Weekly reflection: whole class, small group, 1:1, buddy

I have noticed, right throughout my teaching career, as lean as it is but relevant nonetheless, that many students are not particularly engaged during whole class instruction.  We complete a 7-10 minute, yes, I have a student timer that times me each time, hotspot at the start of our Daily 5.  I work hard to maintain engage and enthusiasm during these short 10 minute sessions.  I ask students questions, I give lots of positive feedback for student comments, I complete a quick model session and set them free.  What I noticed, particularly last term, lack of engagement and boredom.  Hence the strict chunking and timing regime we have.  But, in comparison, what a startling difference during small groups.

One child that will not speak in front of the class is transformed into a wonderful source of knowledge and he absolutely extrudes confidence during reading groups.  I can barely keep him quiet!  He wanted to answer every question and he demonstrated to me and his peers his in-depth understanding of the text, his ability to re-read to find information, and to use his prior knowledge….the list can go on.  Another student was ignited during a small group reading activity by the ingredient of competition from another peer.  She went from a docile, quiet and uninterested participant to an enthusiastic and ambitious learner.

 Student A started the session with answers such as, ‘I don’t know’ and lots of shoulder shrugging.  Enter stage left, student B that was enthusiastic and motivated and wanted to share her knowledge and attempted to answer questions.  At this point, I distinctly recall student A watching her peer share and engage with the text.  She looked back at me, and noticed by enthusiasm and encouragement as I praised her for showing me her comprehension skills.  At this point, she started to engage with the text and the group and was actively competing to share her ideas.

In a whole class session, both of these students would not have transformed their learning.  I would not have observed their skill and knowledge in a whole class session.

During term 1, I increased the amount of small group teaching.  I completed a student survey today and one of the questions in the survey was, ‘How do you like to work during writing?  shade all the choices that sound like you

Whole class         small group       buddy     on my own      1:1 with the teacher


What did they choose?

Over 80% of the class selected small group.  One student selected whole class teaching.  This question was asked for reading and writing.  The results were similar.  About 40 % of students selected buddy and a small number selected on my own.  Many students selected more than 1 choice.

What does it mean?

That I am right increasing the amount of small group time in all areas.  The Daily 5 and CAFE approach is great for this as well.  There is a place for whole class but the preferred way of most students in my class is small group and opportunities to work with buddies and individually.

What about me?

I love to work with small groups and observe the knowledge and skills that learners have.  I am enthused to see learners transform into confident and ambition beings that amaze me and their peers.  I relish in the learning conversations I have with my learners and the interactions learners have with each other.


Weekly reflection: the 40 Book Challenge

The 40 Book Challenge

During my planning for 2014, I discovered a bunch of chat about the 40 Book Challenge.  Donalyn Miller was the inspirational figure behind the book titled, ‘The Book Whisper’.  The book outlines Donalyn’s journey to inspire and motivate her students to read 40 books during the school year.

Spectacular! I was looking for a way to motivate and challenge my 2014 class to read – good readers need practice and I wanted my readers to develop a thorough understanding of the genre of texts that exist and to link this to their writing.  Plus, boys are naturally competitive and I really wanted to hook them into reading.

We started in week 5.  At first, the class was exasperated, ‘Miss Turner, 40 books that’s too much’ and ‘it takes me all term to read one book…’ it is not hard to imagine the retorts from year 6 and 7’s about why they couldn’t possibly read that many books.  However, after a discussion about what books, how many pages, who gets to choose the books and if books that were read before could count, I noticed a glint in the eyes of some of my readers as we ventured to the library.  Once we arrived, a small number of students ran up to me and asked, ‘what sort of book is this one?’ and ‘I only have this much to go so this one counts eh?’.  

A great thing happened a few weeks later as I reminded the class about the 40 Book Challenge and asked the class who would be the first person to complete a book.  A girl came into class and smiled triumphantly and exclaimed, ‘Miss Turner, I finished my book’.  The look of utter triumphant was plastered on her face.  She was the first to attach her sticked to our chart.  From that point on, more students were finishing books.  I set the challenge to my boys to be the first boy to complete a book.  One of my boys told me each day how many pages he had left until he finished his book as he was sure he would be the first boy to complete a book.  He was and has read two more books since then.  I marvel at how the added competition has ignited some of my boys to strive to out do each other.

At this point, I have noticed when we go to the library each week, I return less books and renew slightly more.  I place a big presence on making our reading count – record all night reading in your reading log – no matter what type of reading you do.  Choose books you want to and can read.  I have also noticed the students choosing books in their genre list and stepping outside of their reading comfort zone.  One young lady in my class noted that she needed to read a book of poetry and went to the library and actively looked for a poetry text.

A new development has occurred in that my class would like to set up a reward system for progressing through the challenge.  We are discussing this currently and I have decided to elect a 40 Book Challenge team to set the milestones and achievements.

So, what is my take so far on the 40 Book Challenge? Great and I have noticed a shift, if only slightly, in the attitude some of my readers have to reading and I see a persistence in some to complete books.  Likewise, my readers that love to read are being rewarded for reading.  Finally, all my readers are practising their skill at reading which must occur to develop reading progression and understanding.

The challenge continues and I am still slogging my way through my first book and shamelessly have yet to add my own star to the class chart.  80 books seemed so attainable at the time – note to self , ‘don’t choose books with 600 pages’.