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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Scheduling for Literacy Success in Middle School

One question I get asked a lot is: How does your school make it work at the middle school level?  How are you able to have time for Reading Workshop, Writing Workshop, AND Guided Reading?  Well, my answer to that is we are EXTREMELY lucky with our schedule.  Teachers at my school have fought to have a "middle school" schedule over a "junior high" schedule in a modified block format.  This also means being able to concentrate on three classes throughout the day versus five.  We set up our schedule so that two teachers form a "house" where one teacher teaches the Language Arts and Social Studies while the other teaches Math and Science.  Between the two teachers, they share approximately 50 students which sure beats the junior high schedule we can one year when I had 125.  With guided reading and using data to drive instruction, it's quite obvious that a teacher has a much better chance at successful instruction when they have less students and more time.  Math and Language Arts blocks are 90 minutes long and Science/Social Studies blocks are 50-60 minutes depending on the grade level.  Teachers teach Science for half the year and Social Studies for the other half.  We definitely had to get creative and the math-minded people of our school spent hours putting together the puzzle pieces to come up with a schedule that would work for us.  Here it is:


Our Middle School Schedule


As a literacy coach at the middle school level, I have to get very creative with how I schedule myself as well.  Last school year I saw each of the 12 Language Arts teachers in my school for a literacy block once every two weeks.  It worked well for the first year, but now we are ready for something more.  I want to be as helpful as I possibly can, and in order to do that, we are going to try to create more fluidity between my visits.  I set my schedule up for the upcoming school year so that I block out team time for one grade level one week and coach the teachers within that grade level the following week.  This way, I can be part of common team time while teachers are planning instruction and distribute my time for the following week between teachers in that grade level.  As a coach, it gives me a much larger and clearer picture with what's going on in this grade level so that I can then in turn be the most helpful to teachers with coaching.  My schedule rotates on a four week basis.  Here it is:

My Coaching Schedule


I am also going to be teaching a section of 8th grade Language Arts next school year.  I know that I will have 80 minutes of instruction daily with my students.  Here is my tentative plan for how to use my time next school year:

Monday-Thursday:

  • Word Study/Other: Spelling, Vocabulary, Interactive Read Aloud, Self-Reflection, Etc. (10)
  • Writing Minilesson (10)
  • Independent Writing/Writing Conferences/Guided Writing (20)
  • Reading Minilesson (10)
  • Independent Reading/Reading Conferences/Guided Reading (30)
Friday:
  • Word Study/Other: Spelling, Vocabulary, Interactive Read Aloud, Self-Reflection, Etc. (10)
  • Poetry Workshop (30)
  • Reading Minilesson (10)
  • Independent Reading/Reading Conferences/Guided Reading (30)

When creating school-wide schedules, coaching schedules, and teaching schedules, I think the main thing that it comes down to is continuously asking yourself and your co-workers: Are we setting these schedules up in a way that will most positively impact student learning?  After all, that is our number one goal in taking the time to diligently set up a schedule that will best serve its purpose.  Another important part of making schedules is to constantly be reflecting and asking how a schedule could become more efficient.  Even if your middle school has a schedule that you're not thrilled with, it doesn't mean that you should give up hope.  Get creative and ask yourself how you can take the time that you do have with students to make a plan of how you will use whole group, small group, and individual instructional time.  Evaluate the schedule for points in the day where intervention time could be created for different groups of students.  Most importantly, have professional conversations with administration, board members, colleagues, and parents to advocate for what is best for the students in your school to see if positive change is possible in the future to get more instructional and intervention time for reading and writing with students.

I hope that this post was helpful to all you middle school people out there who are thinking about the best way to schedule your instructional time for next school year!

Kasey

12 comments:

  1. I love being able to see how other teachers break up their instructional time. How do you address the needs of your SPED students within that frame? I had SO many kids that required small group instruction, that I felt I had no option but to structure my whole block around that. I ended up doing daily centers so I could do small group teaching, but of course, that took time away from other things.

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    1. We do have Special Education teachers who push-in in a "team teaching" model during the literacy block if there are SPED students in that class who have an IEP for reading/writing. 30 minutes each day is dedicated to guided reading, and so between the SPED teacher and the classroom teacher, students are grouped homogeneously and groups that are further below grade level get met with more frequently.

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  2. “Are we setting these schedules up in a way that will most positively impact student learning?”

    You said it best right there. That's what most scheduling should come down to.

    I enjoyed looking at your 80 min LA schedule. I teach ELAR /SS and my partner teacher does Math /Sci. It works very well for 4th grade.

    I can't imagine having 5 or 6 periods a day. I'd end up hanging myself with my necktie. :D

    - @newfirewithin

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    1. Well in the case, Justin, I'm glad that you don't have that many periods a day! :) In middle school, I am thankful that that's all we have because in many surrounding districts with "junior high" schedules they have 8 to even 10!

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  3. I nominated you for a Liebster Award. Check out the info here! http://writeinthemiddleteacher.blogspot.com/2013/07/a-sweet-surprise.html

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  4. Thanks, Mandi! I'll go check it out now! :)

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  5. Kasey,
    I am a new Literacy Facilitator for my school district (I work with 5 buildings K to 8). What does your school use for mini-lessons? Our district is also using guided reading and leveling students, but some feel as if we should also be teaching Common Core units. How do you feel about this; I'm interested to hear your thoughts!
    :) Thanks!

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    1. Hi Jennifer,

      Wow! You must stay quite busy between five K-8 buildings! Our teachers develop minilesson statements based on student need as well as the CCSS. We view ourselves as a school using the Literacy Collaborative teaching framework and while developing minilessons to input into that framework that will expose students to the CCSS. I'm not entirely familiar with what the Common Core units entail. I know that some teachers are not as comfortable developing their own minilessons aligned with the CCSS as others because having the modules/units creates more structure and guidance for the teacher. For the teachers who are comfortable taking the initiative and using their best professional development, I've seen them personally developing minilessons based on the CCSS to be highly effective. Fountas and Pinnell's Continuum of Literacy Learning is a great resource leveled by grade that has been helpful in developing minilessons and having grade-level teams study the CCSS and developing ways to meat them through Reading Workshop and Writing Workshop has worked well, too!

      Kasey

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    2. Thanks Kasey,
      I appreciate your feedback. Philosophically we are attempting to switch and use more of the Literacy Collaborative, but it is hard for some to get away from the idea of "teaching CC at grade level." I saw so much growth in my classroom, that was mainly using the Literacy Collaborative, that I am trying to push learning in our district to take that path. Thanks for putting your blog out there; it's great to see how others are doing things! It also gives me something to concretely show to others that my ideas are not just theory...but can work in the upper grades!

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    3. Jennifer,

      Your school is lucky to have you! It really seems like you're moving your school in the right direction. Students need to be looked at as individuals, not just CCSS at a grade level. There are obviously students below and above grade level too who need differentiated instruction. Good luck to you this year! If you can keep spreading the word and modeling positive results, others will follow!

      Kasey

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  6. Kasey,

    I really enjoy reading your blog; you have many wonderful ideas. I am wondering though, how do you fit reading conferences AND guided reading groups all into one week? I don't see how you could do both in just 25-30 minutes each day.

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    1. I don't have time to do both every day. It is one or the other. However, during that 25-30 minutes allotted for independent reading/writing about reading time, I make sure to be alternating between the two.

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