Reflections and Understanding about Independent Work in the Common Core Literacy Block: Part 3

*This is the third and final post in a three part series about the literacy block, independent work, and the teacher's role and place in the room and how what students need to be able to do and show is multi-faced (not isolated) and beyond a Yes, They Can or No, They Can't checklist. To catch up, you can read Part 1 and Part 2, the two posts that precede this post.*

I want to draw your attention to the four stations.  They are Picture of the Day, Fluency, Technology Project and Vocabulary (Shades of Meaning).  Before I start guided reading, I also teach students what the independent literacy stations are by doing the station WITH them first before I expect them to do it as a group without me.  This is very important, and you have permission to do this, you SHOULD do this.  Teachers sometimes say, "...but what if an administrator (or a literacy coach, or an evaluator) walks in and I'm not doing a guided reading group at my kidney table?"  My response is: Are you providing guided instruction and modeling the literacy behavior? Are you teaching them how to communicate and modeling the literacy behavior? Are you teaching them how to collaborate and modeling the literacy behavior?  Are you teaching them how to be critical thinkers, how to agree and disagree with each other and the author and justify their thinking to their peers and modeling this literacy behavior?  Yes. Yes. Yes. and Yes.  Absolutely, you are!  That's what good teachers do, they provide scaffolding "on location" at the job site.  It is unreasonable to expect that you can give students everything they need from your rolly chair behind your kidney table. Life is not like that and nor should the life lab called your classroom be like that.   We cannot expect that students are going to know what to do during independent work unless they have seen it modeled. When first introducing a new center, you have permission to "do" the station with them, model the "talk" of the station, facilitate the conversation, as if you would during a guided reading lesson... encourage students to agree and disagree with each other and tell why, show them how to take turns, teach the Rules of Discussion during real text based discussions.  Yes, teach them how to take turns.  Most kids don't play games like Sorry, Monopoly or Life anymore, so they don't have much practice taking turns...they all want to talk and "go" at once.  This too needs to be practiced, modeled, shown, explained.  It's so basic, but so needed.  I also tell students that when we/they are having text based, opinionated discussions, not to raise their hand. I want them to learn to listen to each other, and get the green light to speak, from each other. This too, must be taught. (I always ask them, "Do you think Oprah and everyone in her book club sit around together and raise their hand when they have a turn to say something?...They don't. They listen to each other, they look at each other, they make eye contact, they jump in at the pause, they respectfully agree and disagree...")

To introduce Picture of the Day, I always do it whole group.  You can read my post HERE about how I introduce and explain to students Picture of the Day.  After we practice it whole group for a week, it can become an independent center.  

To introduce the Shades of Meaning Vocabulary center, I always do it AT the center with them.  Here is a picture of me AT the center with them.  

Below is a picture of a group at the Shades of Meaning center this week WITHOUT me.  So thrilled and pleased with the level of conversation I heard coming from this corner of the room. I could hear them out of the corner of my ear (very well actually, they were a bit loud, enthusiastic, but loud).  I heard Stephen says a few times, "We need to reach consensus!" They also agreed that "trust is closer to trusting than honest because honest is just something inside of you and that trust involves someone else believing that you're honest."....these were the communications they were having WITHOUT me because we talked like that last week when I WAS there.  Here they are this week ( I had to move the center because the communication was disrupting the Independent Reading group).

The fluency center will not be every week, but I wanted students to know what to do in case I did add it back in at some point.  Fluency practice is also one of the options students have to do in the event that they do finish their center early, or cannot move on without my assistance and I'm unavailable.  

I use a variety of fluency resources for my fluency center, including my own one page Fluency passages, and one page Fluency Sentences, but I also love the fun fluency cards by Primary Polka Dots.  The kids love them too because there are silly phrases to practice that progress up to a full connected story.  They work in pairs (I always have students work with a fluency partner) and listen to each other read, critique (RBT5) each other (they know that means to tell their partner what they did well, and something specific they can do to do it better) and answer the three comprehension questions on the last page.  
 Here a link to Lindsay Flood's Fluency Cards (cheap, too!) 

I cut them apart, added them to cardstock and laminated them using my new Scotch laminator (cheap, too.) I also made an accountability sheet for the cards, which I'm happy to share with you.  It's generic enough to use with any of her packs.  

Download the response sheet HERE if you like. 

As far as whether or not students need fluency practice, and clearly, not fluent readers do... to me, that's not really the question. I believe ALL readers need fluency practice.  Even fluent readers need to grow by at least one word per week to stay on target for meeting the next quarter's fluency benchmark. So, if there are 16 weeks between the first benchmark window and the next benchmark window, a student must grow at least 16 words per minute in 16 weeks, that's a word a week.  Most of the students in my group are technically considered, fluent.  Do they know it? Not really.  Can they identify why fluency helps a reader? Not really.  Do they have what I call, "fluency awareness?" No.  We are working on this awareness.  

My last independent center is always an integrated center, (I technically consider all of my independent center, integrated) but this one is truly about standards 7, 8 and 9 "Integration of Knowledge and Ideas"...with science and social studies topics as the vehicle and technology use in the product.  Explaining this is another blog post, and I promise when I get from my trip to Washington, D.C. this weekend, I will explain it...because it's fun, it will make you laugh, I promise.  For a good laugh in the meantime, check out this "been there, done that" math video on YouTube
Or enter Math Kid Snippets into the YouTube search box.

Did you ask your students what does "independent" means?  Here's the convo from my room:

Me: What does "independent" mean?
Them: "Working alone, by myself." 
Me: [baffled] "Really? What about yesterday when you were standing at the Shades of Meaning center with your group, discussing the order of these words?"
Them: [scratching their heads] "Oh, yeah, we did do that."
Me: "Is that alone, by yourself?"
Them: "No, it's with our group, but without you."
Me: "Yes, WITHOUT ME, but not alone, not by yourself."
Me: "What else? What else does "independent" mean?'
Them: "Quiet. No talking."
Me:[baffled again] "Really? What about yesterday when you were doing the Picture of the Day center with your group and you were discussing, talking, communicating, at your table about what you observed and what you inferred?  Were you quiet? Did you use sign language? Were you mind-reading?"
Them: "We were talking, yes, we were communicating, we were speaking and listening."
Me: "Does speaking and listening mean no talking? or Does it require some noise?"
Them: "Yes, we have to talk to hear each other's ideas so we can agree and disagree with them."
Me: "Yes, exactly!"
Me: "All independent means is without me, without help, you can do it on your own or as a group and you can solve it together, communicate through it together, and work together, and accomplish your goal."

This is what my center board looks like this week:

And, I ALWAYS create this Problem/Solution T-chart before we begin so they can be problem-solvers during guided reading, where interrupting me is THE LAST RESORT. I have done this for years, and it helps a lot. 

Also, in case you're wondering what they do in the Independent Reading center....they read.  Just read. They don't respond, they don't check out books, they don't talk to one another...they just READ! for 30 uninterrupted minutes.  That's it. Read to Self. From books, they self-select. Read. Read. Read.

Again, like I said in another part of this series, is this the message we are sending kids that they are to be working alone and quiet when they aren't with us for guided reading? Yikes! If so, I think it's time to look at this.  I've said this before, and I'll say it again....teaching the Common Core way is no longer about teaching skills and strategies in isolation.  Students must practice multiple skills and strategies at the same time, with others, in varying formats.  I tried to make a Wordle out of the Common Core documents but I exceeded the word limit.  I did however, cull, what I felt were the most important verbs, words and phrases, from the Common Core documents.
Slide 10 from Fifty Shades of the Common Core
Like you've heard me say before (at least for those of you whose schools I've been to)...the common denominator of these words and phrases is what?  Critical thinking and Critical reading.  And like I've said before, these things cannot be accomplished in a vacuum. Students must have lots of opportunities to dig into text, with each other, talk about text, talk about pictures, ideas, understandings, misunderstandings, problems, issues...with each other.  It's really hard to agree and disagree with yourself.  So when you're asking students to work independently, are you giving them engaging activities where they have an opportunity to practice and reinforce the same skills and strategies presented in the lesson and do they have lots of opportunities to communicate, collaborate, think critically and read critically so they can expand their ideas and learn from great authors, photographers and producers?   

I've heard from many of you over the course of these posts, that they are resonating with you because they are conversations you are having in your building right now, too.  Anything worthy of impacting children so profoundly is definitely worthy of a building wide conversation.  I encourage you to create an operational definition of the term "independent work" in your building. Start from there so at least all teachers are on the same page, so we send students the right message and they understand the importance of not only what they are learning but why they are learning.  Kids are not different than adults when it comes to wanting reasons (see Simon Sinek's TED Talk, The Golden Circle, on the importance of why)...we just have to be solid in the "why" ourselves first.  

Thank you to everyone that commented on these last few posts, I do appreciate you chiming in and leaving comments. I know I'm not the only person passionate about literacy and I love reading your comments, I truly do.  It's validating and feeds my Love Language...Words of Affirmation.

Until next time,



Miss 27 said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to write and share these last three posts. I love looking into other classrooms. We've had a lot going on in my school and district this year. We have a new superintendent, a new administrator and many, MANY new programs, requirements, schedules and procedures. Not to mention only K-2 use the Common Core Standards and 3-12 use our state standards. That's a whole other issue...

I've been very interested in learning and implementing meaningful independent centers for my first graders. You've given me a lot to ponder and a great place to start tweaking and revising their independent centers.

Thank you again for all you do and share!

Lisa Gray said...

Hi Jen,

Loved this series of posts! Thank you for sharing. The Shades of Meaning Station is great. I had to move mine away from the Guided Reading Table too. (: Quick question...when do you pull each group for guided reading? Do they have a scheduled time when they come to you or do you pull them from a literacy station?

Thank you,
Lisa Gray

Carla said...

Oh my...when do you sleep, Jen? What a wonderful post filled with useful tips for application! I just found the Fall fluency sentences from Primary Polka Dots last week, and I love the freebie. Let's face it...what a great motivator to use our students own words for fluency.
Carla @ Comprehension Connection

Tony Shaw said...

You have a very comprehensive blog Jen. Well done.

Alvaton Leader in Me said...

I bout your shades of meaning and picture of the day, the day I read this? I love your literacy stations cards and how you have the students names in their numbered groups. Do you sell this on tpt? I'd love to snag a copy!

Jennifer Jones said...

Email me and I'll send you my cards, etc.


WillowRoom said...

This post has been so helpful- thank you for sharing your routines with us! I just purchased some of your fluency cards and was wondering how many cards you ask the students to read each day. Do you ask the students to read the cards for three consecutive days and then answer the questions or answer after three rotations at the fluency center? Thanks for your feedback- I want to make sure I'm using the material correctly!

Elaina Brooks said...

Thank you for the posts! It has been so helpful to read this series just before I really launch our reading workshop. I am a second year teacher and I used Daily 5 last year and didn't feel like I ever quite got the hang of how to make it rigorous or relevant enough to the CCSS. So reading this series has really helped me to see how I can run a reading workshop that build independence and raises the bar.

I have the same question as Lisa: When are you meeting with groups if every group is at a lit center for both rotations? Also, do you use the work done during these centers as evidence for grades? I had a hard time with that last year. Thank you!

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