“I think that many teachers have been subjected to intensive efforts to remake their small-group instruction so that it is 'just so.' There have been so many books written on how to lead small groups in precisely the right ways that too many teachers approach a little hub of readers, gripped by anxiety over doing this The Right Way. Meanwhile, the whole point is to be personal, be responsive, and to channel kids to do some work while you observe and coach.”
– Lucy Calkins, in A Guide to the Reading Workshop
Studying and Thinking about Powerful Whole Group Instruction: Minilessons, Shared Reading, & Read Aloud K-3
See below for a full transcript of the chat
Written by Anna Gratz Cockerille
One power of reading workshop is the way in which instruction can move seamlessly from whole-group, to small-group, to individual and back again in the span of a class period. Certainly, a reading teacher’s best chance of really moving kids further in their understanding is while working with small groups and individuals, where instruction can be differentiated to meet the needs of the each student. It is not as possible to meet every student’s needs during whole-group instruction. Inevitably, there will be students who are beyond or not quite at the level of whole-group lessons. But these lessons serve a very important purpose, nonetheless. They serve to rally students’ energy around a single, worthy cause. They serve to create classroom community-wide goals for reading and common language to talk about these goals. They serve to get students jazzed up about a new line of thinking, or a new trajectory in their path of work.
Short class periods. Moving from room to room. Limited space. Adolescent emotions. These are just a few of the challenges middle school students (and teachers) face. To be sure, teaching writing in middle school takes special planning, creativity, and patience. But it can be done, and it can be done well, even with its challenges.
Albert Einstein once said, “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and should cease only at death.” In no profession is this commitment to lifelong learning more important and more apparent than in teaching. Teachers know we are never finished learning. We spend our time not in the classroom studying, observing, discussing, and collaborating in order to become the best teachers we can be.
In the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Atticus Finch teaches his children, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings, plight, or situation of another. It is recognizing and valuing perspectives that are different from one’s own. It is the basis for relationships and, some would even argue, is vital to survival.
The start of a new calendar year brings a sense of renewal, possibility, and novelty. It is a time for reflection, and certainly, as the number of people who make New Year’s resolutions shows, for goal-setting.
Hopefully, your students (and you!) have returned from the break rested, recharged, and ready to reinvest. This is the perfect time to channel your students to reflect on their reading and writing lives and to make plans for the year ahead.