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Cutting it Close


Senior Member
When I originally made my month by month plans for this year, September was set aside for reading and writing identities, routines, independence, and stamina. As it turned out, I spent the whole month doing these things, but most of my time and energy went into convincing these kids that they were readers and writers. In reality, every day was taught with a sense of urgency that went way beyond whether or not they could read quietly or cycle through the writing process independently. In reality, there were more days than not that I worried whether this group would ever truly love reading and writing. <!--break-->

Usually, convincing children of their own innate literate selves is easy for me. Only after a few of my own anecdotes and a handful of read alouds, sprinkled with some suspense surrounding the classroom library- I’ve got them reeled in. Maybe this group knew that about me, and maybe they knew I needed a reality check. Because, boy—did they cut it close! Week after week, their attitude was indifferent.
  • Everyone can bring in their Forever Books!! --- “Is it like, homework?”
  • Nonfiction opening tomorrow? ---- “Oh.”
  • Book nook time next week!! ---- “When’s lunch?”
Sure, I had two or three kids that would give the conciliatory, “Hooray!”… but it almost made it worse. I wanted the whole class to cheer; I wanted everyone to beg for a basket to open.

It wasn’t until the very end of this unit that I started to relax a little. I can’t pinpoint the turning point; maybe there wasn’t one. But without a discernable change, the mood in my classroom during reading and writing began to swing the other direction. Nothing drastic, mind you. But at least it was something.

By the time we got to Friday, our first Reading and Writing Celebration, there was a buzz. With Strauss playing the background, each child came up to receive his or her bookshelf, and the rest of the group clapped with genuine enthusiasm. During our shoeless workshop, almost everyone was actually reading. And in writing, they excitedly picked out a short excerpt they were proud of, and practiced it for our symphony of voices. The seed notebooks that I presented to them were the biggest hit of the day. They proudly wore them around their necks, imitating my own writer’s notebook by sketching and making lists of possible small moments.

I’m ready to leave that nail-biting month behind me. I know they are ready to move on too. I am so eager to get into some meaty teaching- I think that when we really start to shine a more focused spotlight on comprehension, it will improve the quality of their reading and talk. October’s unit is called “Making Meaning.” As you might remember from this summer, I’m going to experiment with teaching the comprehension strategies in a more spiraled way. So they will be introduced a little sooner, and then I’ve planned when and how they will be revisited and deepened after the holidays. In October, I choose three bends in the road that I believe will have a large impact on their understanding of text. You’ll notice that the last one is not a strategy per say, but a concept that I believe is fundamental to discussing books.

Bend in the Road 1: Readers make meaning by asking questions before, during, and after reading.

Bend in the Road 2: Readers make meaning by using their schema to make connections to the text.

Bend in the Road 3: Readers make meaning by noticing how the characters think, act, and feel.

In writing, our unit is also called Making Meaning. But this unit centers around how writers can craft their small moments to convey meaning. September was spent on writing small moments also, but they aren’t strong pieces of writing yet. I feel good about what was accomplished; I think I raised the bar more than I did last year. With this group, I’ve already explicitly taught them how to choose a small moment, begin the story close to the moment, tell it over their fingers, sketch the pictures, and stretch out the story over all three pages. We also are revising with flaps and tape and colored pens. About half of my kids went through a writer’s workshop last year. I decided to trust that they would lead the way (especially in the revision) and they did. I feel good about the group’s independence and knowledge of the writing process. But I’ve got tons of ramblers and a handful of perfectionists. We’ve got a lot of work to do in terms of focus and style. So our three bends in the road for September are:

Bend in the Road 1: Writers make meaning by making their words match the movie in their minds.

Bend in the Road 2: Writers make meaning by streeeeetching out one small moment.

Bend in the Road 3: Writers make meaning by revising through the eyes of a reader.

I’ve attached my “big picture” plans to this blog if you want to see some of the minilessons I’m planning on doing underneath each reading and writing bend in the road. The first page of the document is added on for you, just so that you can see what “prerequisites” are needed (in my opinion). The last page shows a quick snapshot of just some of the small group needs my particular class is already demonstrating. (I've also replied to this blog with some pictures of our room now that it's got some student work hanging.)

Today, I’m off to find some Wonder Boxes. I want my class to be immediately immersed in deep thinking, and Wonder Boxes are a nice way to set the mood. I predict a month filled with the children’s questions and unique voices… but you know me. I won’t hold back: stay tuned for a brutally honest recount of our October Unit. Wish me luck! ;)
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Senior Member

here's the pledge we wrote this year for our reading celebration. As you can see, I wrote a lot of it alone. I had to "revise" the way I usually do it-- as a shared write. First of all, this group was way too wiggly to sit still for that (even if it was spread over many days). Second of all, we had other minilessons that were too important to do on those days. And third-- I simply wanted to include some really important things (mostly to do with behavior and independence).

Therefore, I wrote it and they filled in the blanks.
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Senior Member
Book People

SOme people were asking how these were made (I referred to them in my last blog: No Miracles Yet)

Each page of them had something about our reading lives-- the kinds of books we like, what we are planning on doing next in our reading lives, and where we like to read.
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Senior Member
Todd Parr

We read some Todd Parr books... their colorful pictures and short lengths were perfect for my kids at the beginning of the year. :) The book It's Ok to be Different went really well with some of the special needs in my room. They painted their own pictures... here's how they came out.
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Senior Member
Todd parr

Another Todd Parr pic...

(The one with the person bending over says, "It's OK to have a big toe." LOL)
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Senior Member
Autumn Leaves

Here's how I turned my clubhouse trees into autumn trees. The kids will see it on Monday- I thought it was a good way to start a new unit. They painted pieces of paper with fall colors and then my instructional aide and I cut leaf shapes out of them. She had the idea of making glitter iciciles to hang from the branches.
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Mrs. McDavid

Junior Member
Hope is in the air!!!

It's so great to hear from you. It sounds like hope is in the air. ;)

Your blog inspires so many. I took your lead this year about integrating the strategies in RW and WW. It is really amazing how well it is working. Just what my guys needed. Like you, each month we have a theme and it really helps to tie together the reading/writing connection for them. My kids did not have RW or WW in first grade. I am the only one doing RW and WW at my school so everything is brand new for my kids.

My second graders have been working on the RW/WW integrated model since August and I am amazed at what they are doing. Don't get me wrong...it was a rough start. "Thinking" wasn't something they were use to and there were a lot of days where they were frustrated and just didn't quite get what they were supposed to do.

Now they look forward to RW and WW and their language of the strategies is now showing up in all subject areas. They are seeing how the strategies of RW can help them whenever and wherever they read.

What I have done this month (September) is to choose one book each week that we focus on for both RW and WW. In September the literature was driven by Small Moment stories. We alsways begin the week by discussing the connection between what makes the writing great and what makes the reading great. We also talk about how literature has helped us to become better writers.

We then delve into the RW strategies. Each day we focus on a different strategy and we use a graphic organizer to keep track of our thinking. The kids seem to like the organizer (see attached). It is simple but it works for them. This is the first year where I didn't teach a strategy a month. In August I focused on a strategy each week and now we focus on all the strategies while we disect a piece of great literature. Now the kids are asking for the organizer for when they work independently. It is all so exciting! They have really gotten excited about synthesizing and several of the kids wanted to know if they could start writing book reports. I think they have older siblings who are writing book reports and know that they can look at a book from both the eye of a reader and a writer they are on fire to show off their new skills.

Keep up the good work BookMuncher. You are an inspiration to us all! <!--sing-->

Mrs. McDavid
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Senior Member
Thank you, Bookmuncher!

Thank you for all your posts. This one was especially helpful to me as this is the first year I've taken the plunge into full time reading and writing workshops and not just dabbled with them.

Is your reading pledge reference to Level C or D behavior a reference to Marshall's Discipline without Punishment or Rewards? It made me smile to see that because I have been using that approach this year, too. Makes me feel like I am on the right track!

I wholeheartedly agree with the notion that the strategies need to be introduced early in the year relatively quickly so that kids have longer to practice using them and refine them throughout the year.

Thank you, again. Your insight and experience truly is appreciated.


Senior Member
Glad to hear From You!!

Hi Bookmuncher! Since your last blog I have been wondering how things were going for you. My best friend is experiencing a year like yours this year, and so are several of my colleagues. Every afternoon when we all 'debrief' one another on our day I think of you! It sounds like you are making headway. :) Thanks for your honest sharing and thoughtful plans. They are a reminder that every year is different and that although we have to keep our core beliefs about teaching reading and writing we must also be willing to adjust. My friend has struggled for 28 days with some significant behavior issues as well as children who are just indifferent to the whole idea of reading. She kept plugging away and found that her class really loves writer's workshop and read aloud time, so she has been spending a lot of time there as she eased the children into reading by using Big Books, poems and songs rather than independent reading. So yesterday she did new running records on some of her students who came in as non readers and they have jumped way up from reading recovery level 1 up to to 7-9. She said, "well it doesn't look pretty, with them all rolling on the floor,' but something is working!!":D

Keep us posted on what you are learning with this new group. What you learn with a class like that is usually more powerful than if you had an 'easier" group. You will have a lot to teach all of us...for we all know a year like that is coming in everyone's future if you teach long enough.;)


Full Member
You are such a friend in my mind:)

HI there it is so good to have the time to read your blogs. I learn so much from you and your experiences that it really keeps me focused and on top of things. You help me see there is a light at the end of the tunnel. What grade are you teaching? I know last year it was second. I teach first and my group also seems to be a little less excited when it is time to do any type of workshop (reading, writing,math). It took 3 weeks for them to finally stop asking about play time (is it time to play? where is the kitchen?when is lunch?, when is snack?, can we go home now?)I am starting to see some changes(SOME). I spent all of September keeping them in line. Reminding them to not be rude, not laugh when someone only writes letters not words, to listen, be a good partner the list goes on. Debbie Miller talks about the importance of community and I could not agree with her more, but wow it has taken so long that I feel I am so far behind my colleagues.They are treating each other better but I still have to keep on top of them, will it ever be wonderful?It is October and I am just going to push on with Small Moments and try to incorporate Schema with a sprinkling of questioning and inferring. I wanted to do our first celebration on Friday but they were still not quite there, should I just push on? I wanted to give them their book bins but I just don't know:confused:. Thanks again Bookmuncher


Senior Member
Seed notebooks

<!--leaves_fall-->BookMuncher, as always your blog inspires me. I had used your curriculum guide over the summer to "guide" me in my planning. As a district that begins in early August I am in to the Making Meaning unit for both RW and WW. Your blog came at a perfect time for me. (We've taken a few set backs in my classroom of first graders it seems). Trying to get back on track will be a bit easier now that you have shared. As always, THANKS!

<!--arrow_red-->What do you mean by seed notebooks? (I am inferring that they are little notebooks that are like a necklace). Is this something you made or purchased?

<!--arrow_red-->Did you find Wonder Boxes? If you don't mind sharing where you found them, I would be able to purchase mine now while I still have $$$ from the district. Last year I finally found something appropriate at Michaels. With more students this year my ability to purchase items for everyone is becoming fazed out!

<!--leaves_fall-->Also--love the pictures of how your classroom is changing. Thanks so much!
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Senior Member

Mrs. McDavid: I love to hear about how you integrate reading and writing. With that, the possibilities are endless-- I really like to hear how others are trying it. I find that sometimes I'm more sucessful with it than other times. We're on the same page on the spiraling too... I'm showing them most of the strategies before the holidays, and then coming back to them. it sounds like it's going well for you. It really does make sense. Thanks for sharing your graphic organizer... it's great!

Tangolily: Yup! I've used the Marvin Marshall stuff in the past, but this year, I'm trying to cycle back to it more and for longer to make it stick. Other years, I've kind of just left it behind too quickly.

Tapnstitch: Your friend's class sounds a lot like mine... and it makes me feel better to hear that they are rolling on the ground too. Hope they are 2nd graders. ;)

xnanny: I'm teaching 2nd. Thanks for the reminder that they'll get there! ... Are there more minilessons that if you do, you think your kids will be ready? Or is it more like, no specific minilessons are needed-- rather, they just need the gift of time? Because there is probably a good case to be made for just moving on, unless there are some specific things that you need to teach. Good luck!!

liketeaching: I just purchased those cheap small notebooks that have rings in the top (three for a dollar) and the kids threaded string through them so they could wear them as necklaces. They are collecting small "seed" moments in them. I THINK I bought the ones you got last year??? They are wooden Michael's boxes that have little handles and are open at the top? Is that what you had? I really wanted the open and shut kind, but those were all I could find.


Senior Member

BookMuncher, those sound like the ones that I found too. The first year I found the ones you had at the DollarTree but those haven't returned to the ones in my area.

I'm glad that you posted on meeting with the strategies before the holidays. Even with first graders, I like the fact that I am touching on more and much earlier in the year. Hopefully it will all pay off in the end. I can see so much more "talk" about reading and understanding the concepts that we do! Some of my kids continue to amaze me.

FYI, I'm glad that you touched on how important the "sharing" portion of reading workshop is (in a previous blog or thread). I am really striving to improve on that area and it has become one of my favorite parts. I think it provides ME with immediate feedback that I am doing what I need to be! (Teachers like a pat on the back too!:))


Full Member
Love the Connection

Hi Bookmuncher,

Just wanted to say how excited I was to see you connect reading and writing. This has been one of the most difficult things for me in my planning! It's so nice to get a look inside another teacher's mind and see how their mind is mapping out their teaching! Thanks for the inspiration!