She worked for over a decade as a national literacy consultant for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) based at Columbia University. This work has taken her into K-8 classrooms all over the country to support teachers and administrators with reading workshop, writing workshop, and all aspects of a balanced literacy curriculum.
One way to celebrate the end of a unit of study is to do some reflecting on favorite read-alouds and favorite books. Kids can also have conversations or do some writing about their growth as readers.
Interactive Book Recommendation Chart or Blog
Each child draws the cover of a favorite recommended book from the unit on an index card or small sheet of paper to display on a chart, with a bit of writing explaining why they recommend that book. Book clubs could work together to post their favorite book of the unit of study on the class blog or on an interactive chart in the hall. Others can respond via post-its or responses on the blog with their own ratings and comments.
Celebration Read Alouds
You, a guest, or students read aloud favorite scenes, or excerpts involving a favorite character, to small groups or whole class. Groups of students or book clubs could divide up an excerpt and rehearse it as a performance piece with each student reading particular lines, or incorporating props.
Clubs or partners choose a scene and to rehearse and perform the scene using their voices and gestures to bring the characters, plot, and themes of the book to life. Rehearsal and revision are crucial for enhanced comprehension.
Record dramatizations of favorite scenes, or “interviews” with favorite characters, or reviews, reflections, or responses to books. Then pop in the video and watch it together as a class for the celebration.
Skype or FaceTime With A Grandparent or Special Friend
Schools set up computer labs with Skype or FaceTime so each student can read to a grandparent, sibling, or family friend far away (or not so far away). You could partner your classroom with another classroom across the city, state, or even across the world – like pen pals, but much cooler. You might decide to do this several times across the year, so that the friends who are read to see the student’s growth over time. It's like "give the gift of reading," all year long.
Guests (‘Real’ People, and People in Costume)
Invite a local author (or not-so-local perhaps) to come and talk about their books with your class as a special wrap up, or launch, to a unit. It’s always an option to ask a colleague or friend to dress up and pretend to be a famous author, or character. For example - To launch or celebrate a biography unit, “famous people” might come around to visit each of the classrooms to talk about their lives, read aloud a biography, or even sing a song or storytell. To launch a fairytale unit, what could be better than a visit from Cinderella and the evil stepsisters themselves?
To launch or celebrate a mystery unit, teachers “plant” a mystery for students to solve. Perhaps the box tops go missing from the main office, or the librarian discovers that suddenly none of the Junie B Jones books are anywhere to be found. Teachers then drop clues around the school where children will find them. As kids find clues they can post their notes and evidence to a bulletin board where other kids can look over the body of evidence to try to solve the mystery. The unit can end with the solution being revealed at an assembly or other special event to culminate the work.
Launch with a Movie or a Show
A carefully selected movie or television program can be like a giant book-introduction to a genre. For example, have the kids watch all or part of Nancy Drew and take notes in a little notepad, just like she does. Or watch two episodes of Arthur to understand how a series works. Or watch part of How to Train Your Dragon or Shrek to look for characteristics of fantasy or fairytales, or to compare and contrast the movie to familiar read-alouds from the unit and chart them. There should be a clear purpose to the chosen film, and lots of effort put into making it engaging and not just passive watching.
Non-fiction Topic Teaching
Kids teach all about a topic they’ve learned about in their reading on video or to small groups of younger students, or adult visitors. Could include PowerPoint slides or other visuals, and could take the form of a Science Fair or “TED” talks for kids.
Book Club Talks on Video
This could be shown to the class as part of a celebration, or broadcast online on class or school blog, or on a school-based television loop.
Book Wanted Posters
Each child creates a poster for an imagined book that he or she would like to read, based on the unit of study. (Ex. “Wanted: A mystery with dogs as the main characters.”)
Trip to the Library, Senior Center, or Community Center
A special trip to the school or community library with a guest reader can wrap up any unit of study nicely. Senior centers, preschools, and community centers are also a wonderful place for your students to read to others.
Dress As Your Favorite Character
Coming to school in costume is always an engaging way to foster a love of books.
Kids can introduce their reading partners by talking about a reading goal s/he is working really hard at.
Celebrate stamina by inviting families in for a read-a-thon! We getto read for a loooong time together!
Like readers book shop together at the end of the unit, recommending the books from their baggies to others.
Clubs Create Tableaux
Each club member takes a different role and then creates the visual representation of the pivotal moment from a scene. Consider: tone, facial expressions, gesture and action as the moment is frozen in time. They create a quick tableaux. Then, (sticking with the same pivotal scene) clubs choose another character, maybe a person that is very different from their first character, and take on this new role in a physical way. They create a second tableaux. This allows participants to visualize two different characters, each with its own perspective.
Reading Response Collage
Create a new text about book club books by cutting and pasting reading response entries in order to demonstrate your thinking about the text and the collaboration within the club.
I Love to Read and Write Week
A whole school, end of the year celebration of reading and writing with special reading and writing events each day. Dress as your favorite character day (parade), a special lunch menu designed around books (Pizza for Pete’s A Pizza,” Spaghetti for Strega Nona), guest readers, read-a-thon, book fair, you name it.
Use technology to create a “trailer” for your book – just like a movie trailer. iMovie is a program that comes with most Mac computers that kids can learn to use easily.
When I was a kid, summer was an endless stretch of long days with not much to do. We didn’t have camps, or sports teams until middle school. We didn’t have summer homework or lessons to do. Just lots of unstructured time. My parents were really good at giving us the “gift of boredom” way before that was a thing.
Nowadays, a lot of kids don’t have the gift of boredom. Instead, they’ve got daycare, camps, sports, lessons, responsibilities at home, and even summer homework. They are busy. Things to do. Places to be.
When the topic of summer reading comes up, my gut reaction used to be - no. Just no! Why in the world, would we choose to give kids even more to do? Why not just let them be kids for the summer? Let them play! Let them be bored! Relax, rest up, kids. We’ll see you in the fall.
But my thinking on this has changed.
First, I have learned that summer reading is most effective when kids CHOOSE to read. KIds have to enjoy the books in order for summer reading to work. So, my worries about adding to kids’ work load don’t really apply if kids are choosing to read. I can get behind summer reading that is not required homework. If we can somehow get kids to read over the summer for enjoyment, I’m all for it.
Second, I have also learned that many kids lose about three months of reading progress over the summer. Plus, it can take until December for kids to catch back up to where they were at the end of the previous school year.
Most final assessments are conducted in May, not June… so from May to November, there’s zero growth as a reader for many, many kids. All that lost time adds up across a student’s years in school and you start to see how summer reading has an enormous impact. That lost time is what researchers refer to as the “summer reading slide.”
And the kids are impacted by this tend to be kids with the fewest resources at home who don’t have easy access to books they want to read. If you aren’t practicing something, it’s hard to get better at it. Meanwhile, other kids have library cards, books at home, adults who read to them, or schools who provide them with plenty books to read at home.
So now it is not just an academic issue. Its an equity issue. All of our kids deserve the opportunity to read over the summer. If some schools can make it happen, why can’t our schools?
So, how can educators get kids to read over the summer, without requiring it or forcing it?
A few months ago, I put together these presentation slides. There are links to peer reviewed research, data from one school district I have worked with, and links to lots of resources for finding books to give to kids. Please explore and consider what you can do to get books into kids’ hands—books that they will read over the summer not because it’s required, but because they actually want to read.
Reading Notebook Wall of Fame in Abby Opar's classroom at Browns River Middle School in Jericho, Vermont.
As a literacy coach and consultant, I get a lot of questions sent to me! I'm fortunate to work in a range of very diverse schools, across districts, and across states. I support teachers and administrators from the rural Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, to the suburbs of Boston. I've worked with schools in California, Washington, North Carolina, Ohio, New York, Florida, Kentucky... the list goes on. One of the hottest topics, regardless of location, is always reading notebooks. In this post I will attempt to answer some of those questions.
Q: I would love any ideas or thoughts on reading notebooks specific to readers who are reading early chapterbooks. What do the teachers at your school expect in reading notebooks?
So, I work in LOTS of schools this year, across four very different school districts. But the one thing I can say, about every school I work in currently is that reading notebooks are generally introduced once students are reading around level J/K, though this isn't a strict rule, with the idea being that once kids are reading longer books, a notebook can help them to track their thinking, and can be a great tool for sparking deeper conversations about books. Until then, I really wouldn't expect kids to do a lot of stopping and jotting - except maybe a quick post-it here and there to keep track of important pages, questions, or big ideas they want to talk about.
In the notebooks, we would expect to see kids stopping and jotting, just little notes. These notes are meant to help them keep track of ideas, understand the story better, and especially prepare for having conversations. Students might sketch a picture, keep a running timeline, or create a chart that helps their understanding--but nothing that takes much time away from reading. Occasionally, teachers might prompt students to pick one idea to write longer about. Some teachers do this as a routine, say once a week. Others do this in response to the work they are doing in a unit, or with a small group.
Q: What's the best way to set up a reading notebook?
I have seen reading notebooks set up in a hundred different ways, but the way I like best is a simple marble composition notebook. I use post-its or tabs to separate the notebook into 3-4 sections:
Self-reflection, self-assessment, and goal setting are skills that I've been working on a lot lately, so sometimes I like a separate section for that work. Sometimes I just include it in the existing sections. I also love to invite kids to decorate/personalize their notebook to reflect their reading life--just like the writing the notebook.
Q: How do students use their reading notebooks?
During read-aloud, I might prompt students to stop and jot in the read-aloud section. As kids get older they sometimes jot on their own during read-aloud--though I'm careful to observe closely and assess whether jotting is actually helping or interfering with understanding the story. I usually start here before teaching kids how to use notebooks during reading workshop.
When kids are ready to learn how to use notebooks during reading workshop, I teach kids strategies they can choose from (choice being the operative word). Occasionally I might prompt everybody to try something, but mostly I like to say, "I want you to keep your notebook open and ready, in case you have a great idea to jot down, or a question for your book club" or I'll say, "It doesn't matter to me HOW you stop and jot, but you do need to keep track of your thinking somehow! You get to decide! If you're stuck, look at our anchor chart!" I always offer post-its as an option as well - it truly doesn't matter to me what they choose to do - but I do get concerned when a student is not jotting, or even sticking a post-it on a single thing. If anything, I want them to be in the habit of coming to their book club (or partnership) prepared with something to say, or a few pages to refer to. Post-its and notes are signals to me that the reader is engaged; jotting, sketching, and talking are the work of reading workshop.
Q: What can you suggest or point me towards in regards to making the notebooks more effective and fun for the kids?
I often find that it is very tempting to give kids little assignments to do in their notebooks - whether it's in class or at home -- but beware! Turning the notebook into a collection of teachers-selected assignments can kill it for kids. But they also need to know that they're expected to be engaged readers, and to be prepared for their book club conversations. As a literacy coach, I will often demonstrate minilessons where I literally say to kids "You can use your notebook however you want! You can draw! You can sketch! Use colors! Make a chart! Write a quote! Whatever you want... but you have to do something." I've never had a group of kids that wasn't at least a little bit excited by the idea of doing whatever they want.
However, sometimes it's not that kids don't want to stop and jot--instead, they just aren't sure how.
I sometimes show kids (or just the teachers) this quick sketchnoting video to get them excited about using their notebooks and then I put colored pencils at every table for kids to use.
Basic Sketchnote Tips - YouTube
(There are 100s more like this one on youtube!) Sketchnoting isn't for everyone--but I have observed that it slows kids down, in a good way. The lettering, the sketches, borders, and other visual aspects can help make the content more memorable for many kids.
Other times, I put my own reading notebook under the doc cam and show them the "coolest" pages (kids like the pages with a lot of drawing/charts/color the best) and invite them to use their notebook in any way they want.
I also like to share other students' reading notebooks as inspiration. Here's a quick tour of one fourth grader's notebook, as an example:
IMG 0161 - YouTube
Occasionally I have to do some coaching, circulating around the room, to give reminders to the kiddos who are writing/sketching/drawing too much - but generally, it's a good problem to have. I would rather have overly enthusiastic sketchers and drawers, than having kids who begrudge the notebook - or worse - learn to hate reading because of it!
For more thoughts and ideas for reading notebooks, and effective ways to teach writing about reading in authentic ways, I recommend:
The Units of Study for Teaching Reading (Grades K-8), by Lucy Calkins and Colleagues
What Readers Really Do by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton
DIY Literacy by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts
The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo
* Thanks to my friend and colleague, Kathleen Sokolowski, for the best questions.
* Thanks to my teacher friends Katie LeFrancois & Portia Senning for sharing their students with me and trying out the innovative notebook work you see in this post.
*Post updated 4/12/18 to share Reading Notebook Wall of Fame : )
I happen to live in a state that is largely rural and largely white. For some adults in our community, it feels easy to ignore what's going on beyond our "bubble" and to go on with life as usual. Lots of people I know aren't comfortable having conversations about race, and are worried they'll make a mistake, so they avoid it altogether. I worry that I'll make a mistake too.
However, it's BECAUSE our community is largely white that I hope educators find the courage and the resources to face history, and teach empathy, kindness, critical literacy, and give all kids, white kids included, tools for living peacefully in a diverse world.
Read-alouds, videos, news for kids, and other resources make it possible to bring diverse voices into all classrooms and can guide conversations about difficult topics in ways that are appropriate for all age ranges. Reading stories from many perspectives helps students develop empathy, makes unfamiliar ideas and cultures more familiar, and can dispel misconceptions by providing information and multiple perspectives.
I've been following #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #educolor for years, and the recent of explosion of resources at #CharlottesvilleCurriculum has been remarkable. Many educators I work with, however, aren't on Twitter, or aren't sure how to sift through all the information to find what they need, so I've attempted to round up resources for the people I work with most often. Hopefully, you'll find something here for you and your students as well.
My plan is to update this frequently, focusing on sources that I trust, and resources that feel like they will stand the test of time. If you know of a resource that could be added or spot a problem with a resource I've listed, don't hesitate to leave a comment.
Today I had the pleasure of working with preschool educators from across my own school district about my favorite topic: joyful literacy. I shared some ideas for fostering a love of reading and writing for our youngest learners. We had a great conversation about what play means in a preschool classroom, and how to foster a love of reading and writing that is play-based and child-centered. These slides contain interactive links to some of my favorite resources for early childhood educators.
You may have noticed word walls and “snap words” mentioned throughout the reading and writing Units of Study books (Heinemann, 2013, 2015). This refers to the 100 most frequent words in English (high frequency words). These words can be introduced a few at a time each week, and added to a large word wall in your classroom. In third and fourth grade, you might not need a word wall if your students have mastered 100-200 high frequency words.
“Mastering” high frequency words means that students can read the word on sight and write the word automatically, without hesitation or “sounding it out.” These words serve an important role in learning to read -- and knowing them on sight allows students to save their energy for more challenging work.
Just a handful of words per week (3-5) is typical. At the end of the week, you can informally assess you whole class’s recognition of words by asking them to write the words on a white board. If the majority of your class has mastered a word, you may move on to teach a new word the following week. If most still need to stop and think before writing the word, continue with that word before adding new ones.
To introduce (or reteach) a high frequency word, you can use Marie Clay’s "Three Ways of Knowing" from her research:
VISUAL: Invite kids to look closely at the word, written large on an index card. Talk about the shapes of the letters, draw a box to outline the shape of the word.
AUDITORY: Spell and say the word repeatedly. Rhythm and/or singing helps commit the spelling and the word to memory.
KINESTHETIC: Write the word large, small, in the air, on a white board, with different materials to build muscle memory for writing the word and remembering the word on sight.
COMBINE ALL THREE: Many teachers invent “cheers” for each new high frequency word that help students remember the word on sight.
Here are two posts I’ve written about how to use the word wall, once you’ve got it up and running:
A range of readers whose reading stages and interests span everything and anything.
If you look at a list of independent reading levels for your class, you would see a good portion of the alphabet!
Some of your students have expansive vocabularies, while others do not.
Some of your kids have the habits and stamina to read and write for long stretches of time, while others have trouble keeping themselves focused for more than a few minutes.
There's a good chance that at least one of these describes your classroom, whether you teach more than one grade, or you teach a single-grade classroom. No matter the configuration, there will always be a wide range of personalities, levels of experiences, student needs, and learning styles. In a multiage or multigrade classroom, it simply becomes even more apparent.
Teachers of multiage and multigrade configurations know how to differentiate for students, regardless of the grade level to which they are assigned. They are accustomed to teaching an overall unit of study to the whole class, while conferring with with individual students and teaching small groups to tailor their instruction. That is, in essence, what teaching multiage justis, making reading and writing workshop especially well suited for a multiage or multigrade classroom.
First things first: What's the difference between multiage and multigrade?
In daily conversation the two terms are often used interchangeably. However, researchers and nerds like me tend to use the two words differently. Multiage refers to a classroom composed of children who are more than one year apart in age, who aren't necessarily designated a grade level. Instead, the teacher differentiates instruction for each student according to their developmental, social, and academic stages -- regardless of age. In the United States, toddler and preschool classrooms are often organized this way--it is less common once kids arrive in kindergarten.
Multigrade classrooms are just as the name sounds -- more than one grade level combined. Often multigrade classrooms are created not only for educational purposes, but also for practical purposes - to address low enrollment, or to immerse groups of less mature children in the positive behaviors and communication skills of the the older children (i.e. separate large groups with major behavioral issues into smaller groups). In multigrade classrooms, children within the classroom each are designated to a particular grade level, and move on to the next grade level each year. However, many of the same principles of differentiated instruction, and accommodations for developmental, social, and academic needs still apply.
Potential Benefits of Multiage and Multigrade Classrooms
Children ideally "loop" with their teacher, meaning they stay with the same teacher (and some of their classmates) for more than one year. This consistency had numerous potential benefits -- so long as the child's relationship and experiences with the teacher and classmates are positive.
Younger children, and children who have less experience outside of school with books, language, and literacy, are immersed in a classroom full of children who are older and potentially have more experience with books, language, and literacy. The older children (along with some younger children) model communication skills, vocabulary, and literacy skills that benefit the younger or less experienced students.
Children develop connections with classmates across grade levels and classrooms, creating a school-wide community, a network of friendships and relationships that span across classrooms.
Teachers in multiage and multigrade classrooms must be able to differentiate instruction for a wide range of ages, stages, and learning styles -- as all teachers must. The necessity of differentiation is just much clearer in a multiage setting.
Researchers generally agree multiage and multigrade groupings are on par with single-grade level classrooms academically, socially, and emotionally. Some researchers have found positive benefits to multiage classrooms -- however those benefits are strongly tied to teacher philosophy, training, and implementation.
Planning a Curriculum Calendar for Multigrade or Multiage Classrooms Using the Units of Study Series
The wonderful thing about the Units of Study series is that although the minilessons in every book may be geared to grade-level standards, they are actually multi-level in many ways, and are often quite transferable to more than one grade level. Even though the box may say “Grade 2” on it, in many cases it is quite easy to transfer many of the strategies up or down a level or two. If you teach multiage, you basically have the advantage of having twice as many units to pick from. Personally, I wish every teacher could have access to the grade above and the grade below sets of books, multiage or not.
Of course, all of the principles I describe below would apply to any reading and writing workshop - even if you aren't necessarily using the Units of Study. For ease and efficiancy, however, I've written this advice for teachers using the series.
The key is to make decisions based on students' actual writing and reading work, rather than their age or assigned grade level. When you put the "official" grade level aside and just see them as a group of kids with a range of needs, things come into focus.
For example, a 1/2 class will have a wide range of readers & writers --- but so does any single- grade classroom. To plan a calendar of units for your school year, gather up as many various assessments and samples of student work as you can. Look to last year's teacher for the students who are new to your classroom. This might include running records, conferring notes, sample post-its or responses to books, published and "raw" writing samples, letter-sound identification, high frequency word recognition, spelling stages... everything you can get your hands on. Some people like to use a chart to organize all that data. Click here to see a few examples.
Then use the combination of the first grade boxed set, the second grade boxed set, and the If/Then book to create a calendar that makes sense. You might refer to the link below for additional considerations for yearlong planning:
In some cases you may be able to teach a single grade unit "as is" in your mutliage/multigrade classroom. But you will want to be prepared to adapt the unit to match the instructional goals of your own students (this is true no matter what kind of classroom you teach in!). A few simple ideas for adapting a unit:
1. Consider adding or swapping out minilessons using a unit of study from one grade up or down. You might do this if you notice particular minilessons missing from the unit you've selected, but a more likely scenario is that you'll want to add to the minilessons that are already there, to give your children extra practice using other, similar minilessons from another unit.
2. Consider skipping or adding in "Bends in the Road." The Units of Study for Reading and Units of Study for Writing are all organized into 2-4 parts, called "Bends." Each bend is a string of lessons that fit well together. Organizationally speaking, they are quite easy to remove, add to, or swap. You might, for example, decide to do only the first two bends of a lower grade level unit, and then move over to the first two bends of a similar upper grade level unit. Or you might decide to do only the first three out of four bends of a more challenging unit. Or you might design your own bend to introduce a unit, before teaching the first bend as it is written.
3. You'll notice that within the Units of Study for Writing, there are always a few lessons in every unit introducing a checklist to help students set goals, self-assess, and reflect. There are similar goal-setting units in the Units of Study for Reading. With a multiage or multigrade classroom, you'll want to introduce more than one checklist so that each of your students is working from a checklist that is "just right" for them -- aim for a checklist that will allow the student to check "yes" to a number of items, but not every item - there should be some work to do on that checklist! In a 2/3rd classroom, for example, you may have a handful of students still working from the first grade checklist, groups using the 2nd grade, 3rd grade, and even a handful using the 4th grade checklist. You might decide to teach the checklists and rubric lessons via small group work instead of whole class.
But what about the start of the year in a K/1 classroom? I don't have any student work to look at for my kindergarteners yet.
You could use what you know about last year's kindergarteners to anticipate how much experience your incoming students might have had with books and being read to. You could reach out to families and preschools over the summer with a questionnaire, phone calls, or even home visits. Even a little bit of information about each child will be helpful in anticipating how best to launch your literacy year.
Many K/1 classrooms tend to teach kindergarten units first, and then switch over to first grade mid-year -- Unit 1 in first grade will dovetail with Unit 4 from kindergarten. You might decide to use the nonfiction unit from the If/Then book instead of the first grade nonfiction unit depending on the time of year.
The first two units for kindergarten are perfect for emergent readers but will not give your conventional readers the strategies they need for anything past levels A/B. The If/Then guide to instruction included in all of the Units of Study boxed sets is a great guide for your small group work. Look to If/Then Word Detectives unit if you need more print strategies for small group work early to mid-year. You could teach the minilessons that seem to apply to the biggest number of students in your whole classroom, but then get busy pulling small groups aside to differentiate. It'll be more important than ever to keep your minilessons "mini" so that you don't use up all your conferring and small group work time.
Here are a few links to resources keeping your minilessons brief, engaging, and succinct.
Should I always teach the same unit to my whole class?
In general, research suggests that ability grouping doesn't pay off. The social aspects of learning together simply outweigh any potential reasons to split kids up - not to mention the precious minutes spent traveling from one room to another. Kids thrive on consistency and relationships -- with the teacher and the other students. So, sending one group out of the room (or to a certain part of the same room) to do something else while the rest of the class carries on is obviously not a great instructional model.
However, I'm reminded of a challenge that we ran into this year with a 2/3/4 multiage classroom I work in. (Yes - that's three grade levels combined!) During persuasive/argument writing the team (two teachers) did decide to break into two groups - one group to write reviews & letters, and the other to study literary essay - the split was mostly 2/3 & 3/4 but there was a 4th grader or two that they kept with the reviews/letters group. In this situation, the decision to split was not necessarily along grade level groupings, and felt different from traditional ability grouping. Though they preferred to keep the class together, they decided to give it a try and seemed to be successful.
What does a multiage or multigrade curriculum calendar look like?
Take a look at the following examples from different first/second multigrade teams I work with.
1. In the both examples, the teams were new to reading workshop, and decided to launch with the first grade unit to support routines, volume, stamina, and to foster great book selection habits.
2. We also aimed to alternate between fiction/nonfiction reading, and we made sure to touch on narrative, informational, and opinion types of writing.
3. In the first example, the team knew that the first graders coming in, as well as the second graders, would benefit from some foundational skills teaching at the start of the year, so they selected 2nd Grade, Book 1, as their second unit of study, knowing that in this unit, they will be able to differentiate the type of word-solving and other foundational skills all of their students might need. They also liked that both of their first two units allow students to shop from the entire classroom library, which seemed like a great way to get started as teachers who are new to reading workshop, and have limited supplies of books.
4. In the second example, the team knew that their readers would need lots of practice thinking deeply about books: making inferences about characters, comparing and contrasting books, and elaborating on their ideas, especially. So they created a calendar that would allow them to emphasize the units where comprehension is made big. (Tip: In general, the reading units are more specific to particular stages than the writing units. When you're designing your yearlong curriculum map, it might be helpful to consider the needs of your students as readers first, and then align the writing units accordingly.)
Last, But Not Least: Examples
I often receive requests for example of various grade level configurations. Here are a few others that might serve as inspiration for you work with your colleagues: Disclaimer: None of these are meant as recommendations--only examples of how other schools have done this work. You absolutely must consider the needs of your students first, as well as your own familiarity with each unit. For example, some of these plans include test prep, which is not something that I necessarily endorse or recommend, but is a requirement for some schools.
Over the past week this series has focused on suggestions for organizing beautiful classroom libraries. Each day this week, I posted suggestions for each grade level, based on the Units of Study for Teaching Reading by Lucy Calkins et al. (which I am honored to have played a role in creating).
No matter the grade level, a classroom library can be a place that inspires children to fall in love with books and words. The library should be brimming with a range of text types, topics, and styles. Just as your students grow and change across the school year, so will your classroom library, reflecting the personalities and changing interests of the children in the room. Think outside the box to invent ways to display books, celebrate favorites, highlight new arrivals, and share your own love of reading as a model for your students.
You might use a type of leveling system to assist kids in finding books - dots on the covers, or letters written on the back, but these need not be the main feature of any classroom library, at any grade level. Rather than shelves of books organized by level, you might instead highlight bins filled with favorite authors, topics, themes, genres, character traits, and other, more enticing ways of encouraging kids to choose a book they really want to read. Inside these bins of books, there may be dots or letters to assist you and the children in finding what you need. It will be far more important that kids open up each book and try things out, deciding for themselves if the book feels like a good fit. Choice is a key component to successful reading, no matter how young or old.
I do want to say (again, and again) that there is one thing that all of the books in the world cannot replace: You! No matter how how many books you have in your classroom library, it is your love for books, and your dedication to teaching reading that is crucial. While having an amazing classroom library is incredibly helpful, there are many ways to make the best with what you have, adapt, stretch and still have an engaging and successful reading workshop. This series will suggest some goals to aim for, and you and your colleagues can work together to figure out what makes sense for your team.
Here are the links to advice for organizing classroom libraries, specific to each unit of study:
If you're just joining me, over the past week this series has focused on suggestions for organizing beautiful classroom libraries. Each day this week, I posted suggestions for each grade level, based on the Units of Study for Teaching Reading by Lucy Calkins et al. (which I am honored to have played a role in creating). In previous posts I outlined suggestions for: kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade, and fourth grade classroom libraries. Today I have suggestions for fifth grade.
Fifth graders are a delight to work with. They have an awareness of what others think, are developing their own opinions about important issues, and often passionately concerned about justice and fairness. They sometimes seem so grown-up, but deep down many of them are still drawn to stories with animals as main characters and love silly humor. They often have a craving for fairy tales and fantasy, for singing songs, and being read-aloud to. For fifth graders, books can be simultaneously serve as a way into young adulthood, and a way to escape it.
Your fifth grade library can reflect the interests, personalities, and needs of the young people who will be reading from it. Across the year, baskets of books can rotate in and out of the library to support the work of each particular unit, and keep kids interested in finding new books. Throughout the year, your library will be filled with fiction or nonfiction books to match the range of reading levels and interests of your fifth graders. Dividing your library into two halves - fiction and nonfiction will help you organize for upcoming units and manage book shopping more easily. During a fiction unit, you can simply pin a curtain over the nonfiction half. During nonfiction units, the curtain can come down to reveal fresh nonfiction titles.
As you build your collection, be conscientious about the groups who are represented on the shelves of your classroom library, analyzing through many lenses. How racially diverse are the main characters in your books? Are there both male and female protagonists? How do the characters in your classroom library defy stereotypes (or not)? Is there a diverse representation of families, lifestyles, traditions, socioeconomic status, disabilities, and characters of all shapes and sizes and walks of life - in both fiction and nonfiction? Consider this always a work in progress. If you're not sure where to begin, the official site of the #weneeddiversebooks campaign is a good place to begin to educate yourself on the need for more diverse books, and where to find them. The publisher, Lee and Low Books, specializes in multicultural books for young readers, and their website and blog are a terrific resource for learning more.
Traditionally, a classroom library might be organized by baskets of leveled books. However, I want to encourage you to go beyond baskets marked by reading levels. Of course, you might have a few baskets marked this way for convenience, but you may want to downplay levels and instead highlight baskets filled with favorite authors, topics, themes, genres, character traits, and other, more enticing ways of encouraging kids to find a book they really want to read.
Unit 1: Interpretation Book Clubs: Analyzing Themes
It is said that books can serve as "windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors" (Bishop R.S., 2015 ). Your fifth grade library can provide a window for students into lived experiences from a wide range of perspectives. Through books they are offered a glimpse into many cultures, time periods, and other worlds, while at the same time books can provide a mirror--a place to see their own identities and familiar experiences reflected back to them. Author Grace Lin spoke eloquently about the importance of windows AND mirrors in her recent TEDx talk. If you haven't seen it yet, be sure to watch it soon. For this unit, look for books that lend themselves to meaningful thinking and conversation.
It will be incredibly useful to organize books for this unit by themes or issues that characters face, so that clubs can easily make plans to read multiple books on one theme, allowing them to compare and contrast, and think deeply about how different characters experience similar themes or issues. Some of the suggested themes might include issues of cultural differences, overcoming obstacles of all kids, fitting in, loneliness, loss and grief, family struggles, race and identity, growing up, healing emotional wounds, and others.
In any club unit, it's ideal to have multiple copies of each title, so that partners or groups of kids can read and talk about the same book. However if you are short on books, you can scrape by with kids reading individual books and then swapping with a partner. Remember that depending on the length of the text, you can plan on clubs reading approximately a book a week (a week and a half at the most).
This unit builds nicely off of the work your students may have done in the fourth grade character unit (Fourth Grade Unit 1, Interpreting Characters: The Heart of the Story). In fact, you may be able to borrow or share books with your fourth grade colleagues to provide more choices of titles. Chances are, you will have some titles that you aren't using and so will they. In some schools, all the best multiple copies of books with strong characters and themes are placed on rolling carts so they can easily become a rolling library to be shared from classroom to classroom.
Unit 2: Tackling Complexity: Moving Up Levels of Nonfiction
For this unit, you may want to pin a curtain over the fiction side of your library, or swap the books out to create excitement over the nonfiction books your kids will be reading. You will want the shelves of the nonfiction half of your classroom library to be pouring with high interest, engaging informational texts. Put out information books of all types of text structures, with all kinds of engaging features. Organizing books into bins based on topics (rather than levels) will help your students find books on topics they are curious about. The books inside the bin might be marked with a dot or a letter, or some other marking, to assist students in finding a book they can read with accuracy, fluency, and deep comprehension -- but it will be important that students go beyond the sticker. They'll need to open books up and read a few pages to truly get the sense of how challenging the text will be.
Unit 3: Argument and Advocacy: Researching Debatable Issues
In this unit, your student will be reading as many sources as they can to research debatable issues like deep sea versus outer space exploration, the benefits versus the risks of extreme sports, animals in zoos, and the pros and cons of plastic bags. The authors of the Units of Study for Teaching Reading have made some text sets available in the digital resources that come along with the units, so all you'll need to do is print them out and get them organized, along with additional books and texts that you'll want to add to the online starter sets.
For organization, you may want to compile the articles and other printed resources for each topic into packets that students can have for their own, to reread often, highlight and mark up. Each club can store their packets, books and other materials in a shared bin, so that everything they need for studying their topic and preparing for debate is in one container.
In addition to the texts students will be reading to research their chosen issue, you might have students shop for one additional book, one that is purely their choice, fiction or nonfiction, to keep their personal reading lives alive and well.
Unit 4: Fantasy Book Clubs: The Magic of Themes and Symbols
This is a unit that you and your students will look forward to all year long. In this unit, your students will work in reading clubs to read a fantasy series of their choice. The goal is for them to read an entire series, or as many as they can, across the unit. You'll want to scour your classroom, as well as your school and community library to pull together as many books as you can for kids to choose from. Keep in mind that the first book in any series is most important, so prioritize those.
If you are short on books, you can still have a very successful unit of study. One option would be for partners of students (instead of clubs) to each read one fantasy book and then swap. Another option would be to adapt the unit so that students read individual fantasy titles, rather than series -- of course, you can group similar stories and characters, or books that contain similar themes, or elements, so that they are somewhat like a series, and kids can still do most of the work of the unit.