The Evolution of My Reading Workshop Practices: Mini-Lessons and Lucy

This past year wrapped up my 5th year as an elementary teacher. One area that I have begun to see me stretch and grow in is how I teach literacy. I'm going to preface this with the fact that I am well aware I'm not a perfect reading teacher. I've done practices that are probably not the best (which I will get into later). I've fallen victim to wanting my test scores to reflect the hard work being done in class. There was a time when I didn't let students take home books from my classroom because I was scared I wouldn't get them back. So know that in this post, you won't see me getting up on my soap box and telling you to, "Do it differently, NOW!" Because I didn't always.

I'm not necessarily proud of those moments, but I know where they came from and can say that since then, I've grown in my practices. I also know that this will continue as I learn more myself. I'm grateful to the blogging community as they have been helping to guide me towards professional learning books to challenge my thinking and my practices and help me voice these in my classroom and school.  I'm becoming more passionate about it and have realized that there's quite a few things in our schools that I don't agree with, yet have very little control over. For today's post, I'm sharing 2 of the 5 things I have had control over that have helped me evolve in my literacy block. Check back later for part 2 and 3 of this post.

1. Making My Mini-Lessons More Mini Made a Huge Difference

A few of my favorite reads and resources                   
When I shortened my mini-lesson to truly be mini, I had more time for other important components of our reading block. How did I make it shorter? Well I stopped expecting mastery! I used to think that I had to introduce a new skill or strategy in a mini-lesson, model, practice, and expect students to master it and move on. Yes, naive I know. Now, it's a more focused time, still some modeling and/or partner practice, but then we use our small group time to do a bit more practice with it over time. Mastery builds and students get more time to read. I used to do mostly guided reading, but have learned (thanks Jennifer Serravallo) the power of strategy groups and have been implementing 2-3 targeted groups a day. See my post on this a bit more here. Lastly, I was a teacher who leveled my whole library and color coded groups of levels to help guide my students. I told them their levels and hoped that they would use that pick just right books. This was (and still is) expected at my school. I've moved away from that practice as it has steered my students away from reading. I still have books from the past that have levels on them, but now, when I get new books, I don't add the level. I try not to tell students their level, although they ask because it's common practice at my school for some to share these with students. Now, they select books that are interesting and relevant. I need to trust they will pick texts that are within-reach. I need to guide them, but not restrict. In the future, I hope to have students not only self select but also push themselves to try other genres and titles they may not think of trying at first.

2. I Found a Way to Make Lucy Calkins Fit Me

To use Lucy's words, I was a bit of a curmudgeon when I started using the units of study. I blame part of this on being a new teacher given a curriculum that is pretty loose in guidance and that the general feeling around the building was that it wasn't concrete enough for our diverse learners. Little did I know that that is one of the things I would admire after working with it for a while. I hear about those who are required to use a basal or other reading curriculum that is so scripted that it gives no freedom to teachers or students and it makes me very appreciative to get to use the TCRWP. However, when we adopted it, we were given a binder of the narratives. It was very laborious to pull out teaching points and my team and I often wondered if we were doing it right. I also couldn't stand some of the language she used. It was not how I talked to students, so when I would try, it felt so unnatural.
Making charts interactive in some way is important to me. Typically I start with a header and add student responses as we go or add post-its. They reference them more and actually "anchor" the learning (hence the name). If I don't have time during the mini-lesson, I record them while students share and then add them later and we go over the final product during our share.
Luckily, my school has stuck with it as TCRWP has heard the teachers' pleas to improve and last year, we got the latest units of study and I love the new additions and layout. There's a ton of resources on-line that I'm forcing myself to explore and use. She's still a little too fluffy for me in how she describes things so I make up my own analogies that are more fitting for me and my students. My next steps include trying to make it accessible to all my students, as last year, I didn't have an EL cluster and this year I will. I know that I'll need to be incredibly mindful and provide proper scaffolding so that all students can access what TC is demanding. I'll also need to continue to advocate. We have to do a historical fiction unit, which I am very worried about as the only HF book club books we have are all very high reading levels that many of our students will not be able to use. If we are going to do the units as planned, we will need the appropriate materials. Lastly, I'll need to be enthusiastic about the units and encourage others who are full of doubts as I once was to give it a fair chance.

As I was writing this post it kept growing and growing so I thought I'd stop here. In part 2, I'll share about the evolution of the use of a reading log... oh reading logs. In part 3, I'll share about my classroom library and seating (which may be released closer to the start of the school year... we'll see though).

Have you noticed any shifts in your reading block and practices? I'd love to hear them!



  1. I have to admit I giggled a little when you said you're not a perfect reading teacher. I finish year 11 tomorrow, have many degrees in language arts/ESL and National Board certification in literacy and STILL know I am not a perfect literacy teacher 😊

    1. You have WAAAAY more expertise on this than me and should share your knowledge!! I had to add that as I know that when I reread this post 5 years from now, when I am close to your 11 years of experience, that I will have changed even more (hopefully for the better...but ya never know) "Best practice" changes and I just want others to know that where they are now can change a lot in a short span of time, but you'll never be done growing. Thanks for sharing!

  2. My school is departmentalized and I have taught math for the last three years. I finally get to teach reading next year and I am so excited! Thanks for this post because it really helped me have a fresh perspective and gave me some great ideas about what to do next year. I have 11 years experience but I know that I need new ideas to be effective. Look forward to your next post!

  3. Great post! It's fun to look back and see how we've changed over the years. I'm starting to plan for next year, and reconstruct my literacy block, with reading workshop being the focus. I love how you've shown the before, during and after of your thought process. We don't have the Units of Study (yet-I believe we're headed in that direction, but I don't know if we'll get them), so I'll be charting this course by myself-I love seeing your process. I'm looking forward to your next posts!

    :) Kaitlyn


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