Housecleaning is not one of my favorite chores, but it is necessary for my life to be organized (and for me to have some sense of sanity considering the pace of my life). Like my home, my classroom also needs to be organized. It is the key to my success as a teacher. I clearly remember my supervising teacher during student teaching tell me that "Organization is the key to success in this job," and though I didn't think much of it at the time, truer words were never spoken. Not everyone needs the same amount of structure or organization to be successful or even comfortable in their classroom, but I think that many teachers would agree that some amount of organization is vital. I have learned to take my skills as a good organizer and turn them into a very structured and literacy-filled activity called "Housekeeping." Housekeeping is a transition time from one subject to another. When we move from Science or Social Studies to Reader's Workshop, my classroom is buzzing with housekeeping activity.
The Benefits of Literacy Housekeeping
Housekeeping began because I saw a need in my students to prepare and organize their "literacy lives," before my instruction could begin. The materials alone (folders, book bags, journals, etc.) were a great deal for 4th graders to manage! I found that if they had just a few minutes to get organized, they would be more prepared to listen and ultimately learn more when I begin my instruction in the reader's workshop. It also allows me a few minutes to get organized myself, by listing goals and objectives, checking the materials for the lesson, and conferring quickly with a few students.
Housekeeping is an essential part of my reader's workshop classroom. It is the answer to so many "When do the children do that?" questions. It is its simplicity that makes it so magical. The children have come to depend on Housekeeping as a time to get organized and mentally prepared for the hard work of Reader's Workshop. They have also been able to learn who they are as readers, what are their habits and strengths, and who else in our class is similar to them. They develop habits as readers that will serve them well during their school years and into adulthood.
What is Housekeeping?
The Housekeeping portion of my Reader's Workshop takes place every day for approximately 10 minutes. This may seem like a long time to spend on a transition, but it is really more than a transition time. The activities that take place during Housekeeping have all been explicitly taught and modeled. The children are aware of the expectations during this time and look forward to it every day. Students are taking responsibility for their learning and reading by making choices during this time. When children feel empowered and in control, they become more invested in learning.
When it is time for me to clean my house, I will make a list of the necessary chores and errands that need to take place in order for my home to be set. Housekeeping in the Reader's Workshop classroom is very similar to housekeeping at home. Early in the school year I establish a routine of listing goals, objectives and activities for all lessons in all areas on the whiteboard. This visual representation of the lesson's agenda allows the students to focus their minds on the lessons we are about to begin, and to organize their materials for the lesson. Reader's Workshop lasts approximately 75 minutes in my classroom, and the first ten minutes of each workshop session is devoted to "Housekeeping." While I am listing our goals, objectives and activities on the whiteboard, the children are completing a number of independent literacy-based activities. A list of these activities are provided to students during the launching unit of Reader's Workshop, and throughout September and October I model and guide them as we practice each of the housekeeping tasks.
The language used in the list becomes a natural part of our classroom jargon. For example, some teachers have a "Traveling Folder," which goes back and forth to school each day and contains important papers, like notices and homework. Other teachers call it a "go-home folder." The language used in the housekeeping list is the jargon of my classroom and once learned, like the traveling folder versus the go-home folder, it becomes second nature to the students. How to complete a specific task, like putting a pin on our literacy map, is also taught during the launching unit. I find that a little bit of "housekeeping" instruction daily in the early weeks of the launch, goes a long way in fostering independence in my students. It enables them to be prepared, on-task, and focused at the start of each Reader's Workshop for the remainder of the school year.
Some years an educational assistant is present to help those students who need more intervention in reaching specific reading goals and staying organized and focused during this time. Sometimes children want to talk to me about their reading during Housekeeping, either about their books, reading goals, small group follow ups, and I can get a few individual conferences completed as well. My role is to be the chief "housekeeper," but always available to students for support and guidance as they complete their individual tasks.
What Do Students Do During Housekeeping?
Each student has a list of activities in their journal that will enable them to be prepared for the workshop lessons. This list is provided to students on brightly colored paper and pasted into the focus lesson section of their reader's notebook during the launching unit of Reader's Workshop. The list provides students with all of the possible activities that can and should take place during Housekeeping. Not all of these activities take place every day:
1. If you finish a book, put a pin up on the world map showing the setting of the story.
2. If your setting does not take place on earth, put a pin on one of the genre posters surrounding the world map.
3. Update your reading log — remember to include the author's name and today's date.
4. Write an entry in your journal to Mrs. Williams when you finish a book (every time!) and put your journal in the basket. Use the journal topic list to guide your entry.
5. Put a genre sticker on your reading folder.
6. Open to the "Someday" page in your reading journal and be prepared for today's booktalk.
7. Add a book to your bookbag – remember to vary your reading diet.
8. Work in a small group on a reading goal or a question you have about your book.
9. Do the five-finger rule with a friend — remember to "clunk it" (check the vocabulary) too!
10. Ask Mrs. Williams quick questions about your book – talk about your reading!
11. Talk to other adults in the room about your reading.
12. Review your journal entries for progress on your reading goals.
13. Prepare for a book talk.
14. Work on an anchor chart.
15. Reread pages for "zoning" (independent reading) or for a read aloud.
16. Update your read-aloud journal.
17. Update your book count.
18. Get recommendations from others for books.
19. Read a picture book that you have been meaning to get to.
20. Reread the last few pages of our interactive read aloud so that you can remember what we were discussing yesterday about the book.
21. Review your read aloud journal and update any illustrations or open-ended questions.
22. Do a maintenance check on the library or sticker bucket.
23. Ask yourself – Did I do all of my housekeeping?
As I am listing the goals, objectives and activities on the whiteboard, each student is reading the board as they examine their materials (book bags, reading journals, reading folders, etc.), in order to prepare for the workshop session and to make decisions about those materials based on the goals and objectives of the lesson. Each student is responsible to know how to organize his or her time and activities based on discussions in small-group conferences and individual conferences. Conferences with students allow me to help them set goals not only for their reading, but for their daily reading routines as well.
Students vary their housekeeping chores during this time. They may be filling their book bags with new books, working on a journal entry, updating a reading log, or working on goals that have been established during a reading conference. It is a time for children to prepare a book talk for the class, or meet with a small book group. Some children use this time to track the settings of their books on a world map with individually assigned push pins, or to add genre stickers to their reading folders. Some children "five finger" a book with a partner, or check on the vocabulary in a book with a partner.
Once a week, students count their books to report their totals for our weekly book counts. In some instances, students will use the time to complete activities that we have been working on during our interactive read aloud or in small groups. To the untrained eye, it may look a bit chaotic, but after close examination it is clear that the amount of meaningful work taking place is incredible! The children are on task, engaged and fully independent.
A timer set for two minutes signals the end of Housekeeping and the need to move into Reader's Workshop. At the end of Housekeeping, students prepare for a daily booktalk by turning their journals to a "someday page," to track potential book titles for future reading. Twice a week I take a "status of the class," to keep track of individual progress in reading. On status days, students have a few more minutes to organize their journals and reading logs while seated at their desks, and anyone who had been working with an educational assistant can prepare for the upcoming lesson. It is a time to refocus quietly in preparation for the rest of the Reader's Workshop.
Until Tomorrow . . .
Maintaining an organized home is a challenge, and some days are messier than others. Organizing and preparing for Reader's Workshop can be a challenge, and some days are messier than others as well. But once students begin tackling the "chore list" and everyone takes responsibility for their work, the results can be amazing.