independent reading log · MindUp Curriculum

Changes, Changes, Changes

The first day back to school after a break is always hard. This is especially true if the vacation was a long one. First of all, not all of the kids come back at the same time and those that are present are either sleepy or just very quiet. And, even though I want to hit the ground running, that isn’t always advisable because I might not get the results I’m looking for if I do. So, the second day is always welcomed because it feels like my students and I just passed a test and we can breathe a sigh of relief. The first round is over. Now, we’re back in our groove. Nevertheless, I decided to try out a few new ideas I’d been reading about during the winter break. You can read about that here

First of all, I started doing some brief meditation exercises with a focus on breathing, relaxing and being quiet for just a minute or two. This is called the Core Practice in the MindUp Curriculum written by The Goldie Hawn Foundation and published by Scholastic. I think it has made a difference in my students’ attention and attitude in the classroom. 

During MAP testing last week, I had students meditate right before taking the reading and language usage tests and most students improved their scores from the fall, even if by just a few points. The only scores that were all over the place were the math scores; it did not occur to me to have them meditate on that day. Coincidence? Perhaps, but as we delve into this curriculum and my students learn about the importance of slowing down and being in the moment, I will be looking for more examples of how this simple practice is helping my 5th graders be more engaged. Some are already thinking about how to apply it on their own. During MAP testing, one of my students asked if she could stop and do the core practice (meditation) if she was feeling nervous or anxious. YES! One instance, but that’s all it takes. What I can say for certain right now is that since I started making this an established routine in my classroom I am calmer and more patient with myself and others. I can’t imagine my students aren’t feeling similarly.

Of course, there are always other variables that influence what we do in the classroom; there is rarely a direct correlation between one program or approach and the results we observe. Three of my students were absent on the first couple of days we did this, which may have had something to do with the mood in the classroom. Nevertheless, I think it was a positive start to the first week back after the break

And, of course, nothing ever goes smoothly all the time. Today, we meditated right before recess and a few boys started laughing before we were finished; they were not focused on their breathing. After I dismissed the rest of the class we discussed how although sometimes we find it hard to meditate, it’s important not to stop others from finding their focus. We talked about what they can do – move to a different spot, face in a direction away from distractions, etc. –  if this happens again so that we respect everyone’s space and time. Our talk wasn’t punitive, but I hope it impressed upon them the importance of what we’re doing. Tomorrow I will talk about how to get their focus back on breathing as a way to stay centered and calm. Look for updated blog posts in the next month or so about this. 

Another change I implemented was to give my students a new independent reading (IDR) log to keep track of classroom and home reading. They keep track of the time they spend reading and the number of pages they read in a day. This is not for accountability purposes. I have a mistrust of that word since it implies that somehow we’re not doing what we are supposed to do and we need someone to monitor what we are doing. While it’s true that some of my students are not reading at home and this is a way for them to do that, I don’t grade this log or berate them about it. Rather, I’m approaching it as a research study of sorts. We will be asking the following questions: where are you reading more? At school or at home? Why do you think that is? How can you increase your reading time at either place? How long does it take you to finish a book? Why do you think that is? What kinds of books are you reading quickly? Why do you think that is? Is this log helping you read more? What questions do you have about your independent reading development? How can we revise this log so that it is more effective for you and/or so that you can use it to answer any questions you have about independent reading? 

Although, there was some confusion at first about how to complete the log – there always is when implementing a new routine in the classroom – now my students are using this tool independently. 

Finally, I stood back and observed my students during independent reading. I took notes of what I observed during increments of five minutes for a total of 15 minutes. I am using this information for one-on-one and small group conferences. I will write more about this at another time.

The first weeks back after the Christmas vacation often bring some surprises: my students are maturing and settling into routines more effortlessly than at the beginning of the year. It’s a bittersweet feeling for me as June looms closer now than it did in August. We can really soar now, but it will go way too fast for my taste. As is usually the case, I won’t be ready to let this group of kids go at the same time that they’ll be ready to move on to middle school. And, as I look forward to the rest of the year I am grateful for the privilege of working with this particular group of kids at this time in their lives. 

Jennifer Serravallo · MindUp Curriculum · professional reading

Professional Reading

I did a lot of professional reading and thinking during the winter vacation. And, although I started writing this post before school started and am only publishing it now, it details some of my thoughts on this professional reading. This is a good exercise for me now that we’re about to enter our third week back to school and I’ve actually tried out some of these ideas in my class. This post is preceded by one tomorrow in which I describe in a little more detail how I implemented these ideas and what happened as a result.

(1) I am going to teach my students a 3-minute meditation practice during transitions. This is a precursor to implementing the Goldie Hawn Foundation MindUp curriculum that teaches kids about the brain and how to manage their reactions to a variety of daily events. I will do these 3-minute meditations for a couple of weeks before launching into the curriculum itself. This is the first time I’m teaching this so I’m a little nervous.

(2) I am going to try out yet another note taking system during conferences for reading workshop as described by Jennifer Serravallo in her books Conferring with Readers and Teaching Reading in Small Groups. It’s a very simple system, but I think it will quickly and easily capture valuable information when I confer with students. This particular form has two columns – “compliments I can give the reader” and “things I can teach the reader”. I can use this sheet multiple times by drawing a line under the notes I take for a particular day. I am going to adopt Serravallo’s coding system for keeping track of the compliment (C) and teaching point (TP) that I use with a child on any given day.

(3) I will be implementing many more games in math. I’m going to start by using some of the games in Marilyn Burns’ book So You Have to Teach Math? I am also planning to have my students write a math autobiography in the same way I will be doing a mid-year interest inventory for reading. Even though these are great activities for the beginning of the school year, I think they can also provide valuable information in the middle and at the end of the year.

(4) I am rethinking my assessment system in general as I read Serravallo’s book on how to teach reading in small groups. For example, Serravallo talks about asking the kids to keep a read aloud monthly log with space for kids to respond to a prompt that reveals their thinking. I have been looking for a way to engage my students in quick thinking events during read aloud and this may work out well.

(5) I am going to implement a daily Independent Reading Log (IDR) log so that students can keep track of their school and home reading. I suspect that some of my students are not reading at home. And, some of these same students tend to have low stamina for reading in school. I plan to address this issue during this month in a more coordinated and intense way. If I think it’s important for kids to be engaged readers then I need to take concrete actions to change some of these less than productive reading behaviors now. I have two students in mind that would benefit from more targeted conferences that teach them how to monitor themselves when they are distracted during independent reading. These two happen to be two of my most challenging students as well. Not behaviorally challenging, but in terms of attitude towards reading and writing. I think they’ve become so used to making themselves unobtrusive that they’ve been lost in the shuffle. I need to redouble my efforts with these two students.


How did you recharge over the break? What professional reading did you do or are you doing that will be making a difference in your classroom over the next few months? I would love to hear from you in the comments section.