Thursday, November 10, 2011

Planning the Impossible

Hi everyone!

Sorry for the lack of posts this week, but it's been a crazy week.  In NJ, we have off today and Friday for the New Jersey Teacher's Convention, and of course Veteran's Day.  I'm not going to the convention, mostly because I brought enough school work home with me to fill those two days plus some.  There just isn't enough time in the day. 

This is how I was feeling as I worked on lesson plans this morning:


I know the nature of our job is that we bring work home to grade each night and do more grading, planning, and preparing over the weekends as well.  From day one as a teacher, I knew this was the deal I signed up for.  I was telling a friend about the crazy amount of work I bring home, and she said that that's why we have prep periods and we could work during our lunch if we really wanted to get our work done during the day.   And before you ask, yes we are still friends. :-)

I tried to explain to her how my prep period can be totally eaten up with just one parent phone call.  Or busy gathering work for my absent students.  Or playing peacemaker for an issue my friends may be having.  Or in a meeting with the principal.  Or in a meeting with the child study team.  Or working on an additional project that our PTO thought would be fun for the kids.  Rarely am I able to spend my prep time planning, grading, or preparing.  That happens, almost always during my lunch, and after school or at home.  As I said, I understand that's the nature of the job.   And while it seems I have had to bring more and more home than ever before, my real issue today is the amount of instruction we are asked to do within a time frame that doesn't expand.  It seems that we are asked to squeeze more instruction in our day with less time than ever to accomplish it.

Specifically, I'm talking about my literacy block.  I would love your feedback on this.  I have literacy instruction from 10:45-12:40 each day. 1 hour and 55 minutes.  Here is how my administration requires us to break it down:

10:45-11:15  Centers-This is where my friends work independently on center activities while I pull small groups. (30 minutes)
11:15-11:30  Word Works with the full class (15 minutes)
11:30-12:05  Writing Workshop (35 minutes)
12:05-12:40  Reading Workshop  (35 minutes)

To me, this is an impossible schedule.  You can't possibly do Reading and Writing workshops effectively in 35 minutes each. And  yes, we are expected to fit in all the components of each workshop in that 35 minutes. Notice too that there is no transition time built in to this schedule at all. I can't even squeeze any time out from either end because my friends are at special until 10:40 and then have lunch at 12:45.  To say my colleagues and I are beyond frustrated with this schedule is an understatement.

I bring all this up because this morning I have been working on plans for next week.  To date, I've been fudging my plans a bit.  I've been skipping centers some days to make more time for workshop or doing one or the other workshop on some days.  Not ideal.  So, today I thought I would plan following the rules.  It just doesn't work. 

This is where I would really appreciate your feedback.  Do you think 35 minutes for workshop is reasonable?  Am I out of line? What is your literacy block like?  Any suggestions on how to make this work?

23 comments:

  1. On the bright side, you have an uninterrupted block. I think 35 minutes for writer's and readers workshop is NOT enough time, particularly if you teach 5th grade. Have you ever heard of Daily 5 and Cafe? You might consider a series of 3 mini lessons per day...One for reading; one for writing and one for word work/vocabulary or spelling. After each whole group mini lesson, children select an area to work on while you pull small groups or confer. I would definitely rework that center time to extend reading and writing workshop!
    ~Kitty
    The Write Handed Teacher

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  2. Side note: I would keep my plans the same and not necessarily advertise to the powers-that-be I have changed my timing. Just close the door and do what works....
    ~Kitty
    The Write Handed Teacher

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  3. I teach in NJ too, and we have the same issue. Each year it gets worse and worse because more and more "research based" strategies and components are added. I flew to AZ to see my sisters and what am I doing? Writing lesson plans and creating teaching materials! I have really wanted to implement Daily 5 into my class, but I feel like some area always suffers, especially writing. A trainer for our new series told us that "reading" and "writing" include things like reading directions and writing answers to questions. I feel so guilty that students rarely have time for "free choice" reading...

    Miss B, Busy Bee

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  4. I try to do reading workshop in a little less than an hour, usually 45 minutes and it's still not enough time!!

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  5. I don't have any advice for you as I teach math, but just wanted to say that I feel the same way about never accomplishing anything during my prep! I tend to get to school early and stay late rather than bringing work home with me.

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  6. We don't do literacy centers anymore. During reading workshop we have the children read privately (15-20 minutes)and with a partner (10-15 minutes.) During that block I see guided reading groups, strategy groups, or confer with individual students. With the minilesson and share, this takes a good 50 minutes for first graders. Could you drop the centers and just do workshops? If you still want some centers, for word work, you could do a five minute whole group lesson followed by one ten minute center. This is how we are trying it this year and I am pretty happy with it. I am still totally swamped with the planning , but at least I am not dealing with preparing 6 centers every two days like I used to!

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  7. Do you still have read aloud at a different time of day? Maybe mold that until your reading crafting session. It may not be ideal, but could work. As much as I hate it (I love read aloud) I'm finding that it's not really necessary when teaching in the Reader's Workshop format.

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  8. I agree with you. 35 minutes is impossible. I was a Principal in Texas and we had at least 60 minutes for Reading and an additional 60 minutes for Writing and 30 minutes for Social Studies. We really felt that 60 minutes was too short - especially to include all components of comprehensive literacy. You may need to think of your schedule across the week instead of every day. Meet with your highest readers once/week and your striving readers daily - average 2-3 times. Centers on Tues/Wed instead of daily - it might help a bit.

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  9. We also struggle with our schedule. I've used the Daily Five for three years and it's been helpful in time management and small group instruction. We also try to meld any "whole group" or shared reading with our writing through the use of mentor texts. My struggle is melding all the components of language:grammar, sight words, spelling, vocabulary! Too many words!
    Alison
    thechalkboarddiaries.blogspot.com

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  10. You, my dear, are not alone in your thoughts! New Jersey sounds exactly like Texas! Same thing!
    Although your thoughts are valid, please vent here on line and whatever you do....DON'T SHARE THESE THOUGHTS WITH YOUR PRINCIPAL, LITERACY COACH, ETC. They are absolutely CLUELESS to your plight...Simply put, you will lose. Best advice, do as I do: CLOSE YOUR DOOR AND DO WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO! I simply pretend to honor the ridiculous time constraints and go home a happy camper each and ever day. :-) Cheers to the New Year!

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  11. Glad I am not alone. I am always looking for better ways to teach what I need to teach-especially as every year my reading ability spectrum grows (way more low readers). I also teach 5th and have some that came to me reading a level 6 (barely 1st grade) and some are reading a level 60/70! So hard to meet all the needs in such a short time.

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  12. I'm in the Southeast and we feel time constraints as well.

    Melly<><
    staplersstrategies@gmail.com
    Stapler’s Strategies for Sizzlin' Second Graders!

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  13. do you still need ideas? could you do one day as writing workshop for the 70mins (2x35min) and the next day do the reading workshop? you'd still be fulfilling the requirements your administration has for each element, but giving you and your kids a better allocation of time. Fridays (or whichever day you choose) would still have to be the two x 35 in lesson to even it up, but that may be more workable than what you have.
    (I don't have a blog to link to, sorry!)
    Donna in Australia

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    1. Hi Julie,

      I was going to suggest the same thing. This is what we do with our Lit. block in the middle school I teach at in Chicago. It seems to work well. Another idea (and you may already do this), but maybe try to tie the reading and writing concepts together so that maybe the writing workshop is an extension of the reading workshop and the mini-lesson is much shorter for the writing workshop - or vice versa with the writing workshop first and the reading workshop second. Is there flexibility to be able to do this?

      Thanks for all of the blog pictures and ideas! I found you on pinterest and I've been trying to "catch up" all afternoon! :)

      Katie

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  14. I stumbled across your blog through Pinterest, and this post caught my eye. I'm a literacy coach in Texas, and we too are trying to do more with less. I don't know who determines your schedule, but I would ask them to think about that center time. In my district, we suggest that literacy stations are phased out in the second half of second grade.

    I compare literacy stations to swimming lessons. While you are learning to swim independently, swimming lessons are mostly activity-based: blowing bubbles, putting your face in the water, holding on to the side to practice kicking, etc.

    Once you know how to swim, though, swimming lessons consist of exactly that: swimming. You get in the water and swim for long stretches of time, with the coach coming over to teach you a new stroke or breathing technique. Replace swimming with reading, and this is how I view the literacy time. By 5th grade, the majority of your kids know how to read independently, so they should be spending long stretches of time reading.

    Of course you know this, or you wouldn't be frustrated with your schedule! If I were in charge of the world (and your schedule), I would take your centers time and split it between your workshops so that each of them was 50 minutes long. This is still a time crunch, but it's certainly more do-able than 35 minutes.

    I know it's not as simple as this comment is making it sound. I wish you the best of luck!

    Julie from A Literate Life
    www.julieballew.com

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    1. Hi Julie. I so agree with you. It is very frustrating to have my friends in centers when I know their time could be better spent. Your comment is so timely. I couldn't believe it when I read it. I am actually planning on going to my admin. this week and asking if I can do independent reading in place of centers. I am really hoping they will agree. I really appreciate your thoughts. I wish you were in charge of the world! Or, at least my schedule! :-D I will let you know how my meeting goes. Keep your fingers crossed! And, thanks for reading my blog.

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  15. You're not alone. I teach in QC, Canada and I have one hour for English and one hour for math. ;-S I wish I could keep my kiddies for the entire day to accomplish what I need to, want to and is deserving of them. You seem to be very put together and your students are so lucky. When you are discouraged looked to them and let their energy and enthusiasm drive you! ;-)

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  16. Get rid of centers and do Reader's Workshop and Writer's Workshop 50 minutes each. Much more powerful.

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    1. I know that and you know that, but admin insists we do centers. Sadly, I have no say in this. Admin dictates the components of our literacy block and how much time we must spend on each. Our faculty has been pretty vocal on the lack of time to do it all, so we are hoping for some revision in our schedule for next year.

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  17. I completely identify with your frustration! I teach 6th grade literacy. We have the kids for approximately 60 minutes every day. I think higher ups have forgotten that literacy includes reading, writing, and spelling. 3 subjects in one period. I know what I should be doing with the kids...there simply isn't enough time. Personally, I believe the school day should be extended in order to teach our kids more effectively.

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