The school year is over, and grades are due. As we teachers focus on finishing up those last stacks of papers and giving our students final evaluations, it’s also very important for us to reflect on our own practice for the year. Since this was my first year at a new school, and my first year using the reading and writing workshop model, I find that this year it’s especially essential for me to self-evaluate. So, what follows is a frank and honest report card for my own teaching, with the hope that you, dear Reader, can learn from my successes and shortcomings.
One thing I feel great about this year is my success with independent reading. My students were avid readers of the huge variety of books I booktalked (with an inordinate amount of energy), and they felt so proud of themselves for their reading achievements. I do not have any Honors, AP, or advanced level students–I have only general kids who have never really felt “academic” before. When they stacked up their piles of books in the last few days of class, their smiles were contagious when they realized just how many pages they’d read. Although it was very successful this year, next year, I will change a few things about my IR program. I will not conference during reading time–I’ll combine reading and writing conferences to streamline our talk time and not interrupt the sweet silence of reading. I’m also going to strive to get kids booktalking earlier–this year they didn’t start until 3rd quarter. Lastly, I’m going to try to get a bigger variety of books for my students to read. One genre many kids requested was “redneck books,” which absolutely cracked me up at first until I realized just how rarely they saw characters like themselves in their reading. I’ve got to find more along the lines of Where the Red Fern Grows, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Rocket Boys.
While I’m glad my students are reading tons independently, I’m less than pleased with how our whole-class reads went. Last year, some of my favorite teaching moments were discussions about classics like Fahrenheit 451 and A Separate Peace. My students connected with those books, but this year, they didn’t. We did a whole-class play that they read silently, a whole-class novella, and then literature circles with a choice of four classics. Each experience was painful. The kids were not engaged, and in the unfortunate honesty of adolescence, very vocal about their displeasure. Next year, I need to remove all of the things they said they hated–deadlines for reading, boring books with irrelevant themes, and reading groups that I picked. I think I’ll relent and do the play as a read-aloud, allow them to choose reading groups for literature circles, and try to pair classics I think are important with contemporary texts to try to hook their interest. I will keep the assessments I used, though, and allow them to paint ceiling tiles, make book trailers, and write songs about their books.
In terms of writing, I think our formal, higher-stakes writings were more successful than quickwrites and prompted writings. Multigenre projects were AMAZING this year (just look at that stack Lizzie is investigating; have you ever seen a pile of papers to grade so colorful and filled with passion!?!?), as were extended narratives, scenes, and letters of argument. I truly enjoyed reading, responding to, and evaluating every single typed, revised piece my students handed in. However, writer’s notebooks were slightly more painful. Toward the end of the year (after those 19 snow days), many students started to get that glazed look in their eyes after only about five minutes of journal writing. I feel like this was a major failure on my part–last year my students absolutely adored free writes, creative writing prompts, and the like. This year, I think I was less than cohesive with how my prompts aligned with whatever else we were doing in class. Next year, I’ll plan them out more carefully and focus on getting them to contribute to an overall theme/minilesson/unit, and work on rebuilding my students’ stamina after interruptions like snow days and breaks to get them writing more fluently and comfortably.
All of the business of workshop was tough for me–I’ll admit. Conferring/note-taking during class and writing EVERY assignment beside my students cut out any and all time to take notes/attendance, grade/organize papers, or even run to the bathroom. I think that without the luxury of a 90-minute plan period every day, I would not have been able to successfully execute this model and keep my sanity. Because I had that much plan time, I was able to design really cool, research-based assessments, lessons, and activities. I also had a lot of time to respond thoughtfully to student work, self-reflect, and, most importantly, write grants. Without those grants, I would not have been able to build my library to its strong state, order the supplies necessary for the no-limits creativity of multigenre, or even provide my students with little necessities like writer’s notebooks or pens and pencils. I’ll definitely continue to spend all of my free moments at school on grant writing, grading, and other housekeeping items so that I can devote my attention fully to my students during class time.
Overall, I think I would give myself a B as a teacher this year, but the workshop model itself gets an A+. I feel amazing about how much my students have grown, and I know it’s because of doing the reading and writing workshop. I am so fortunate to have met Penny Kittle, Amy Rasmussen, Emily Kim, Erika Bogdany, Jackie Catcher, and many others last summer–because they introduced me to this model, I know my students were immensely more successful than they would have been otherwise. However, I know that there are huge improvements I can, and will, make for next year. I can’t wait to spend the summer learning with and from those colleagues again, along with some new ones, about how to become a better teacher. I know that I’ll use what I learn, as well as the free time I’ll use to reflect, to make next year even better.