23 May 2014

Rainy season arrives with a vengeance

Life in Cambodia is always full of challenges and the unexpected. The last two afternoons as I've been working in my classroom I had to get the mop out! Yes, the rainy season appears to have begun. Yesterday afternoon was't too bad. I know from past experience that the rain tends to drip from the top of the window frame onto the floor when the rain comes from a certain direction, and that's what happened yesterday. Since I was still there when the leaking started, I quickly pulled up some of the foam mats and set them to dry. It wasn't too bad, and by the time we came in this morning all the water had evaporated. No problem.

This afternoon was a little different. I was sitting at my desk when it started, thinking, this isn't to heavy. Maybe it will be a light shower this evening. As I was thinking that things changed, and next thing I knew the  water was streaming down the windows. I went to take a photo, but quickly discovered that the windows weren't keeping that rain out. It was coming in, and quite a lot of things were in grave danger of a soaking, including posters, and sheets of cardboard, my keyboard, and my classroom library! I quickly moved everything I could, including my desk and filing cabinet. Then I heard the sound of secondary students coming down the stairs. They'd obviously just finished an exam, so I quickly recruited some of the young men to help me move the bookshelf with the classroom library on it. The photo below shows where there water reached (and it actually spread further after this photo was taken). Each of those tiles is about 50cm across, so you can see there's a fair bit of water there. Of course, moving things that hadn't been moved since August left a fair bit of grime exposed too, so I'll be busy cleaning the classroom tomorrow morning. Hopefully some of the water will have evaporated by then. 

The rain was blowing so hard our "internal" staircases had water flowing down them, and I'm positive my classroom won't be the only one that suffered water inundation. It was like someone turned a hose on full bore at the windows and just blasted them with water. I guess the windows will be lovely and clean now! I'm just glad I was there and able to get most of my stuff out of harms way.

The rain eased for a while, and then came back again, this time blowing in the opposite direction, so I don't think any classrooms will have totally escaped the impact. Might be a bit of cleaning up and throwing out to do on Monday morning. Eventually the storm lessoned, and I looked up to see the most amazing sunset through my classroom window. The photo below doesn't really capture it, but it was just beautiful. The sky was orange and red (almost like it was on fire). As I look at it, I'm reminded of just how powerful God is, and of His promises to never leave us. In the power of the storm, and rain, I was also reminded of His love, and the promise of a new day tomorrow.

Exploring the Daily 5 - Chapter 7

When to Launch the Next Daily 5

The key point here is that every group of students is different. Signs to watch for, which indicate readiness for the next Daily 5 choice include consistent demonstration of I-chart behaviours and stamina. Some suggestions are made about how much stamina is enough before introducing the next choice, but they are suggestions. It really will depend on the group of students.

Launching Work on Writing
I'm excited about this choice because I often come to the end of the year feeling my students haven't done enough writing. This will get them writing every day. An important point that was shared here is that there will still need to be separate "Writing Workshop" sessions when specific types of writing will be taught. In Daily 5 writing time, children choose whatever form of writing they like (story, poem, song lyrics, non-fiction, etc.) and then write for the whole time. Before launching Work on Writing, all the foundation lessons need to be taught, and then it's time to use the 10 Steps to Independence (Chapter 3) again. Because the children have been building stamina with Read to Self, it is likely that their starting stamina will be greater than it was for Read to Self, but not necessarily.

Introducing Choice
I love the honesty of the authors when they share their reluctance to "give up control" by giving choice. I know that won't be easy for me either. I also like what they say is at the heart of choice: "knowing the expectations, possessing the skills to meet them, being trusted to carry them out, and taking responsibility to do so." (p.111). Yes, the students are going to love being able to choose what activity they do at what time.

Check In
This involves a few minutes when children verbalise their choice and the teacher records it. Verbalising the choice breeds accountability, and the children get working quickly. Later in the process they will be able to state their goals and the strategies they are working on. Wow! I like that. This section includes tops for recording choices and for making the choice recording process go smoothly. An important point is made, that students who the teacher will be working with in a small group need to know this before choices are made and recorded so they are not disappointed.

Releasing Students into the Daily 5
This section suggests various ways to do this. It may be a case of try different ways and see what works for me.

Read to Someone.
When I read the list of benefits of Read to Someone I began to wonder why I hadn't tried it before. There are a considerable number of foundation lessons that need to be taught, and even re-taught, in order to make this choice work without chaos erupting, but those lessons, combined with the 10 Steps to Independence should result in a positive experience that the children enjoy and benefit from. Success will require planning and work, and the authors suggest this may well be the last choice to be introduced.

Listen to Reading
I already know the value of this, especially for my ELL students, so I'm determined to find a way to make this happen. Again technology access will be challenging, but I might be able to make a computer lab booking once a fortnight and do it that way. An interesting comment here is that not everyone needs to do Listen to Reading, although given my ELL population, I suspect most of mine will need to.

Word Work
This time provides children with essential practice for their individual word study needs. Primarily the focus seems to be on practising spelling or writing words that the students need to know or have discovered in their reading. This is definitely a "doing" choice that kinaesthetic learners will love. It also has the potential to become play, so clear instruction and development of an I-chart are important. The author's also suggest a ten minute limit, after which students put their materials away and move into either Read to Self or Work on Writing. That makes a lot of sense.

And that's the Daily 5. By the time all the choices are introduced, students should be developing habits of independent work in literacy, and the teacher will be busy working with students in small groups or individually, providing that much needed differentiated instruction.

For more of my reflections on "The Daily 5", check out these posts
Chapter 1: That Was Then, This is Now: How the Daily 5 Evolved.
Chapter 2: Our Core Beliefs: The Foundations of the Daily 5
Chapter 3: The 10 Steps to Teaching and Learning Independence
Chapter 4: What do you need to begin?
Chapter 5: Launching Read to Self - The First Daily 5
Chapter 6: Foundation Lessons

20 May 2014

Exploring the Daily 5 - Chapter 6

Foundation Lessons

This chapter provides additional information about the foundation lessons needed to implement each of the Daily 5 choices. It is supported by appendices and the content of other chapters and is very practical.

Read-to-Self Foundation Lessons
Much of this has already been covered so this section is very brief. Helping students choose places to sit where they can be successful is given attention here. Since I want the children to be successful, these tips will be valued.

Work-on-Writing Foundation Lessons
In this section I love the part where the authors discuss where children can get ideas to write about. I've often struggled with this, both as a student and as a teacher, so this section gave me some great ideas, as well as an example of how the lesson might come together.

Read-to-Someone Foundation Lessons
Lots of things to teach here, and lots for me to learn. This section highlights how children at different reading levels can work together and help each other. I especially appreciate the lesson on "Coaching or Time" as it models a constructive way for children to help each other without "telling the word".  Teaching children how to choose a partner might seem over the top, but I quickly realised how this lesson (taught in a variety of contexts) will enable every child to feel valued and respected every time they choose a partner or are chosen to be a partner.

Listen-to-Reading Foundation Lessons
This is going to be one of the most challenging Daily 5 for me to implement due to the limited supply of technology in our classrooms. I'm not complaining here, just telling how it is. I currently personally pay for a Reading A-Z & RAZ-Kids license, so I'm part way there, but the only computer in my classroom is my personal one (i.e. not school property). I'm going to think carefully about what to do here. Do I try and acquire an extra computer for students to use? If so, what do I get? Once I have one, where do I put it, and how do I ensure everyone has fair access. The other issue is Internet reliability. Most of the time it's OK, but this is still a developing country and Internet connections aren't always as fast or consistent as you'd hope. Some more thinking to do about this one.

Word-Work Foundation Lessons
This section didn't have a lot of detail, and it's an important area for my mostly ELL students, so I'll be doing some more reading and research on effective ways to build my students vocabulary and spelling ability.

In summary, this chapter was really practical and I now have a clearer understanding of how the foundation lessons are key to making the Daily 5 work well for both students and teacher.

For more of my reflections on "The Daily 5", check out these posts
Chapter 1: That Was Then, This is Now: How the Daily 5 Evolved.
Chapter 2: Our Core Beliefs: The Foundations of the Daily 5
Chapter 3: The 10 Steps to Teaching and Learning Independence
Chapter 4: What do you need to begin?
Chapter 5: Launching Read to Self - The First Daily 5
Chapter 7: When to Launch the Next Daily 5

16 May 2014

Exploring the Daily 5 - Chapter 5

Launching Read to Self - The First Daily 5

Assuming the children entering my class are able to read on their own for extended periods is a mistake I've made in the past, and it probably sets us all up for problems. Teaching this skill is at the core of the Daily 5. Building stamina takes time. Specific focused instruction is essential. I think this is going to be a key area of improvement in my teaching and, as a result, in my student's learning. Something I don't recall learning or reading about before this is "gradual release". This involves repeated teaching, discussion and practise of the desired behaviour, until it becomes a habit. This makes sense, as does "moving slowly at first in order to move fast later on." (p.67).

The First Day
This section describes a substantially different first day to mine in Cambodia, but there are elements I can incorporate into my first day. Some things I can do include: walls with minimal decoration (waiting for documentation of student learning) and have books all around the room. I love that they get straight into learning on that first day too, because that is something I definitely do anyway.

Three Ways to Read a Book
I love the idea of starting the first day with this lesson, and I learnt something new here too! The three ways to read a book are:

  • Read the pictures
  • Read the words
  • Retell the story.

Read the pictures isn't something I'd have thought to do with my fourth graders, but it makes a lot of sense. Even a "struggling reader" or a student who is relatively new to English (and that is not unusual in my school) can read the pictures. By teaching this as a valid way to read a book, I'm straight away ensuring that everyone can get involved. The validation of this as a legitimate way to read a book will help build up those who find reading in English a challenge.

I really appreciate the way the authors have given a full description of an actual lesson at this stage, because it helps me understand more clearly what they are talking about, and gives me ideas of how I can tackle it. I'm sure my lesson will be a little different to their lesson but I've got a great starting point. I also love the idea that uses a paired sharing process, but has the children share their partner's thinking with the whole group. As the authors mention, this is a great way to build good listening skills in the children.

The recommendation to teach only the first and second ways of reading in the first lesson also makes a lot of sense, to keep this focus lesson under 10 minutes, in keeping with Brain Research. Teaching retelling at a later time on the same day or the next day also makes sense. To actually teach "retelling" is something I've neglected in the past. I regularly use retelling  to evaluate comprehension, but I'm pretty sure I've never considered as a way to read a book, and I like that idea. The demonstration lesson also made it clear how the Check for Understanding comprehension strategy can be incorporated into the lesson without have to explicitly teach it.

At Last - We Launch Read to Self
I love this structure. This is where it all comes together, using the 10 Steps to Teaching Independence from chapter 3. One or two rounds might happen at this stage. Given my short (1 hour) language arts blocks, it's probably going to be one round now, with the chance of another round later in the day. One advantage I have is that I usually have a fair idea of student reading levels (based on the reading continuum and running records from the third grade teachers), apart from a few new students,so I can have some books selected ahead of time to get students started. I'd love it if the children who arrive at school early could come and refresh their book boxes then, but that's not how things work at my school, so I'll need to work out other times when they can do that.

Integrating Foundation Lessons
This section provides information on the other core lessons that can be taught during the first weeks of school, especially when the children's stamina for independent reading is limited. All the lessons are short (no more than 10 minutes), and they teach the foundational skills needed for the whole of Daily 5 to be effective and productive. Each part of Daily 5 has its own set of foundation lessons which are covered in some detail in either this chapter or the next. For Read to Self there are three foundation lessons:

  • Three ways to read a book (already covered);
  • I PICK Good Fit Books; and
  • Choose a successful spot.

Between foundation lessons and Daily 5 practice sessions it's important to have "Brain and Body Breaks", which usually involve movement of some kind and a change of focus.

I PICK Good-Fit Books
As I read this section I was excited by it. I've got a new idea to talk about with my students. I've also realised two mistakes I've made in my current classroom library book selection process. The first thing is that I tend to rush the children too much, and the second is that I haven't given them a strategy they can use outside the classroom. So I'm looking forward to intoducing:
I PICK Good-Fit BooksI select a book and look it over, inside and out.
P urpose: Why might I want to read it?
I nterest: Does it interest me?
C omprehend: Do I understand what I'm reading?
K now: Do I know most of the words? (page 74)
I love the analogy used in the sample lesson, where the authors compare choosing books with choosing shoes. This is going to be a fun lesson to teach. Another point emphasised in this section is that this lesson is not a lesson to teach once and then assume all the students have "got it". It will need to be revisited often during the year, with the whole class, with small groups, and with individuals in conferences. Being able to chose Good-Fit books is essential to developing a love of reading. There is one suggestion made about book shopping time that may work really well in my situation, and that is to have "Book Shopping" as a Daily 5 choice once a week.

Adding Other Foundation Lessons
This section provides examples of how foundation lessons for other Daily 5 choices are introduced on the first day. These foundation lessons include:
Work on Writing
  • Dealing with unknown words
  • Writing notebooks
  • What to write about
Read to Someone
  • Check for understanding
  • EEKK (elbow, elbow, knee, knee)
  • Voice level
  • How partners read
  • How to get started
  • Coaching or time
  • How to choose a partner
Listen to Reading
  • Set up the technology
  • Listen and follow along
  • Fair and equitable use
Word Work
  • Set up and clean up
  • Choose materials
  • Choose a successful spot
Obviously it's impossible to teach all these on the first day or two, but over the first few weeks they all need to happen, some more than once. The example lessons are clear and easily adaptable, and made a lot of sense to me. I hope they'll make sense to my students as well.

This chapter finishes with a great comment about teaching procedures. It's really important to think through exactly what procedures are desired (needed), because what we teach at the start of the year is largely what will happen for the rest of the year! It's really hard to change a procedure once it has been established, so I need to do a fair bit of thinking ahead on that one.

For more of my reflections on "The Daily 5", check out these posts
Chapter 1: That Was Then, This is Now: How the Daily 5 Evolved.
Chapter 2: Our Core Beliefs: The Foundations of the Daily 5
Chapter 3: The 10 Steps to Teaching and Learning Independence
Chapter 4: What do you need to begin?
Chapter 6: Foundation Lessons
Chapter 7: When to Launch the Next Daily 5

03 May 2014

Exploring the Daily 5 - Chapter 4

What do you need to begin?

So here is where the real planning starts. What do I need if I'm seriously going to implement the Daily 5 in my classroom next year? Is it going to cost a lot to get started? Can I really make it work in my classroom. After reading this chapter, I'm pretty sure I can do it, without it costing a lot, but there are some things I need to find and work out.

Chimes - The quiet signal
I love the idea of using a set of wind chimes to signal transitions. I'm going to have fun looking for something like that over the summer. Teaching students what the quiet signal means will be an important part of the first day, and even the first week, of school.

Chart Rack or Interactive Whiteboard
Well, I don't have either of these, but I do have some alternatives that will work. What I do have will be used for creating I-Charts, as well as teaching focus lessons. I've got a medium sized whiteboard on an easel that I can turn into a chart rack by adding a couple of big bull-dog clips to it, and I've got access to a data projector and document camera so I'll be using them as well. Data projector onto the ordinary whiteboard works really well, and I can always take a quick snapshot with the digital camera to make sure I've got a record of work we've done.

Tools, Not Toys.
This paragraph has suggestions for some tools that will help "barometer" students to develop their stamina at their own pace. These tools will allow them to have a short brain break without disturbing the rest of the class. They won't come out straight away, and I may not even need them, but I'll be prepared. Things I'll be including might be mini-Lego kits, pattern block, tangrams, puzzles, as well as timers (hour glass/electronic). I've already got some of the suggested items and I can have fun looking for some others over the break.

Book Boxes
The purpose of these is for the children to have immediate access to enough reading material right where they are, so they can work for extended periods of time without needing to move to get a new book. I'm going to have fun looking for sturdy and affordable solutions for this. This section also talks about the classroom library and I'm very grateful to those people who've helped me build mine over the past four years. I could still use more non-fiction books and more picture books, but I've definitely got enough to launch the Daily 5.

A Gathering Place and Focus Lessons
The gathering place is a very important part of the classroom. It is where whole class instruction happens and will need the relevant teaching tools. The author's suggest three pay-offs for having students sitting on the floor in a contained area: behaviour management, deeper thinking through discussion, and reduced distractions. I've already got one of these places in my classroom and I use it a lot. I'm looking forward to using it even more effectively in the coming year. Transitions to and from the gathering place provide brain breaks for students. Ten minute focus lessons should lead to better retention of concepts. Developing these ten minute lessons is going to be a challenge for me, but a very worthwhile one.

These are charts which are developed during learning. They state goals, expected behaviours, and other relevant information. At a minimum there will be one for each of the Daily 5 choices. They provide students with a visual reminder of what has been learnt and what is expected. I was excited earlier this year to discover proper sheets of poster card in various colours at my favourite stationery store, so I'll be stocking up on that.

Classroom Design
I found this section really interesting, with its suggestions for a variety of seating and working spaces. While my classroom isn't small, it's also not that large, so I'm going to need to do some creative thinking about how I can practically offer students varied seating options. I'm thinking I might see if I can swap one of my tables for a lower one, with smaller chairs, and maybe even some small foam mats that children can sit/kneel on to work at. I know that each year I have a few students for whom our current tables are a little high, so it's worth considering. I'll probably need to use the gathering place for independent work as well to allow more flexibility. Being comfortable is important for building stamina, so I've definitely got some thinking and planning to do on this one.

So, in summary, I have a lot of what I need, but there are a few things I still need to find and work out. Is it doable? Yes, definitely.

For more of my reflections on "The Daily 5", check out these posts
Chapter 1: That Was Then, This is Now: How the Daily 5 Evolved.
Chapter 2: Our Core Beliefs: The Foundations of the Daily 5
Chapter 3: The 10 Steps to Teaching and Learning Independence
Chapter 5: Launching Read to Self - The First Daily 5
Chapter 6: Foundation Lessons
Chapter 7: When to Launch the Next Daily 5