Teacher Tuesday

As Jason Lewis testified in last week’s Teacher Tuesday post, the children’s literature community on Twitter is amazing. Case in point: Reilly Posey, who teaches fifth grade reading and writing at Vincent Farm Elementary in White Marsh, Maryland. I was intrigued by Reilly’s tweets and reached out to her. Just like every other teacher I’ve tagged to be part of this feature, she quickly said yes. Before we learn more about how she connects kids and books, let’s take a peek at her past!
Little Reilly ready for kindergarten
  •         Favorite school lunch as a kid: I have two. Nachos with chili and cheese, and chicken patty.
  •       Best friend in grade school: I moved around a lot. I went to 4 different elementary schools! I can’t say that I really had one best friend who I went to school with, but I have one friend who I have known since I was in the 3rd grade. His name is Jeff.
  •       Times you were the new kid in school:  Five (I not only went to four different elementary schools, but I also ended up at a middle school that my elementary school didn’t feed into, so I was new in sixth grade, too!)
  •       Teacher who inspired you to stretch: My first grade teacher, Ms. Lee. She gave me my first exposure to books and taught me to love reading. I also remember looking forward to going to school every day when I was in her class. We did all kinds of neat things! She and I are “Facebook Friends” now.
  •       The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved: I wish I had stuck with an instrument. I started the piano, but we moved across country and didn’t bring it with us. Then, in fourth grade, I began the violin but didn’t stick with it when I moved to my new school in fifth grade. 

Reilly, you mentioned to me that you have implemented “reading workshop” in your classroom this year, for the first time. First, can you give a brief description of reading workshop?

In my classroom, reading workshop is a combination of a lot of different things. About 90% of the time, it consists of me teaching various reading skills and strategies during a mini lesson (lasting no longer than 20 minutes) and then students applying that knowledge to their self-selected books. When I teach a skill that requires a specific kind of text, I still try to offer choice (e.g. pick from one of three National Geographic articles). As students are applying their learning to their reading, I work around the room conducting conferences, helping students select new books, re-teaching, and pulling small groups as needed.
What prompted you to implement reading workshop in your classroom?

I was tired of our current anthology. I was bored teachin
g it, and I knew the majority of the kids were bored reading it. I also had lost my confidence in my teaching. When everything is pretty much done for you, it doesn’t push you to think outside of the box. Not only that, but so many students were falling through the cracks because the teaching was not individualized enough for them. I felt like I wasn’t doing my best teaching.
Can you talk more about response journals? What are students responding to? What do some of their responses look like?

This year, response journals have been a means of communicating with the students about our class read aloud. As I read, the students take notes and jot down thinking in the back half of their journal. This might be something they came up with on their own, or a comment another student made that sparked an idea. Then, when we are finished reading, the students spend about 10 minutes working on a letter to me to tell me about their thinking. I collect journals on a specific schedule (here is a link to Reilly’s blog post response journals) and then read and write back to them. It’s really been a great way of stretching my students’ thinking, especially those who prefer not to share out. Their responses have come a long way. You can see a huge difference in their work from the beginning of the year until now. Their response are often multiple pages, and I get a lot of complaints when I let them know that time is up!
What kinds of outside resources, if any, do you employ with reading workshop (Skype, author websites, guest speakers)?

I pull in various trade books when I need something specific to help me teach a concept. I’ve also been in touch with a lot of other great teachers via Twitter. We’ve also connected with authors via Twitter, Skype, and recently in person!
Read-alouds are an important part of reading workshop. How do you select titles?

I try to pick titles that my students may not select on their own. I also try to stick with books I have already read to cut down on “surprises” that take me off guard. Mixing the classics and the award winners with current books they can relate to is important to. I spend time thinking about what I want to achieve with the read aloud, as these books often become my mentor text for mini-lessons in reading workshop. 

For example, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate was PERFECT for teaching figurative and descriptive language as well as how characters change over time. 

Wonder by R.J. Palacio helped me to teach the importance of taking other characters’ viewpoints into consideration, as well as theme. 

I used Laurel Snyder’s Bi
gger Than a Breadbox
to teach symbolism, relationships between characters, and how a character’s actions influence the plot. It was also great for making connections to earlier events in the text to note their significance. I also let my students vote sometimes. This helps with buy in.
How do you show your students your own love of reading?

I talk to them about books all the time. When I see a student reading a book I loved, my eyes light up and I might even interrupt what I am doing to have a quick mini-conference with them. This is how I have infected many of my students with a love of the Harry Potter books, something many of them would have never picked up because they are “too thick.” When I read something new, I share it briefly, show a book trailer if there is one, and just get excited about it. (This happened recently with Hattie Big Skyand now I think I may need to purchase some additional copies for the waiting list!)
What has changed in your classroom since you’ve initiated reading workshop? Changes in students’ skills or interest in reading?

The overall attitude about reading has changed for all of my students. Even if they don’t all LOVE it, they at least enjoy it more than they did when they came to me. I see them taking books home more often, reading in between assignments, talking with one another about books in the hall, etc. It’s awesome! Even though I try not to put too much stock into test scores, I have seen serious jumps from their fall benchmarks to their spring ones. Last year when I partially implemented it, I had 13 students makes huge gains in their state test scores (going from “proficient” to “advanced”).
What has surprised you the most about reading workshop?

It’s not as hard as I thought it would be. In fact, I feel a lot less stressed as a teacher. I know my students’ and their abilities so much better than I did in the past because I spend more time with them one-on-one. Planning is much easier because I teach to their needs, not from a preplanned guide. I don’t feel rushed to “fit it all in” because I can hit multiple learning goals in one day through lessons, discussions, and conferences.
Would you encourage other teachers to adopt reading workshop? Why or why not?

YES! A thousand times yes! In my opinion, it just makes sense. Teach students what they need to know based on what you have learned about them instead of what a curriculum guide thinks they need to know. It improves your relationship with your students tenfold. They know I care about them and their learning because I am constantly checking in with them. Not only that, but reading workshop creates real world readers…not just kids who know how to read.
What do you wish you’d know when you started?

How easy it actually is. I put it off for a long time because it seemed so complicated. But, thanks to Twitter and my “Tweens,” I discovered a huge support system that made it very easy to transition. There are also a ton of great resources out there to help you get started. Fountas and Pinnell’s Guiding Readers and Writers (Grades 3-6): Teaching, Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy has ideas for mini-lessons and a step-by-step guide to get started. Franki Sibberson has several books that I found helpful, such as The Joy of Plan
and Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop. They were my go-to books when I wasn’t sure where to go this year.
Thank you, Reilly, for this inspiring post. I certainly wish I’d had you for a reading teacher when I was a kid! I hated doing book reports because it made the books I loved seemed less like “mine.” This approach might have made me a more thoughtful story consumer!

For more information about reading workshops and other things reading, head over to Reilly’s blog, The Polka Dot Owl. You can also follow her on Twitter: @PolkaDotOwlBLog