maybe.

Lori started looking and found Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher. We tried. The reading felt harder than the “I Survived” but doable.

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Using levels to guide a selection can help. It helped Lori choose a book that she could read when she wanted a stretch.

In this case, levels became a necessary part of choice. It reminded me of Jan Burkins using the metaphor of shopping for a tunic in The Ed Collaborative Gathering. Sometimes the size can help us shop.

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Sometimes we choose to stretch ourselves as readers, and when we do this, some direction on levels could help us find a book. There’s nothing to say that it’ll work every time. But this adventure is something  to keep in mind the next time a reader ventures into the library.

Thank you, Lauryn Tarshis, Lauren Myracle, Ralph Fletcher, Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris for your work. You help my students become better readers and thinkers.

And thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. A place to share the bits of our lives that we need to figure out.

 

Celebrating the Old and New at the Beginning

This post serves a dual purpose:  celebrating a week of creating a new classroom space and DigiLit Sunday topic, preparing for the new school year. Find other celebrations at Ruth Ayers’ blog Discover, Play, Build and DigiLit Sunday posts at Margaret Simon’s blog Reflections on the Teche.

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I have an old pair of sandals. They’ve given me miles of comfort. In spite of new purchases, my old pair finds its way back into my life and onto my feet. They are worn just right and fit my summer feet.

My classroom has well-worn objects as well. They are irreplaceable. This week I celebrate the old that serve every school year.

The easel I found in an abandoned hallway my third year of teaching has held hundreds of pieces of paper. Smartboard technology tried to replace it, but a physical chart, made with students, that hangs on the wall as evidence of thinking, that doesn’t disappear with the next lesson, has value an electronic screen can’t match. This old tool takes any piece of paper and makes it the centerpiece of instruction.

The wooden stools I bought at IKEA my second year of teaching have survived and served hundreds of fifth graders as chairs, tables, impromptu meeting areas, foot stools, outside classroom space, and props in dramatic plays. These old tools allow students to create the space they need.

The bookshelves and book bins have been with me since the beginning. Bookshelves can entice readers into a cozy nook. Bins are transported to the carpet, to a table, to a corner. They can morph to hold any genre. These old tools are the superheroes of the reading and writing workshop.

The books on the shelves will be sought after and loved. Sadly, these books aren’t as resilient as the bookshelves and bins, but their messages endure and speak to kids year after year. Because of Winn Dixie, Tiger Rising, Flying Solo, How to Steal a Dog, Wonder, Firegirl, The One and Only Ivan; series like I Survived, Shredderman, The Treasure Hunters, Vet Volunteers are just a few. These old tools transport students.

I cherish the old. But sometimes we need new. This week I’m celebrating things that revitalize our lives.

I have a new pair of running shoes that have given my running new life. The old pair is broken down and can’t provide the support I need.  Sometimes new is necessary. This year, I’m bringing in new that support the old and signal new beginnings.

I’ve found new strategies from professional books I’ve read over the summer.
Who’s Doing the Work by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris
A “next generation” balanced literacy approach allows kids the space to show what they can do before we teachers jump in with the instruction. Talking less so kids can do more has been my mission ever since I read What Readers Really Do by Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse. Jan and Kim’s book has opened my eyes to the power of shared reading. Shared reading isn’t just for little kids. This year, I’m building in more shared reading time around their read aloud time to support transfer.

DIY Literacy by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts.
I wrote about this book here and here and here. I believe the tools we will build with DIY thinking will empower students to do the work with self-made goals. This year, I’m finding places and making time for students to create bookmarks that are supported by the micro progressions, charts and demonstration notebook.

The Journey is Everything by Katherine Bomer.
The essay work Bomer speaks to is one that grows over time. It is the journey we want our kids to take as readers and writers. This year, I’m building in time to notice and notebook so ideas can grow over the year, not just in a unit of study.

To contain and support all of this new thinking we need new school supplies.
Notebooks, pens, markers, post-its. They are ready and waiting.

The old tools have strength. They are flexible and tough. Like my sandals. They serve no matter the group of students. I cherish them. But every year, I find new ideas that support and enhance. Like my running shoes, sometimes the old needs to be updated.  Sometimes new is necessary.

I look forward to both the old and the new sitting side by side.