Even though my summer vacation just officially started this week, I am already thinking about changes for the 2015-2016 school year. Reflection is probably the most important part of my summer, so this particular post will be an ever-growing list.
1. Independent reading will stay at the forefront. Last year was the best year I have had with independent reading yet, and I believe this is a statement I make at the beginning of every summer. I love that IR in my classroom improves each year; I know this is because I put IR ahead of everything else in my classroom. I know its importance, for I have seen its many benefits. I will, however, make a few changes. My students will still read at the beginning of every class, except instead of ten minutes they will receive 15. Looking over my student surveys from the end of this school year, many of my lower and upper level students said ten minutes was not enough time to really “get into” their books. Some of my lowest level students even acknowledged that they couldn’t make it through more than 2-3 pages in ten minutes. Many of these students mentioned that just a few extra minutes would help, and I agree with them. When I used to teach every day for 40 minutes, students read ten minutes each of those days. Now that I only teach each class four out of six days, I think 15 minutes is logical. This way students will still receive about the same amount of reading time that they would have received if I saw them every day. I will, however, have to keep an eye on those few students who try to waste that reading time in the beginning of the school year. I will have to figure out what they like early on, and make sure I have some book talks and recommendations ready.
2. The volume of writing students do needs to increase. I know that my students do more and more writing in my classroom every year, but I need to allow for even more. As Kelly Gallagher states in his blog post “Moving Beyond the 4 X 4 Classroom,” “It is only when students begin writing (and reading) more than the teacher can grade that they approach the volume necessary to spur significant growth” (see Gallagher’s full post here). I need to make sure my students write a lot more than I could ever grade. They need more feedback from me than anything else. What was a huge help last year was incorporating Google Classroom. Many of my male students mentioned that they were more willing to write if they could be on a computer or Chromebook. I saw this firsthand when every single male student complete their argument research paper. That’s never happened before! Because of my successes with Google Classroom, my 2015-2016 classes will be almost completely paperless (for more about my journey toward a paperless classroom, click here). A lot of their writing will be in Google Classroom, but also in their own blogs they create using Kidblog. With these changes, not only will my students write every day in class, but also more on their own.
3. Collaboration is vital when trying to create confidence and independence. My students collaborated with their classmates often this past year, and I want my upcoming group of students to do this even more. Students can learn a lot from one another, and I saw this more this past year than any other year I have taught. That is because I let them lead class discussions, conduct peer reviews, and work in small groups or with partners more often. So often teachers feel they need to be the ones up in front of the class. I know I used to think that, since that what I always saw teachers do when I was in school. Sure a teacher needs to teach, but they should be short mini-lessons. The majority of the class time needs to be work time. Students need time to write, share, and ask questions of their peers.
4. I need to write more with my students. I share my writing with my students, but not enough. I model techniques I teach them, but not enough. I need to be more consistent. Students need to see my thinking, drafts, revisions, and “finished” products. Most often, I show students something I already wrote, but I need to do more writing in front of them. When I did that in the past, I found that students felt more comfortable around me. They saw that writing was a process for me too, and sometimes even a difficult one. Students need to see that their teachers are not perfect.
I plan to add more to this list throughout the summer. Feel free to share some of the changes you are making!