This year, my workshop time increased from 55 to 80 minutes, which still isn’t long enough for all we want to accomplish. With the increase in time, however, came added responsibilities. No longer would I be teaching reading by itself; now I was adding writing workshop to the mix. To make the best use of my time, I decided to create units that would fit in both reading and writing and simply focus on one subject a day. That would give plenty of time for a minilesson, some guided practice, and the independent work time where I could confer and pull groups.
I thought my students were being very productive. I thought it was going smoothly. I thought, I thought, I thought.
Sometimes it takes another person stepping in for you to see what has been right in front of you. For me, that was having a substitute in my room while I assessed students for our beginning benchmark across the hall during our second week of school.
Imagine my surprise when I glanced out the door to find the same student at the water fountain several times during a single class period. Or when I entered the room to select another child for assessment and realized the same students’ faces were lit up from the glow of an iPad and had been each time I entered the room. The final straw was seeing the same girls leave to head down to the library that I knew had gone the day before.
I clung to the hope that this was a one-day phenomenon—boundaries being pushed because a substitute was in the room. But the next day I discovered that it was not an isolated event. Sure, the majority of the students seemed to be reading and writing for their independent work time, but a good chunk of each class was wasting time. I questioned what I could do.
Putting the Onus on Students
I wanted to make sure that I gave the responsibility of managing their time to the students. Although some students were not making good use of their time, I didn’t want to dictate what they were to do. I wanted them to see where they were going wrong. Students can be taught to reflect and make good choices. Looking at my class, I think I had given them too much freedom with not enough scaffolds for using time wisely. Enter the weekly reflection sheet.
I handed this sheet out the Monday after my week of observations, and we had a conversation. I was honest about what I had observed the week before and explained why I was concerned. I shared my hopes for our year together, and we had a great discussion about why certain behaviors (using the iPad the entire time to be on Twitter, or constantly leaving the classroom) do not help us achieve our goals.
We went over the chart together and made sure each child understood how to add their data. If you didn’t blog, for example, you simply put a line in that box for the given day. If you were on Twitter for 15 minutes on Tuesday, you put a “15” in that box.
I allowed a few minutes at the end of each class for the students to fill out their sheets. Then, during a weekly share session, I asked them to discuss what they noticed about their own use of time over the course of the week.
As I moved around during their share time, I noticed students became much more reflective as the week progressed. They would point out that a classmate was tweeting, blogging, or on Audioboo each day and it was cutting into their reading time. I heard students explain that their writing time had been short the day before, so they focused on getting a lot of writing in the following day. They began to budget their time better. I added the “Homework finished?” column to give the students the responsibility of writing late if they forgot to do their homework from the night before.
When our first week of reflection was over, I asked the students what they thought. Did the simple sheet change their behavior? In each class, the answer was a resounding yes. Students shared how they hadn’t realized they were losing so much time before, or how they got much more done this week than they had the previous one. With results like that, we decided to keep the sheet as part of our workshop structure.
As the year progresses, I will watch my students. I am sure we will reach a point when the sheet might not be needed anymore, or maybe it will be able to become a choice—a scaffold that is available if you need it, but isn’t required. For now, as we establish new habits, our weekly reflection sheet allows my students to use their time wisely and reflect on their reading and writing lives in our classroom.