Book Clubs in the Middle Grades

Some of us have been working on figuring out how the whole partnership thing will work in the middle grades here.  There seems to be a ton of information about the little guys and an equal ton of information about the older grades.  But that middle space is still a little bit like being at sea in a small, lonely boat.

These students are too old and too sophisticated for the simple partner reads of The Daily Five. But at the same time, they don’t seem to have quite enough experience yet for full blown Literature Circles to feel productive either.

So — if this describes your dilemna — here is the summer “must read” for you:  Reading for Real by Kathy Collins focuses on the realities of reading clubs and partnerships in those middle years.  She provides:

  • specific suggestions for planning cycles of reading clubs;
  • detailed charts with a variety of teaching ideas that can be implemented immediately;
  • ideas for mini-lessons and examples of reading conferences to support students as they learn strategies and hone their reading and discussion skills;
  • suggestions for differentiating instruction;
  • support for launching and fostering reading partnerships across the year;
  • appendixes with examples of note-taking sheets and sample planning guides for several kinds of reading clubs.

(yep, I copied that straight from the Stenhouse site!)

And the best part is:  right now the entire book can be read online as a PDF file.  This is one of those things that I adore about Stenhouse.  You can download the PDF into your computer and read it on the screen before deciding whether or not to purchase the book.  (I ALWAYS seem to end up purchasing the books because I want to highlight, tab, make notes and generally use the text in the school on a regular, daily basis.  But I love have the freedom to make an intelligent, informed decision.  And I love being able to read and begin to think about the concepts and ideas even before I have the book in my hot little hands)

Summer Reads: Franki Sibberson

You all know that I adore Franki Sibberson’s work with “middlers” – those kids who are already readers, but not yet sophisticated in their reading.  In our school this starts somewhere in second grade for most of our kiddos and continues right through fifth grade.

Many of you read Franki’s book Still Learning to Read .  She does a beautiful job of describing her third grade classroom.  I know that many of you used her work with organization and notebooks from this book.  She also has a “first six weeks” section in the book.  It is from her work that I get my autumn mantra “slow it down, slow it down, slow it down”.  This book is filled with booklists, ideas and quirky little things that make teaching the middle grades that much easier and more fun.  If it hasn’t been on your reading list already, make it a “must read” for this summer.

When you come back in the fall, remember that we have the video that she and Karen Szymusiak made that goes with the book.  We can plan a video party in the fall again this year.

If you’ve already read Still Learning to Read, I want to recommend another Franki Sibberson book to you.  Definitely check out  Day to Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop. In this volume, Franki will share with you how she balances district requirements for assessment with the information gathering that she needs and values for daily instruction.  Again, there’s a “first six weeks” section, but this time its filled with ideas for getting to know the kids as readers, and getting the instructional information that the teacher needs in the Reading Workshop.  There is an assessment web on page 60 that is nothing short of brilliant.  What I wouldn’t give to be able to use this concept when we’re bringing students to SAT.  It gives the entire literacy profile in one easy to grasp graphic organizer.  I would think this would be an invaluable organizer for report card conferences also.

Check here for a review of this book by a sixth grade teacher.

Notes from Our Fall Conferring Workshop

Conferring in the Reading Workshop


A good conference will be

√ Focused — you choose an area and work on it. You cannot ask a million questions
√ Brief —- you need to be in and out in a matter of minutes
√ Accountable — there is follow up action for both the child and the teacher
√ Progressive — conferences in the later part of the year should be built upon the work that was done earlier in the year.

A Record Keeping System:

(We’re going to show you one that we think is a good one. You can devise your own, if you prefer…. But you must have a record keeping system)

Protocol for a Conferring Record Keeping System

√ It must have separate information for each child
√ It must collect information cumulatively. At any point in time, the entire body of previous conferring notes needs to be readily available.
√ It must set goals and accountability actions
√ It must reflect the logical progression of teaching over time.
√ It must provide the data to drive small group instruction (guided reading groups or strategy groups


a. Calendar — set appointments with children
b. Keeping Track grid (class list style with dates of conferences only)
c. Strategy Groups
d. Divider tab for each child
i. Reading conference form with goals

√ Teachers will establish a record keeping system for their classroom that meets the protocol.
√ Teachers will begin conferring with children and keeping records of their conferring

Music, Music, Music

Those of you who visit the Reading Room often comment on the quiet music playing in the background and on the mood it creates for those of us working in the room. Music is funny like that — it sends a subtle, subliminal message about behavior, about stress levels, about emotions and about what’s going on in the room. Imagine if you walked into the Reading Room and heard something like Great Balls of Fire. That would certainly set a different tone, wouldn’t it??

Quite a few of our older students (who have experienced my quiet music in the working environment) will request the music during testing sessions. It breaks the heavy silence — and that seems to break some of the feeling of pressure that kids feel during testing times. It also masks the distractions of the background noises from the hallway and the playground.

Some of you have asked about the music that I play and about how I do it. I am an IPod fanatic. I love being able to carry around a ton of music in a gadget smaller than my cell phone. Mine goes everywhere with me (just ask my husband). It carries books on CD, music for just about any occasion, my French lessons (thank you, Laura) and a bunch of other stuff. I simply connect my Ipod to a docking station in my classroom (a simple gadget you can buy at Marshalls, drugstores, Bed Bath and Beyond, and all sorts of other places. I’ve also done this with a simple CD player and CDs and by inserting the CD into the computer to play. The sound quality isn’t so great through the computer, but it works okay.

The music I generally use is by Tim Janis. He is a New England artist who composes and records his own music. Our own Katie D’Angelo used to play cello with him! You can find his music here (fair warning! the music begins playing as soon as you open the webpage).

I was also intrigued by an article on the Choice Literacy website about music for classrooms and for Literacy Leaders. You can read that article here (assuming it remains in the public section of the website. Otherwise, you’ll need a password to get in) They’ve created an Itunes playlist of all of the music from the article. You can buy the whole set for just under $40 on Itunes. They’ve left you a link at the bottom of the article — or I’ll set you up with a link here.

New Classroom Organizing Book

This looks like a must-read!! Especially for those of us who really got into the whole Trading Spaces: Classroom Edition last summer.

Debbie Diller is doing some amazing classsroom makeovers. She’s written a book about the process. Right now, one chapter is available online at Stenhouse. You can read for free. You can even download and save it for future reading. The only thing you can’t do is print it (that would be a copyright violation, now wouldn’t it?).

This is certainly a summer reading idea — sort of like reading a decorating magazine about classrooms (hmmm, wonder if that idea would sell?). It will definitely be in my bookbag this summer. If you don’t get to it yourself, you can stop in and visit and browse mine in the fall. But at least take advantage of the free preview from Stenhouse.

Debbie Diller has also got some terrific photos on her blog. You can see the before and after shots of some common areas of the classroom and how she organizes and thinks through making them more beautiful and more useable.

Don’t forget that Choice Literacy has some of the classroom makeovers from the Sisters as part of their archives.

Phonological Awareness: Music Downloads

You all know that I love Between the Lions from PBS for building phonological awareness and early reading skills.  How great is this??? Between the Lions now has some free MP3 downloads that you can drop right onto your IPod or onto the school computer via ITunes (Itunes is already loaded in the applications on the school computers at our school).  This might make some really neat transition music in the Pre-K, K and First Grade classrooms for September.  It might make for some silly sing-a-longs for community  building.  Its just plain fun — and it builds phonological awareness at the same time.  How much better can it get???

Between the Lions website also has games that the students can be playing over the summer to ensure they continue their skills.  The site will also read stories via the computer.  The website if kid-friendly and loads of fun.  It can keep a kid occupied for quite some time during the summer months (hint, hint).

For those of you who are addicted to TiVo, Between the Lions is a television broadcast by PBS that is a part of their regular programming.  Try saving it for your little ones to watch later — or saving it for use in your classroom in the fall. Watch a video clip here and find out what all of the fun is about.   You can find the schedule here.

The Sisters Do It Again!

For those of you who are devotees of the Sisters and their Daily Five or their CAFE Assessment system, there is good news!!

The Sisters have launched a new website The DailyCafe .  Like their friends over at Choice Literacy, they’ve chosen to go with a subscription site.  This means that you pay an annual fee for access to the materials on the website.  With Choice Literacy, this has been an extremely worthwhile investment.  I have had an annual subscription to their website for two years now — and I’ve never regretted the expediture (not that much, anyway).  The Sisters site is already live with over 60 video clips of the Daily Five and CAFE assessment in action in real, live classrooms.  The annual fee seems quite reasonable (I’ll be signing up!!)  For right now though, there is a lot of content that if FREE, FREE, FREE!!

Head on over and check it out, especially those of you who are still feeling your way around with the implementation of this in our reading workshop.

Remember the Minilesson??

The Architecture of a Mini-Lesson (adapted, as always!)

  • Explain how today’s learning fits within the  current unit of study


  • State your teaching point.  Literally, say “Good readers……..”
  • Teach just one thing
  • Choose just one way to teach — there are always multiple ways to show kids something.  For a mini-lesson to remain “mini”, you need to select just one way of teaching.

Active Engagement:  Try it out

  • Give every student the opportunity to quickly try or discuss what has been taught.
    • Do not call on individual students.  Everyone must have a go at this.
  • This is NOT an assignment.  This is students talking and sharing together, right there on the rug.
  • Students do NOT go off and do something.  Everyone is trying this out together, right there in front of you.
  • Listen in on student conversations and comment/provide feedback.


  • Restate the teaching point and connect it to ongoing independent student reading work. This only takes 2-3 sentences
  • Students may or may not immediately apply this teaching point during their independent reading time.

Our Expectations for implementing the Minilesson portion of the Reading Workshop:

  • record the teaching point of your mini-lesson each day
    • plan book is fine
    • some kind of a log works too
    • some other daily record keeping
    • maybe even have the kids keep notes!!
  • reflect after each mini-lesson and rate the lesson
    • how “mini” was it?
    • was your teaching point crystal clear?
    • did it stick to just one tiny thing?
    • did you model it?
    • did all students try it out?
    • did you restate the teaching point?
    • did you encourage students to apply the teaching point during today’s reading