It’s Sunday evening and you just finished your weekend binge-watching of (insert favorite series here). You look at the clock and it happens: the dreaded Sunday planning blues wash over you. The weekend is over and you realize you need to plan lessons for the week ahead. “Hmm…what should I teach tomorrow?” you ask as you sit down at your computer to spend the next few hours browsing the ever-popular online resources available to educators.
But wait, there’s an alternative to this quick fix of filling up your planner with ready-to-print activities and templates. Really, we mean it! The four tips that follow help you plan for tomorrow’s lessons based on deeply anchored knowledge of your students rather than cut-and-pasted best guesses.
Tip #1: Create regular time for student-run conversations.
Conversations reveal students’ thinking and offer us just about all we need to decide what to teach readers next. Listen as your students talk about books, your clipboard in hand, and note what they say and how they say it. When you hear students use language like this, “I am thinking the character is …” you know this student is making inferences about the character. If you hear a student say, “The author is so biased about this topic,” you know this student is thinking about perspectives. As teachers we listen for what students are doing so we know what strengths we can build off of. When we hear “This is such a nice character,” we know this reader is thinking about the character with rather general insights and is ready for us to show him how to go deeper and generate a more specific nuanced idea based on patterns across the text.
Tip #2: Offer students choices about how to write authentically about their thinking.
Provide students with choices about how they want to write about their thinking in a reading notebook. The key is to help students see the value of jotting down their thinking in entries as ideas pop up as they read and not as a chore to complete afterwards. Students’ choices about a reading notebook entry offer us an additional lens to discover what types of thinking they are doing. For example, does a student often choose to focus on the main character? If so you can teach her to do similar thinking with supporting characters? If a student always makes lists of facts when she reads nonfiction but never goes back to look at them, you can teach her to organize the list into categories or to add visuals to her entries. When you read a notebook entry you can decide how to support the reader in the moment and look for patterns and trends across the entire class.
- Start by creating your own reading notebook and making a few entries yourself.
- Try sketching an image, creating a chart, or listing questions and ideas you have as you read.
- Share your notebook entries with your students and encourage them to start their own reading notebook entries.
- Encourage students to use their notebook entries to start a conversation (see Tip #1).
Tip #3: Know what you are looking and listening for.
Once we open up class time for student-run conversations and reading notebooks, students’ thinking becomes much more visible. We can begin to look closely to figure out what students can already do and what they might need next. It helps a lot to know what you are looking listening for so you don’t get caught in the weeds.
- Narrow your focus and know what is most important to look and listen for. You don’t need to look for it all in one moment.
- Jot quick notes on your clipboard about what you notice. Create a system to keep your notes lean. We’ve included an example here of our clipboard notes when focusing on understanding characters.
- Spend a few minutes reading your notes at the end of each day looking for patterns that you can teach tomorrow. These few minutes each day save hours of time searching on the internet and outsourcing your decisions to others who don’t know your specific students’ needs.
Tip #4: Plan your instruction around a few focus areas.
When teaching reading, we can quickly become overwhelmed with all the possible skills and strategies to teach and the outcome is often “buffet” teaching—a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Instead, try sticking to one or two focus areas and go for more depth. We suggest you only need to focus on four areas, two when reading fiction and two more when reading nonfiction. By keeping our teaching focused on a few areas we find brainspace to create a variety of lessons and opportunities for students to practice and go deeper. We actually don’t need to teach 200 strategies because everything connects back to these four main areas.
|When Reading Nonficiton||When Reading Fiction|
We trust teachers to know what their students need next and we know that no website created by someone who never met your students can ever know what your students are ready for. These four tips are based on thousands of hours in classrooms and an easy to replicate decision-making process. You can learn more tips in our book series What Do I Teach Readers Tomorrow?