Home » Uncategorized » The View from Saturday #1

The View from Saturday #1


Clever name for a weekly reflection on my Reading and Writing Workshop, yes? One of my favorite read alouds for 5th grade. But you’re not doing it right if you don’t give Julian a British accent.

It was my plan to make this a weekly reflection, though I didn’t even make it one week. After the first week of school, I was so, so tired–mentally and physically–that I could hardly muster anything. I guess you can consider this paragraph last week’s reflection, and use your prodigious inferencing skills.

So, this week. I guess let me first say that Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study series are both excellent and maddening. It reads a lot like a professional development text, which I love, but it reads a lot like a professional development, which makes for a lot of reading and thinking for each lesson. Reading and thinking is exactly what I need to be doing, but it’s hard when I have to do it every night when I’m already pretty tired. However, having taught about seven lessons from the Units in both Reading and Writing, I’m starting to get a sense of what I (and my students) need, and what we don’t, and how to not make myself crazy.

The hardest thing, by far, has been managing and motivating my students. In my first post, I mentioned my new meeting area. Man! What a tough spot. I love the community and intimacy that a meeting area brings, but dang these fourth graders are squirrelly and not used to sitting so close to each other without bugging or distracting each other. I don’t want to sound like I’m bad-mouthing my district, but I definitely feel the struggle that comes with moving to Reading and Writing workshop with 28 nine year-olds who have not really participated in a workshop model before. There is a ton of teaching that needs to happen. My minilessons have been running so long, because we spend so much time stopped and examining behaviors. It’s a wicked cycle, because they get more antsy the longer they sit, and the more they get antsy, the longer it takes to get through the minilesson. Yeesh. We are improving, but slowly. Soooooo slowly… Writing suffers the most–there’s been a day or two when we’ve only had about 5-10 minutes to write independently. End-of-workshop sharing also suffers. Time is a killer, as it always is for teachers.

So, the management aspect, which is already a general challenge for me, has been difficult. We are making progress, but it is a bit draining in the meantime.

Thoughts on Reading:

A lot of my students like to read. This is a big plus. And they’ve also never had a teacher with a graphic novel shelf like mine. Some of them are pretty comic-starved–I haven’t seen a Babymouse, Lunch Lady, or Smile on the shelf since the first day. 

What my students are not used to is valuing reading as a part of their lives, or “building a reading life.” They’ve taken a lot of AR tests. They’ve heard a lot about what they are “supposed” to read, and what they “can’t” read. That’s something pretty hard to break. When I talk with them about a reading life, I get a lot of blank stares. I’m reassured by this passage from Lucy Calkins, in response to initial fears that the beginning lessons were asking too much of students:

We’ve made the decision, then, not to scale back aspects of these early lessons that might, at first, seem a bit much. So my advice is this: Try to teach as if your kids are totally taking in what you are saying. As when you read aloud a poem–more of the message gets through than you realize. (Unit 1, “Building a Reading Life,” p. 45)

So, that. 

A little anecdote from Reading Workshop. I had a student who refused to read. He “didn’t like chapter books.” I gave him Squish and he devoured them. Lunch Lady and he consumed them. He checked out a chapter book at the library and stalled out. Too resistant to even read a page. So scared of anything without pictures and over 100 pages. So I sat with him and read the first two pages to him. The book was How to Survive Middle School, by Donna Gephart. Instantly, we meet a boy who is short, has a hamster, and loves TV. Well…guess what was true about the boy I was reading to? He got excited and agreed to read it for the rest of workshop. He took it home. Success! He came back to school not having read another page, and saying he just couldn’t do it. Almost a success. Almost. “I just don’t like reading,” he says. “Not true!” I reply. “You ate up Squish and Lunch Lady! That is reading! You do like reading, when you find the right books.” He is currently swallowing up Mal & Chad, and I’ll keep working him.

By the way, how in the world can I confer with 28 students in one week, in 2.5 total hours, especially when I spend 8 minutes with one student trying to help him understand that he is a reader and spend 5-10 minutes a day managing? 

Thoughts on Writing:

This “View” is getting long, so I don’t want to write much more. We run Writing Workshop right after Reading, and it gets crunched pretty hard. We start late, the minilessons run long, and we end up with very little writing time. Some students have responded very positively to the work we are trying to do to start the year. Others have done nothing. I think I really need to do the minilesson as quick as I can and then cut the class about in thirds. Those who can go off to write, and I run a sort of guided writing group with the other two-thirds(!) to continue the work of the minilesson and to get kids on the right track. Unfortunately, for this to work I really have to tighten up the times so I can still preserve at least a little conferring time for the rest of the class. I’ve been pretty frustrated by the time. We’ll see how it goes. A lot of students not used to choice and self-motivated writing. We’ll get there. I think. I hope.

Thanks for reading.



  1. Lori says:

    I could have written your post. I teach third grade and those are my feelings, especially about writers workshop. I am finding myself and my students so excited about the work though it is motivating!

  2. I’m excited, and I know it will rub off on my students soon. I hope…

  3. Carol says:

    Boy does that sound a lot like my fourth grade class! Reading and Writing Workshop are still pretty new to me. I floundered through my first year with it. I’m glad to see that some of the struggles I’m having are pretty common!

    • It really does seem like Reading and Writing Workshop is something that, if you’re going to go for it, you’ve got to know that you’ll take some lumps along the way.

      Hopefully, your second year is like that first breath after you’ve been underwater.

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