“Don’t you love having summers off?” I think that’s a phrase so many teachers hear and unless you are a teacher, you don’t really appreciate the irony. Please don’t misunderstand, I am grateful for summer break. That being said, it isn’t really a “break” from teaching. For me it is my time to recharge and reflect.
When I first began teaching in my current district over 12 years ago, I had my assigned mentor like all new teachers. But another “mentor” in our district was even closer to me — my mom. Her first advice was to keep a notecard each day on a silver ring. I wrote on a new notecard each day, reflecting on what went well, what could be improved upon, and how I would move forward. It worked wonderfully, and I’d recommend it to any teacher who wants to build a little reflection into each school day. The other advice I followed was to pick one subject at the end of the year that I felt needed to be tweaked and really study it over the summer, making it my “project.” That was such smart advice. In a self-contained fourth-grade classroom I could have easily been overwhelmed with trying to “fix” everything before my second year. Instead, every year I would start thinking in May about what subject was my weak spot. I would go to conferences over the summer to strengthen that area, buy professional books on that subject, and plan changes for the coming year.
While my teaching assignment has changed (I now teach only reading and writing to multiple groups of fifth graders), the process remains the same. I start by gathering professional books I’ve picked to read over the summer. I make notes. Then I look back at my reflections on what didn’t go well or what could be improved on from last year.
Changes for Fall
I know one thing that almost drove me to madness this past year was book responses. I love having the kids write letters to me, and I enjoy writing back to them. I first learned about this type of assessment in Fountas and Pinnell’s Guiding Readers and Writers (Grades 3-6): Teaching, Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy. I find it hugely beneficial to see how my students are reacting to their independent reading, but last year I had over 80 letters being turned in to me every Thursday. It was overwhelming to try and get them all back by Friday or Monday, just so we could turn around and do it again the following Thursday.
This year I am going to have the students turn in one letter a month. Each class will have a different week to write, so I can concentrate on only 26 letters at a time. The rest of the month I will have students respond to their reading in their notebooks by capturing quotes, sketching scenes, or adding a Voicethread or Animoto video on our iPads. I’ve created a rubric where students will indicate their response “format” for the week, and turn it in to me so I can keep track of their responses to reading. Finally, I will also be touching base during conferences to make sure they know what format they are choosing. I think my students will enjoy the freedom of having a variety of ways to respond to their reading, and I think some of my sanity will return so I am not dreading Thursdays and the mountain of response ahead of me.
Another area I considered this summer was guided reading and conferring. My reading class is taught in a workshop format. For the last few years we have been asked by administration to ensure we include guided reading as part of our reading class. My struggle has been how to include a minilesson, read aloud, and guided reading groups with each student every week, and still confer with each child several times in a week. This all needs to be done in the 55 minutes I have been allotted for each reading class.
Looking through my reading from the summer and reflecting on what matters most, I’m planning to have guided reading on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays, with the students who need the most assistance meeting with me more frequently. This format enables me to confer on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I will begin the year with this schedule, but may change it as I come to know the students and see what they need.
With 56 days of summer behind me and 30 left ahead, I am racing to cross more items off of my “to do” list. While summer is such a wonderful time, I feel the excitement and anticipation of a new school year building. And when people ask me, “Don’t you love having your summers off?” I just nod my head and smile.