Shifting into a Literacy Initiative and More

A few things about teaching this year:

Last year, I wrote about our school district planning a two-year Literacy Initiative as a way to address a worrisome trend of flat or falling Language Arts test scores in our district. Not long ago, I took part in a day-long training on the Fountas & Pinnell benchmark assessment system, which we will be piloting this year and probably moving full-steam into next year.

The idea of having some coordinated assessment system across our district is a good one, I think, as I get students all across the board with their reading skills, although in the past, I have made the assumption that all of my students are independent readers (I teach sixth grade). This, of course, is a wild assumption and I have plenty of struggling readers who are not getting special education services. It will be helpful to have a better handle on where they are as readers, instead of just making some assumptions based on my own observations and assessment.

The Fountas & Pinnell is a combination of fluency and comprehension and the assessment is a series of small books that have been categorized based on established reading levels. At this point, I am going to assume they know what they are doing and the levels are correct. I read through many of the small books yesterday and was pretty impressed. The stories — fiction and non-fiction — are at least somewhat interesting: survival stories, friendship, family, etc.

I brought the box of materials home this long weekend, with hopes of assessing my own children. I’ll still need to bribe them with a movie or something just to get them to sit for the 15 to 20 minutes. My older son said, “No. Not those tiny books! Ahhhhh.” I guess he has been assessed before.

For me, though, I need to learn how to keep a running record and I guess that will take practice. My principal is giving me a substitute on Friday so that I can pull kids over the course of the day to begin initial assessments and get used to the new system. In November, we bring our data to another workshop and learn more about how to make sense of what we have assessed from students.

From there? It’s clear that I am going to have overhaul the literature component of my class. We do class novels, which make no sense in a class full of readers of various levels, although I work hard to make sure everyone is making progress. Once I know where my students are, I am going to have to go full-bore into Literature Circles, which I have used from time to time in the past, but never all year long. Clearly, though, if I want students to be reading at their own levels, and then moving up, I need a new system of having multiple books going in a single classroom.

On top of all this, this year, I am teaching literature to all four sixth grade classes. In past year, we divided up literature among homerooms and I could focus mostly on writing. We could not do this system this year because every student needs at least one hour of math instruction every day and that messed with our schedule. The result is that I am teaching a few different books to a few different classrooms and already, my writing curriculum is taking a hit to make room for more reading in that block of time. I am not regretting the reading instruction, but I am missing the writing.

I need to keep finding more balance.

The third thing is that I am co-teaching a Language Arts class with a special education colleague this year. It has been wonderful so far. We really do click as a team, but I wish we had more Professional Development around co-teaching strategies and more common planning time together. As it is, we grab each other in the mornings before school starts to talk for five minutes about the day. That’s not really proper planning. And I wonder what it would be like if I DID not get along with my co-teacher. It would be horrible.

Thanks for letting me spew out a thousand thoughts.  If you use Fountas & Pinnell, I would appreciate any and all advice that you may have on its successful implementation.

Peace (in the box),

  1. We have been working on the same Literacy Initiative but are quite familiar with many of the tools including the running record. A helpful part about the latter is we have only needed to check the first 100 words, not counting the cover or title page. If your leveled book has the error count on it, you don’t need to finish the full sample as the book is too hard. So that part is relatively quick. The annotation is simple enough once you’ve practiced. I recommend you try this with one of your younger children at home so the pace is better.

    We have always had plenty of literacy time in the lower grades. Then we added the writing block which was a tremendous help to the reading. Now we have full bore math instruction. Now, you are even adding in the co-teaching with all the challenges. Just wait until the mandates come down for science and social studies! Oh where does the time go?

  2. I am in my second year of using this F&P kit. I love it! I have been doing running records for a long time and this kit makes it quick and simple. If you have the child at the right level, the running record is pretty straight forward, though I find that with my better readers I often skip the little checkmarks and only mark miscues on the form. That way I am really paying attention to what they say instead of being 2 or 3 words behind. I teach grades 3 and 4, and am doing nothing but literature circles this year. My readers are quite proficient (all on or above grade level) so I am not going to worry about Guided Reading. I have done literature circles for a several years, often fitting in one or two in the spring, but since I have switched to using this as my primary reading instruction, I couldn’t be happier! I still sneak in a class novel as a read aloud to help teach my lessons, but I love the Lit circles and predict you will too.

    As for the writing, finding that balance is always tricky! I do a half-and-half schedule: half our time reading, half our time writing. I like it.

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