Monday, 30 October 2017

Guided Reading and Writing and Timing, Oh My!

It's the cry of every teacher of Prep (Foundation) in Australia, or Kinder if your in the USA. How on earth do you find time to 'do it all'?

I've been meaning to write about how I organise and run my literacy sessions for quite a while, but every time I thought I was ready to put it up on the blog, I'd change something!

Now that I've been off work recovering from surgery for a few weeks, I've changed it a bit more. But I figured I'll put this up now, and hopefully it will be useful to others in it's current, unrefined, messy but organised format. Of course, this is just ONE way of doing things, there are many, many different ways. This is what worked for me, and I am sharing it with hope that it may help someone else.

This is going to be a long post. You will be rewarded with pictures further towards the bottom, and details on how to get your hands on a great freebie! But the first part is important. It sets you and your class up for success!

The Important Long Part- Setting Yourself  (and your class) Up For Success!

First things first. My kiddos THRIVE on organisation and routines. Which means I not only need to invest a considerable amount of brain power into figuring out the organisation and routines, but also a significant amount of time teaching the organisation and routines. Sometimes when I try something new, it doesn't work out real well. Instead of pushing through with the same problems, or abandoning the idea, I ask the class what they thought went well, and what didn't. Then we brainstorm some ways of dealing with the stuff that didn't go well- the kids help to develop the new routines. They love taking ownership of this kind of stuff in the classroom!

Term one might largely be spent setting up routines and behavioural expectations, but a lot of Term 1 and Term 2 is also spent training the class in certain word work activities with the aim of them being able to conduct these activities independently.

Did you catch that? You need to train them to do things independently! Use the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model to train them to be able to do certain activities without guidance. Use routines. Practice, practice, practice!

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is available as a responsible helper?
  • When are they available, and can I use that time for my literacy block?
  • What routines do I want the kiddos to use? Where is stuff stored? When am I going to model these routines and give them opportunities to practice the routines?
  • Have we set clear expectations about what we should be doing, and sound like during these times?
  • What do the kiddos do in the event that they finish a task early? Do they know what to do without interrupting another group to ask?

Here's my answers:
Helpers: I have a teacher aide (don't hate me) and towards the end of Term 1, we invite parents to come in and help for these rotations. I will usually get them to work on an activity I have trained them on, so it is familiar, but still need guided practice with.

I know there are some of you who have zero helpers, and no aides. I hear you. It is difficult, but I have done this on my own. You just need to think carefully about your activities and really set up the the class well. You might decide to do just two or three simple tasks for everyone while you are meeting with the group instead of rotations. Whatever you decide, your routines and training are critical when doing this on your own!

We always reassure them during our Meet the Teacher night that it's not something they need special knowledge for, they just need to show up with a smile! We do also offer workshops to teach them stuff as parents, but other than the reading one, they don't often take us up on the offer.

The depth of each activity depends on my helpers for the morning. As you get to know them, you will learn their strengths and weaknesses, and what kind of activities they are comfortable with.  If I have no helpers, we do basic consolidation with very familiar activities. If I have some helpers who aren't super confident, I usually get them to play a simple game. Then there are some super helpers (who have either been helping in my room before and know how I do things, or are teachers on maternity leave, or are just otherwise amazing) that I can give more challenging activities. I don't want to overwhelm my volunteers!

It's important to get to know the people helping in your class. I had a parent helper last year who just HATED everything I asked her to do. After a few weeks, I discovered she had a hidden talent in one of my weak areas- craft! She became my art and craft lady, and would often volunteer suggestions of things she could do with the class related to our units, and even prepared everything at home and brought in her own supplies and equipment! She could have gone through the rest of the year dreading that one hour a week she came to class, but instead she looked forward to it. She was also the one responsible for my amazing classroom forest bookweek transformation ! This links to my instagram- scroll down to last August to see the amazing transformation.

KNOW your helpers, it is important!

When is my literacy block?
My school strongly encourages our morning be used for our literacy block. This suits me just fine, as I know my kiddos are at their freshest first thing in the morning. It also means that it is very rare that admin will schedule something during this time.
It also means my parents are more readily available to help, as they have already dropped the kiddos off, and are there! Normally I only get one or two volunteers, but the kids go home and tell their parents how much they LOVED having so and so's mum or dad help, and soon enough, I have many more helpers!

My literacy block is about an hour long. My class are grouped by what phonemic awareness skills they are working on. I have 4 animal groups for literacy. I set up 4 different activities. We sit together on the mat and I explain each one.  I send each group to an activity, set a timer for 15 minutes, and work until it goes off. At the start of the year, all the pencils, glue etc. are put on the table for the children. When the timer goes off, everyone stops working, puts their hands on their heads and waits to be instructed to tidy their area. Once tidied, the groups show me they are ready by tucking in their chair and standing quietly behind it. I then move each group clockwise around the room. By the end of the hour, each group has done all 4 activities. At the end of the last activity, the groups pack away all the materials- I explain to each group individually what to put where. This is part of training them on how and where to find resources in the classroom, which books to use for different activities, etc.

By the end of term 1, I just pop any resources for the activity on the tables, and the children are getting their own pencils and books.  We also model and practice getting different things and putting them away as I increase their responsibility, one thing at a time. I write these experiences into my plan.

The activities change daily. At the beginning of the year, they will include things that don't need supervision (but still need modelling and training!) like puzzles and play dough while I am working on learning to write our names and training them to do things like word sorts. When we begin guided reading groups, that will also become one of the rotations. This is also where I include a lot of our fine motor activities, and sometimes will incorporate a maths or science activity that integrates with our literacy in here too.

Clear expectations and what do to when you finish:
Term 1 is ALLLL about expectations!
We know our rotation time is with whisper voices- because only the people in our group need to hear us, not the other groups!

We also know our reading corner/bookshelf time is a 'no voice' activity, unless we are specifically told to read to our elbow partner or reading buddy (teddy bear).

We know we work for the WHOLE time- this may mean swapping resources with a friend, re-checking our work to make sure it is our best and we didn't make any mistakes, or trying something a new way (differentiated tasks are important- they can always challenge themselves to the next level task if it's available, and taught as an expectation!), and later in the year when completing a worksheet (obviously if it's done, you can't keep going!)

We know to work on our finishing folder to finish off other work, or if it's empty, we can get a puzzle or read a book. Again- teach, model, practice, practice, practice!

We also know that if there is no grown up with our activity we need to ask our friends for help before asking the grown up. 'Ask 3, than me' is invaluable here- most of the time they KNOW what to do, they just want reassurance they are on the right track before they start! I have a crown I wear when we are practicing this routine. We talk about how you can't just walk up to a queen, you must be called! It's a physical, visual reminder to them that they can't just run up and interrupt. Once they have practiced enough, I stop wearing it during our literacy block. It's also great because I wear it when I am doing 1 on 1 assessments, and they KNOW not to interrupt until I take it off!

The More Interesting, Practical Part- Moving Forward

By Term 2, there will be a reading activity every day (guided reading three times, a free reading time at the bookshelf, and sometimes a listening centre or something else added in), a writing activity, a literacy activity that's fun or play-based- maybe a craft of some variety and an activity to work on phonemic awareness or comprehension skills.  We are teaching our phonics (letter sounds- NOT the alphabet!) on the mat as a whole group before moving into our rotations, and we are also starting to use big books to focus on different comprehension skills each day.

In Term 3 this changes a bit. I find that I just don't have enough time to work on reading, writing, word work and everything else with them as individuals. This year I also ended up with 5 groups because there was a big bunch of them around the same level and one group had to be separated into two.

As we have finished our 42 sounds, we do our big book together in the morning. We use the time we used to use for big books to do modelled writing or other explicit teaching lessons we feel we need to cover.

We do our 4 rotations as normal. "But you have 5 groups!" I hear you say.

Your right. One group spends the entire morning with me.
The other 4 groups go through rotations as normal.

This is where the hard work in setting up the past two terms is really going to pay off. You might have even noticed that if you are away from class, the children can function through their routines in their literacy block like you aren't even there.

This one thing is a real key that made a huge difference for my class this year. It's where my table is.

This is my reading table. It is facing the front door.  It has a shelf behind and beside it where I keep all my reading group resources I could need. I'll be talking about that a bit later on.

The reading corner and bookshelf is right next to it- where the brown mat is in the picture. The entire room, except the messy area, is visible and directed to face this point.  This means I can see pretty much everything going on in a glance and can monitor what's going on.

Behind it is our messy area where we do craft (lino floor!) and is visible from every other part of the room, except my table.

If we are using the messy area, there is a grown up there. If I have no grown up, I don't use the area. I could utilise it without a grown up there, but I'm setting my kids up for success, not messing around because there is too much fun stuff out there to distract them (it's also largely a storage area)

My aide guides them to transition from one activity to another (because lets face it, I forget to turn the timer on often, and give up on using it altogether by the end of first term!)

You can do this without another adult in the room- but you will need to keep track of the time, and stop for a moment to move the groups. I have done this and it works fine, but it's easier if someone else can keep an eye on it so you can focus on your group. You could even assign a student the job of resetting the timer for the day if you need to!

After the first week or two, they are tidying up and rotating to their next group (not getting lost, because we have spent six months moving clockwise around the room!), at the sound of the timer or clapping, or whatever you use to signal the end of the rotation. It becomes automatic. They do it without you!

My aide does the reading rotation 3 days a week- this means the other groups are still doing a guided reading and practicing reading skills without me being there.

They are still doing a writing task. Without me.
While I do check the work later, there will be one piece each week I get them to leave out for me, and we quickly conference at morning tea- as soon as they finish their food they come over to talk with me before they run off to play. Some of them grab their book and go work on their writing some more.

They are still working on word work and phonemic awareness! They are still retelling, and making puppets, and role playing in the post office. Without me.

It works because I have spent the year training them for this.

Focus Group

So what about the group that is with me for the morning?
We are doing lots of stuff!
If there is a key task being undertaken during the rotations, the group with me will do it at my table with me.
We revise reading strategies, go through our reader together, work on phonemic awareness skills, comprehension skills, modelled, mirrored and guided writing tasks, running records and more. I have monster sized binders in the shelf that have the skills sequenced and we work through the activities. It is all differentiated to suit each group so they are all doing different activities when they are with me. It means I can spend an hour with a group of 4-6 kiddos each week, rather than 10 minutes with each group every day.

If you work it out per child, I spend about 10-15 minutes with each child, instead of 6-8 minutes with them. It almost doubles the time I spend with them!

It also means that I'm not rushed when working on a skill with individuals. I can slow down and take the time I need with that one child while the rest of the group start working on their next task.


So do you remember at the beginning of the post I mentioned organisation being really important to make this work? That means YOU need to be organised too. 

Those shelves I mentioned earlier? Use them wisely!

This is on the shelf beside my chair at my reading table. This shelf houses many other things, some which will be shown in this post. Some of the other things that wont be in this post include my take home readers, sight words homework program, part of my personal picture book collection and my assessment and data information.

Each group has their own magazine holder with lots of goodies inside.  One group isn't pictured because it was out on the table at the moment this was taken.  You can also see here that each group has a peg with their animal on it. Each group actually has 4 of these pegs. I'll explain those shortly.

You can get these really sturdy magazine holders here.

You can also see the reading strategies cards in each holder. These were part of Deanna Jump's fantastic Guided Reading 101 bundle. I use quite a few of the resources from that purchase! Definitely well worth it! We use those strategy cards to revise each strategy. When we learn a new one, we velcro it on. They also colour in a little image and take it home, so their parents know they can start using that strategy when reading at home.

Each child has their own display folder in these magazine racks. It holds any worksheets or booklets we are working on. Each group also has a clip file with spare running records and new sheets being introduced that week.

This is one of the uses of those pegs. This book has a peg on it, so I know it's next week's reader, and I will use it to complete a running record on one child (I have a monthly schedule with 1-2 children a day, so that I get to hear every child read an unseen text every month.).

This has three benefits-

1) I like to do my running records on unseen texts. It just feels more authentic that way. I know some people don't agree, and that's okay.

2) I can gauge if the next book is going to be too hard before we 'officially' start reading it as a group and swap it for something else. This means I don't precious time on reading instruction with a book that will be abandoned.

3) It makes it so easy to pull the books I need for each week. On Friday, I take the running record book, grab the rest of the set, and then take one book from the next set, (or peruse to find the next one I would like to use if I don't think the next one is suitable) and stick the peg on it! The one with the peg goes in it's corresponding magazine holder, ready for next week.

What do I do with the set that are being used as readers?

They have their group image PAPERCLIPPED to the front. Easy to slip on and off when being used. These books all go into a little tub my aide uses. I swap the groups as I need them each day. For example, on Monday, I meet with the zebra group. So all of the sets go in the tub, except the zebra's books, which go in their magazine holder. On Monday afternoon, I put them back in the tub and pull out the books for the monkeys, ready for me to use when I meet with them on Tuesday.

Next to these  magazine holders is a set of clipboards (because sometimes it is good to send them roaming to do something, especially if you keep one child behind for a minute). Don't go scrounging for them if  you want to change up your activities on the fly. Have them handy an improvise when the idea comes to you! Organisation is important!  

Letter magnets. These are used almost every day. Why not just store them here? I usually have one box between 2-3 kiddos, and I separate the vowels. The top set are just ordinary lowercase fridge magnets. I have a small container inside with the vowels separated. The bottom set are flat, foamy letter magnets. The vowel are coloured red and the consonants are blue (opposite to our phonics program, but oh well!) so I don't need to separate them.  No pretty labels on my containers. One day, maybe. 

You can get great magnets here 

I keep other sets with the rest of my literacy resources in case I want to use them in the rotations as well. 

My Reading Kit. I know, this whole area is my reading area. But this container holds a whole bunch of little goodie bits and pieces that would otherwise roam and get lost. Organisation! Again, no pretty labels. Actually, no labels at all! What's inside?

Letter sound cards. I use these every. single. day. The first step in a reading group is to revise our sounds! Great for those still working on consolidating digraphs, and rapid recall of sounds! The other set that is upside down I use with my higher group who are working on their alternative spelling choices for long vowel sounds. Easy to differentiate for every group, and every child!

You can get these cards here. They come with all 42 sounds, alternative spellings, words for blending and 72 tricky (sight) words. They are quite durable- this set is about 5 years old and in perfect condition. 

Blending cards. I can't remember who's these were, but I love them . If anyone knows who made these, please let me know so that I can give them credit for their great TPT resource!
I do use these for blending, but also for segmenting and word building. They get more use as word prompts for sentence writing and spelling practice than they do for blending, but I don't mind. I love how versatile they are and that they range in difficulty from 2 sounds to 5 sounds, and include blends and digraphs!

Whisper phones. I give these out for the children to practice their reader for fluency while I am completing a running record. I usually send them to sit in the reading corner (right next to me) so I can keep an eye/ear on them while doing the running record. If the reading corner is being used, I ask them to sit at our whole class mat area, which is just in front of the table. This is why I love my reading area being where it is. So easy to keep an eye on everything, but you've got to think it through and be organised!

You can easily make your own (google it!) or you can buy them pre-made.

Party favour glasses with the lenses popped out, star wands and magnifying glasses. We use these for practicing using our eagle eye, looking for sounds, words, or syllable types. These are our deterctive tools! Strangely enough, the boys fight over the pink love heart glasses... I picked all this up from the local cheap store.

My bag of small glass pebbles, and my minion pointers. I don't use the minions very often. I did let the class design their own and take one home to use though. I use the glass rocks every day. We use them to practice sliding through sentences when practicing fluency, segmenting words, blending words, paperweights (ha!) and fidget toys for my little wrigglers.

You can get glass pebbles here. I use the clear ones for letter or punctuation hunts sometimes- they act like mini magnifiers! The coloured ones seem to feel a bit nicer to use for everything else though.

Random stuffs. Mainly old board game counters I think. Someone donated them to me, it's a bunch of mice on wobbly bases, and some cheese triangles. There is a few dice in there for the games we play from time to time. Again, don't go scrounging for stuff, keep it where you need it! I need about 3 dice in this area occasionally, so I have 3 dice! That way if I end up with an extra 5 minutes, I can pull out a game from the shelf and play immediately!

The mice and cheese we mainly use for spaces when we are writing. I don't know about you, but I find the left handed kids have a lot of awkward difficulty in using their finger to create a space when they are writing. Putting a physical object there is much easier than watching themselves tangle themselves up trying to use their fingers! By getting my righties to use them as well (not that they need to) it's just a normal part of writing, so the lefties don't feel singled out and the righties don't feel left out! Too easy!

Mini slinkies? Yep. We use them when we are learning about Stretchy Snake. And all the kids go home and tell their parents they NEED slinkies for homework. They can't read without them! The parent's are usually very happy that all they are begging for comes in a pack of 6 for $2, and that they aren't fighting them to do homework! I'm happy because my kids are engaging with their learning, transferring their learning into skill practice at home, and the homework gets done! Again, tools aren't toys, and the kids know if they use their tool as a toy, it will be put away. This set of mini slinkies  is about 5 years old. Not one tangle, kink or break.  I taught them how to respect our tools, and followed through immediately each and every time they were used incorrectly. Usually only a couple of times a year. No one wants to lose their slinky!

Comprehension stars!  I stuck little sticks on the back for a more natural, fun feel! We can pick a star and answer the question! They cover a wide range of comprehension and phonemic awareness skills. They are so simple, but the kids LOVE them!

My crown. It lives in the box too. Sometimes I have something come up that requires some uninterrupted 1 on 1 time with a student. I have had a few students that have gone through some rough stuff at home and sometimes they just need a little TLC without everyone else hearing about it. The others can be sent off to do their work or read their book, the crown goes on, and some quality time can be spent looking after the emotional needs of my little one who needs me.

It also means should something come up during another time in the day, I don't have to wonder where I left it. I KNOW where it is and it takes about 3 seconds to get there from anywhere in the room.

Not Pictured: a few checklists and tools that the groups use as needed, but not regularly.
Also not pictured are my big black binders.

These are FULL (one explodes ofte. I really must get around to separating it into two parts) of skill practice games and worksheets I have made, bought, scavenged etc over the past seven years, collected and carefully arranged by skill, and in order of difficulty. Those extra pegs for each group go in these binders. I clip the peg on the task that the group is up to, copy off enough pages if needed (otherwise it's a handy bookmark to find and put away the games I need for the week). Any copied pages go into the clip folder in the magazine holder for each group.

With the worksheets, we might only do half in one session, so they can take a few weeks to get through. On the day we finish one, they kids glue it in their book, and I move their peg in the folder to the next page. If we have played a game and I think they would benefit from playing it again (never had any complaints about this!) I leave the peg alone and repeat the game each week until I feel ready to move on. As I complete each activity in my plan, I quickly jot down what I will do next week onto my Guided reading planning book (which stays in the shelf and is all handwritten notes).

One binder covers strictly phonemic awareness skills - that is, without any letter, alphabet or reading correlation whatsoever involved. The second binder covers phonological skills, which includes the written component of language. Each group will work on an activity from each of the folders each week.

On Friday, I take both binders to the photocopy room, and make whatever copies I need for the next week. I leave the peg on the same page. I ONLY move it when we have finished the task. The copies go in the magazine holder ready for next week. I swap my books out for next week, as described before. Now I don't have to think about preparing for my reading groups at all next week. They are DONE! If I happen to become sick over the weekend, it's there, ready for whoever replaces me. The kids know what to do and where to find stuff because I have trained them! They know to get the teacher to read the handwritten plans in the Guided Reading book on the shelf in the event that I haven't been able to get printed instructions for my reading group to the teacher.

I can have a guilt-free day off to recover knowing my kids are still getting exactly what they need to continue growing. Without me.

Here is an idea of what my class are doing this week, in case you need to see the schedule visualised.
I've started calling my literacy block 'Read, Write, Play, Grow' because it helps me to remember the activities I need to schedule each day.

Sample  Teacher Meeting tasks
Zebra Group during Read Write Play Grow

·  Sound flashcards
·  Revise Eagle Eye and do a picture walk. Intro unfamiliar vocab
·  Revise silent e. let them know there are lots of silent e words in this book. Read the book
·  Rhyming Game pages 3-4 in black binder 2
·  Vocab worksheet in red folders
·  Word building with letter magnets. Use stamps to record in word making booklet in red folders
·  Practice Writing some sentences with those words, and edit using 5 star sentence checklist.

·  Running Record on one child while others practice reading with whisper phones

Meet Teacher
Guided Reading Teacher Aide
Bookshelf  Parent (listen to reading)
Guided Reading Teacher Aide
Guided Reading Teacher Aide
Lions with  Teacher
Listening centre
Writing prompt- beach image
Letter writing
Letter writing
Teacher Aide
Handwriting- letter formation Parent
Work on Publishing writing
Christmas craft  
Writing tricky words on the glass door Parent
Starfall on ipads
Obstacle course with balance beams etc  parent
Segmenting words – jump in the squares Parent
Sight word journey Parent
Write the room long i
Words their way sort- long/short I
Spelling and dictation Teacher Aide
Post office role play Parent

Friday has become a bit of a mess due to admin scheduling a chess lesson in the first half hour of my literacy block (part of our math program, not literacy!).   So after chess the entire class work on a small writing prompt (soon to be work on publishing writing perhaps), and then freely complete a couple of other activities. I have two parent helpers on that day- a high school teacher completing her masters in special needs, and her husband who is a pilot. He comes mainly for the chess I think! As soon as chess is finished, we move out onto our play area and set up the tables for writing and they go through the activities. This is when I meet my top group. I only get half an hour with them instead of an hour, but boy, do we pack in some GREAT extension in that time! We do our group outside too. The fresh air is nice :)

Now I did mention at the beginning of this novel blog post that I have changed things.  I am, as of tomorrow. I'm incorporating a separate writing workshop every Tuesday. Why?  An hour isn't long enough to cover it all and give them a decent amount of time to write! So in the literacy block, we will work exclusively on skills during our writing activities. Our writing workshop on Tuesday is where we put that skill practice into action to produce and publish a piece of writing.

The general flow of the writing workshop will go along the lines of:
Writing Workshop-
Modelled writing- whole group (5 mins)
Send children off to draw a plan and write once they know their topic.
Mirror writing- (10 mins each) Monkeys, followed by zebras.
Guided Writing-(10 mins each) Hippos and giraffes
Conferencing- Lions 20 mins

Reflect. Share some published work.

Then during our afternoon STEAM/Agentic Rotation Stations (aka free time) I will do some more conferencing, so they are ready to start publishing on Thursday morning.


That's pretty much a direct copy and paste out of this weeks plan. I changed names to say 'parent' or 'teacher aide' to be less confusing for the lovely people who have bothered to read this far down. You need a medal!

How about a freebie instead!? 
Want to know a secret?  Keep reading!

For all I am ALL about being organised.... I am not naturally an organised person. I lose my interactive whiteboard pen every time I pick it up. EVERY. TIME. The kids now keep track of where I have left it or which of my bazillion pockets I put it in.

I lose whiteboard markers.
I go through a pack of pens every week or two.
I leave my planning books, ipad,  school notices, and other random bits and pieces in my teaching partner's room constantly.
I lose my keys. So how did I become Mrs Organised?!?

That's where the freebie comes in!

On Thursday, I'm going to be sending out a link to everyone on my email list. It will be full of helpful questions, checklists tips, and organisational tools to help you make you literacy block work for you.

You should not be the hardest working person in the room! Those kids need to be working just as hard as you! If you're working harder than they are, running around constantly chasing resources or items you had just 5 minutes ago and now can't find anywhere, you are working harder than you need to. This does not necessarily make you a great teacher. It makes you exhausted. But now, you CAN be that great teacher, feel more organised and have fantastic literacy blocks! How?

You just need to sign up for my newsletter. You know, that pop up you closed about half an hour ago?  That would have been it!

Never mind, you can always just click the button on the bottom right hand side of your screen to return to the top (save your fingers from all that scrolling!), and you'll find a simple subscription box on the right hand side bar :)

It looks like this:

That's it!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on literacy blocks. Do you do yours the same? Different? Let me know in the comments below!

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