Imagine your perfect reading block: your reading group is on fire (even answering implicit questions!), the kids at the computer are actually on the reading program they were assigned (and look focused!) and the students at centers are working quietly. What did you do to deserve this paradise? You planned!
For elementary teachers, the freedom to schedule your own reading block can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand you have an uninterrupted hour or two to fill with the important activities of reading. And you can do that any way you want. But, on the other hand, the empty space in your lesson plan feels like one big question mark. “How much time should I spend on read alouds?” “How many minutes can my students really focus on seat-work?” “How can I fit in all the activities required for good teaching?” After you have thought through all of these questions and imagined your perfect reading group, then you are ready to make it happen with careful planning.
You need to consider several things including the layout of the classroom, the time needed for activities, and your organizational system. You also need to think about how much time to spend on a whole group lesson, or mini-lesson, how much time for small groups, what students will do when not in small groups, and how to set up the classroom. Let’s take a look in detail:
1. Physical Layout of the Classroom
The physical layout of your classroom is one of the most important keys to your success. There should be areas for students to sit for whole group instruction, small group instruction, and independent work. The class needs to flow, and have plenty of room for students and the teacher to move around. You also need to be able to get to classroom materials easily. There should be enough room for students to get materials or move to centers without tripping over one another.
Many school districts determine the time for whole group instruction. If you have the flexibility to decide your schedule, then you are fortunate indeed. You can think about how much time you need for whole group instruction, and how much time you need for small group instruction. The key will be what do you want to accomplish during the whole group instruction? Are you giving a mini-lesson, then allowing the students to work independently, are you teaching a new skill? You will want to schedule more time for whole group instruction if you are teaching a lesson, but maybe you only need 15 minutes for a mini-lesson to get the students focused on the independent work.
3. Independent Activities
What will the students do while you are instructing your small groups? Is there a computer program for reading that will take care of a few students? Will the students do worksheets or center activities? This is where most of your up-front preparation will take place. You need to decide if the students will sit for the entire reading block and do seat-work, or rotate among centers. If you decide to do centers, you will need to choose skills that the students can do independently like practice their spelling words, listen to an audio tape, or use magnetic letters to “write” a story.
4. Managing the Chaos
With all of this shuffling around, you need a management system that will help keep you and the students organized. It could be a chart, poster, wall calendar, etc. Whatever system you choose, make sure to spend enough time training the students to read it and maintain it. I once had a student take attendance during my small group LLI lesson. I had to repeatedly, stop myself from taking over, but after a few weeks, I found out she could do the job and that was one task off my mind. The more systems you put in place and have students do the recordkeeping, the more time you will have to teach. I know it is difficult to let go of control, but believe me, it will be worth it in the long run
Please tell me what you think of these simple ideas and share what has worked for your reading block.