Last week I shared many of the struggles I'm currently experiencing in Readers Workshop. Anytime I have problems to solve in my teaching, one of the first things I do is consult the "masters"/aka Go to My Bookshelf. I have amassed a collection of education volumes that I use as resources time and again. (Future blog post: bookshelf pictures and a list of my favorite go-to titles, if you're interested)
One of the first books I pulled off the shelf was The Art of Teaching Reading by Lucy Calkins. Typically, I get lost in the chapters of this book because there's so much wisdom in its pages. But this time, I went straight for the minilessons section (Chapter 5) because I was on a hunt for a list of mini-lesson topics I could include in my grade level plans. I'm searching for decoding mini-lessons that would be relevant for readers of all levels, so that they could apply the learning into their word work and guided reading activities during center time. I'm looking for what I'll call "umbrella topics", ones that fit all my readers needs, even with their broad range of word solving abilities. Did I find such a list in that chapter? No. But what I DID find was even more valuable-----perspective and a new way to think about mini-lessons.
Here are some of the gem quotes and insights I got from my reading:
"Whether we realize it or not, each of us, in our classrooms, authors a world and a story....The important thing to realize is that in our classrooms, as in any story, trouble can galvanize us to set off on a journey. ~Lucy Calkins"
"MLs are the best forum teachers have for pulling the class community together to take on a prob. ~L. Calkins"
"Minilessons may not be as powerful as Peter's magic sword and shield, or as potent as Lucy's vial of healing liquid, but they may be the best forum teachers have for pulling the classroom community together to take on a problem. They are a gift of sorts, a resource to draw on. With careful attention to the architecture of our lessons and an assertive responsiveness to our children's needs and goals, minilessons can turn classrooms into places where magic happens." ~Lucy Calkins
Here are my takeaways from that section/those quotes. Lucy Calkins, one of the leading literacy experts, actually gives us PERMISSION to screw up and have troubles within our workshops. She says that she usually dismisses teachers from trainings, saying "When you go back to your classrooms to try out these ideas, they won't work. There will be trouble."
Yay! It's so refreshing to hear acknowledgment that we'll have trouble as we implement and that it's okay and expected to not get it right the first time. In this age of electronic evaluations and high teacher accountability, it feels like we've got to be perfect in our instruction 100% of the time and that if something doesn't go smoothly, then that means we're not good teachers.
What she's making clear is that it's our role as teachers to carefully observe our students and guide them on their literacy journeys. When we notice they're having trouble decoding, or choosing the correct books, or finishing a book, or understanding what they read, then we gather them together and provide short mini-lessons to give them strategies and tools to use in their real life reading experiences. Mini-lessons aren't meant to be long teacher-driven demonstrations or explanations about activity directions (Here's How to Complete a Venn Diagram). Rather, our mini-lesson time on the carpet is when we gather as a class community to identify and tackle problems in our reading lives. This shows the students we care about their reading. This is responsive teaching. This is dynamic teaching. This is relevant learning. This....is magic.