Thursday, June 27, 2013

Planning for Independence: Stenhouse Blogstitute Reflection

When Donalyn Miller wrote "Let My People Read" for the Nerdy Book Club, I shouted a big amen.  It also made me think, "Let My People Learn."

I love summer!  Summer gives me the time to read and learn about topics I've been wanting to dig deeper into across the busy school year.  This summer is full of personal learning opportunities.  I want students to have these same opportunities in the classroom.  Young readers need time and opportunities to choose the books they want to read, to find ways to authentically use new strategies, to dig deep into a topic of study, to own their learning.

My Summer Professional Learning Board

Miller:  Letting Kids Dig In
Again this summer, Stenhouse is hosting their annual Blogstitute at the Stenhouse Blog.  On June 20th the event, which will continue for 9 weeks, kicked off with a thought provoking post by Debbie Miller:  Letting Kids Dig In (a post about planning in our workshops).

In her post Debbie Miller writes, "Now, once I identify our learning target, I no longer dive into planning the mini-lesson.  Instead, I plan what students will do during work time to grow as readers and get smarter." 

What really caught my attention was a visual representation she drew of her thinking about the planning process.  In this representation she talks about her thinking through learning targets, planning of the focus lesson, independent learning opportunities,  and sharing.  She has an arrow to illustrate where she places her planning for, what she calls, "plan catches."  Who will she confer with during the workshop?  Will she have small groups?  Who may need support for learning?  As she plans what students will do during the learning, she has questions she asks herself.

Planning for independent learning is hard because we want to support students as they make learning decisions.  Reader will choose their books, lead their conversations, write about their thinking, and try new strategies during our workshops.  So often it seems we feel pressured by a structure instead of the learning.  A voice whispers in our ear, "I need to meet with three guided reading groups each day. My students rotate through centers while I meet with students.  I need to make sure everyone is working toward the learning target."  We put a variety of structures in place to keep students working while we meet with learners, but Debbie gets at what really matters here; it isn't the time we are with children, it is the time they are engaged in learning.  Her support matches the goals she has for learners and is adjusted according to need.  I'm guessing that early in a learning cycle support may be higher than as students begin to gain control of new concepts.  

Planning for Independence
Debbie Miller changed my thinking about independent learning time years ago when she wrote Reading with Meaning (now available in a newer edition).  Debbie made me rethink the block of time students were using for learning.  After reading her book, I knew I wanted students to be spending their time reading and thinking.  Using assessments I began to plan my focus lessons, crafting lessons that would lead students into purposeful work, allow students time to work authentically on all we were learning, and turn the learning over to the children.

When I look at the large block of learning time in Debbie's visual, I know this is the time I want students to own.  I want students to choose their goals, plan their time, read, write, talk, and think.

Independent Learning 
Here are some choices readers make during Reader's Workshop:

Goal Setting:  During Reader's Workshop I like students to have time to read books of their choice.  Readers write their own goals for independent learning.  In most cases, these goals align with the bigger questions we are exploring in our classroom.

Book Conversations:  Readers need time to read together and talk about books.  Focus lessons lead students toward the work they will do as readers.  Readers take these community conversations into their independent and partner reading.  They talk about books the way we have talked about books.   Across the year students build their stamina or as Patrick Allen called it in a recent post, Stick-to-it-ness.  Reading is often thoughtful quiet business, but I think sometimes we have to remember that primary learners like to play and sometimes reading looks a little like play in a primary classroom.  There are occasions where students get up to move as they as they read Is Everyone Ready for Fun?  or Elephants Cannot Dance.

Writing About Reading:  Often in Reader's Workshop students choose to go our class blogs to write about a book they want to share with their friends.  They sometimes choose to read posts and comment as well.  
Reflecting:  In our classroom we use Shelfari to keep track of the books we read.  Students sometimes return to the shelf to find books they'd like to read or recall favorite characters.  In this picture, students are working on end of year recommendations for the next year's class of first graders.  
Thinking About Learning:  Students use Reader's Workshop time to read and think.  Often students choose to blog about books, write about characters, tell about stories, talk with friends about books, or share new learning.  In this picture, a student is learning about dogs and sharing new discoveries. 
Seeking Answers:  There's something amazing about getting to the point in Reader's Workshop where students know enough books, they've explored different tools, and are reading with purpose.  There's something about that point where students choose a goal or a question and begin to read to find out more.  This is one of my ambitious study groups.  These friends loved to learn together, and here they are each reading to learn more about pets.

Digging In:  This is the challenge of independent practice.  We can create strong focus lessons that lead students toward new understandings.  We make sure our libraries are filled with the kind of books our readers will want to spend time with during our workshops.  We can choose books that will help students move toward new thinking.  We teach students a variety of ways to share their thinking with our learning communities.  Ultimately, students will make independent learning decisions.  Students will be the ones "digging in."  Thanks, Debbie, for helping me think about this time once again.  


  1. Thanks for this post. When I first saw the Stenhouse Blogstitute shared out online, my initial thought was, "I don't think I can add this to my plate right now." But the joy of summer PD is it's like going to a restaurant with a large menu -- so many choices to fit your personal needs; and you can choose as much or as little as you'd like.
    I adore Debbie Miller and I'm sorry I missed her day. Thanks for reflecting and maybe I will catch the next one.

  2. Cathy-
    This post is a great illustration of the responsibility and ownership your kids take in the learning in their community. I remember Debbie talking about getting kids to the point that they are ready and saying I just want to do it! And just then releasing them out to work! This has stuck with me since her first book, and your post shows your kids are there, they know what to do and are ready to do it! I find many people asking but, how do you know they're working and not playing around- and your post demonstrates how we know, we trust our kids and our teaching. Because without the teaching of the language and how to do the work of a reader the kids don't know their capabilities.

  3. Ohhh...I like this...

    " isn't the time we are with children, it is the time they are engaged in learning..."

    I wish I could meet up with you and talk more about stuff! ;0)