Sunday, September 9, 2012

Navigating Reading Street

I received a super sweet email from a reader asking me to provide some help and advice about implementing Reading Street as a reading curriculum. Firstly, I was super flattered that this sweet reader would ask lil ole me, but secondly, I was transported back to when I was in the same pair of shoes this reader is currently wearing.

See, she just got hired and her first day will be Monday. She hasn't even met her team yet. She is getting students from 3 other classes. This will be their third week of school and she is working with 1st graders. I shared with her that during my 2nd year of teaching--the very first time that I taught 2nd grade--I was in a similar situation except that they waited until after the first marking period was over to add another teacher, namely me.

Regardless of when the transition happens--sooner or later--the first thing that I think needs to happen in that situation is community building. These children have spent two weeks in their other classes together and have likely already learned and, in some cases, internalized, the routines, procedures and expectations of their previous teacher. This is both good and bad: it's good because it means that they are quick to learn those routines and procedures but it is also bad because invariably if you are in this situation, you will hear "That isn't how we did it in my OTHER class". It can be disheartening at times.

Personally when I begin a new year (or mid-year as was the case in both my first and second year of teaching), I get going with routines and procedures but also begin some academics that are easier for me to manage. For me that is math. I'm not sure why that is except that often I have less things to deal with for my math instruction than with anything else. Balancing academic content and procedures is important, however. I teach most of my procedures within the context of the academic area(s) they apply to. For example, I'm not going to talk about using the calculators and manipulatives on the first day of school if we aren't actually going to use them. 

This fabulous reader's big concern, aside the obvious of starting after the fact, was how in the world to navigate Reading Street. I had to be honest--RS is awesome and I love it BUT it can be extremely overwhelming because there's just so much STUFF. Leveled readers, worksheets upon worksheets, stations, blah blah blah. Whew! It's enough to make you head for the hills before you start!

Last year was our first year using Reading Street in my district. We had used Houghton Mifflin before that. However, the stories were sort of outdated and much of the information within the resources were not Common Core aligned. When the district purchased Reading Street, they bought the newest version: the 2011 Common Core aligned set. When the boxes of stuff arrived, I think every teacher in my school just sat there with their mouths hanging open and wondering what we were going to do with all of those things! (Not to mention that during the first inservice we had for RS, I'm amazed that no one head exploded from all of the information they packed into those three hours. I get a headache thinking about it!)

As a new teacher, it's important to know first and foremost what your district's expectations and requirements are. Do they want you to use all of the components of Reading Street or only specific parts? For example, we are not currently using the writing workshop portion of Reading Street. We have had a different writing program in place for the last few years and the district gurus are in the process of deciding if we should scrap that old program and use the writing portion of RS because it is all aligned with the CCSS and our current program isn't. We also don't use part of the "Get Ready to Read" sections because teachers found they weren't quite as meaningful as we would have liked. Lastly, I don't know anyone (at least not in K-2 at my school) who actually used the stations that came with Reading Street because they weren't rigorous enough, not to mention we knew half of our kiddos wouldn't be able to read the directions without help and therefore everyone still used stations but supplemented with our own materials that we wanted students to work on and review.

This year, after using Reading Street for one year, they've tweaked their expectations again. We are focusing upon the Fresh Reads, which I personally love, because they provide a short text with multiple choice and constructed response answers that students need to go back into the text to be able to answer. This is a huge part of the CCSS and why our district decided we needed to really focus upon that area. 

We are also focusing upon the weekly tests but not using the unit tests. This is because the weekly tests provide immediate, week-by-week feedback on whether or not students are beginning to master the skills taught. We also have the children take the tests on the computer (either in our own classroom, the computer lab or our laptop carts on wheels) so we can easily track which skills the children are mastering and where they are struggling. (I could go on and on about how awesome some of the data reports are!)

Since I am teaching a dual grade, I have to teach both 4th and 5th grade Reading Street content. Everyone thinks this is impossible or hard. It isn't if you use the stations format. On Mondays while I am working with my 4th graders on their Fresh Read, the 5th graders will be listening to their weekly story on the CD. We have music right in the middle of that block on Monday which actually worked out great because when we return to our classroom, I can work on the Fresh Read with my 5th graders and my 4th graders can listen to the weekly story on CD. I love using small groups anyway because it is just easier and while this won't be "small group" (I have 17 fourth graders which is not small!), it will still provide something meaningful for my 5th grade students to do while I am working with my other group and vice versa. This would also work with one grade level if you have children that you know need more support and would benefit from a small group environment to navigate the text and the strategy.

This also serves a dual purpose--not only do I need my other grade to have something meaningful to do while I am working with the other grade, but this allows the children to hear the story for the week before they ever meet with me in a group. The second day they will be reading the story with a partner unless they are the first group I work with so most of my students will have heard/read the story twice before they ever come to group. This means I won't have to spend time reading all of the story with them but can focus upon strategy work and digging back into the text. Bang for your Buck sort of thinking.

On Tuesdays-Fridays, I will have 3 rotations with my students (our Daily 3). The first rotation always has to be Read to Self because we're required to have 5 days of SSR or it's equivalent. That's fine with me as I love that time. We do it right after morning recess. Since I have a ton of 4th graders, I will split them into 2 or maybe even 3 groups and then just keep my 10 5th graders together in one group. I'm not quite sure on that one yet. Many of my 5th graders are very low readers so I might do two groups of 5 for them to really help give them the boost they need. While I am working with my small group, the other children will be rotating through the Daily 5 stations. Sometimes they will have a "must do" sheet from the Reading Street series if I feel like it is something really worthwhile for them to work on (usually a grammar sheet) but mostly they will have a choice of working on writing, working with words or partner reading. Once the year really kicks off, we will also integrate technology into this time by using the computers, iPods and other technology that we can get our hands on (books on CD, etc).

I haven't done all of this yet but it's my plan starting on Monday. I have to be very careful that I keep going from one thing to the next in order to do justice for my dual grade. I know many colleagues who would simply teach one grade's curriculum--I don't think that is fair, especially with reading and math because the standards can vary so drastically. I have 90 minutes for my Daily 3 block and 30 minutes of that is for RTS/Conferencing. So I have two 30 minute blocks of time each day in which to meet with small groups. I will be able to meet with my groups at least twice if I have 4 groups and 3 times if I only have 3. (Waiting a bit on some testing we're doing for final determinations on that.)

My overall point is, no matter what your curriculum is, plan to be overwhelmed if you don't have the benefit of starting on the first day with the children. It's normal and it happens even to veteran teachers (if you saw the pile of "catch up" work I brought home for the weekend you'd see what I mean). Take it a day at a time and determine what the most important components of the program are for you to be teaching. No one can do everything that Reading Street has to offer unless they teach reading all day every day. If you don't get into Reading Street that first week when you start with a class after the first day...your administrator(s) should understand! Take the manuals home and take the time to learn them and determine what you absolutely KNOW your students need exposure to. Then go from there. Ask colleagues to sit with you at lunch or for a quick meeting after school just to get the rundown of the components THEY use. Find out if they do any weekly team-planning or if you are on your own (and if you are, shame on them but then you can really do what you see as the most important).

I know when we first really looked at Reading Street we all wondered how we could possibly do it all and you can't. It's why after a year, we had a team of teachers and administrators get together and determine what best suited our needs as a district and those are the areas we are focusing upon. Instead of drowning in an overload of resources, we are focusing on the areas that we know will provide us with data to help us to better serve our students.