This summer, I was really excited. I was told when I was hired at my new school that this group of students was amazing. They were hard workers, and did really well in reading. I thought I was getting to put into place the Reading Units of Study (RUOS) in my classroom. These are amazing lessons to get kids where they need to be and to do the thinking work that is required of them. I had roughly sketched out my first two units. I was excited, happy, and totally prepared. Well, good plans were just that, plans.
Silly me, I hopefully assumed, that we were speaking that same language. Unfortunately we were not. Where I am now looks heavily on reading rate, as a basis to how well students read. So I have two very full classes of speedy word callers without hardly a clue as to what they have read.
The RUOS make an assumption that most of your students are somewhat close to reading on level with comprehension. After all, the mini lesson is used for teaching what most of your kids need to learn next. So what happens when most of your students (about 70%) are about two years below grade level?
If I continued with what I had planned, how responsive would my teaching be to my students’ needs? It probably wouldn’t stick as they are not ready for it. I could continue teaching and hope for the best, but may notice behaviors increasing as the learning is not relevant to what most of my students need. I would be spinning my wheels and not really getting anywhere quickly. I could choose to do continue with my plan…OR…I could choose to abandon my unit.
Abandon a unit plan that I knew was incredibly awesome? It’s not an easy decision. That’s for sure. It was hours of hard collaborative work I put in. Hours. I think of lesson and unit plans similarly to just right books. We don’t want them too easy, or we won’t grow, and we don’t want them too hard, or we’ll get frustrated and won’t grow. We want to do most of our work just ahead of where most of our students are, so we can get the most impact and learning. The plan I had wouldn’t allow that.
As hard as it was to let that work go, I thanked what was right in the situation. I have an amazing unit to use at some point with my students, or students in future years. The work will pay off at some point. I was glad I had all my running records done and I knew my students well enough to know that this plan was not going to work. I had to abandon it for the sake of their learning. After all, it’s not what’s best for me. It’s what is best for my readers.
Abandoning a unit is hard. I’m not talking about abandoning the genre of the unit. For example, I’m not talking about taking a unit on fiction, and changing it to a unit on expository text. I still need to teach fiction. I am just going to teach where my students are. The many pieces data from my running records and comprehension conversations support this move.
My students have trouble following the plot, let alone doing character work. So I began where they were, plot. I used my resources to help me as I hate recreating the wheel when someone else has already done that work. I used the Continuum of Literacy Learning (the new edition is amazing) and The Reading Strategies Book. I had to look at what comprehension behaviors my students were able to do independently (thank you running records!) and find what were the next steps. It was like planning for conferences and small group work, but on a whole group scale. So where did this new plan get my classes?
We just stepped out of some plot work and are moving into basic character work. Almost 75% of my students in fourth grade are beginning to work out character feelings. We aren’t even touching traits at this point. And guess what? My students are thriving. They are able to tell me about what is going on in their stories. They are starting to be able to connect to characters. They are being successful and are starting to find the magic in reading. And the ones that were already doing this work are getting pushed and taught in small group to meet their needs as readers.
This first hand lesson in responsive teaching reminded me of something I have said and thought many times. We teach children. That means our teaching has to be responsive to where our children are. We don’t teach awesome units and lessons that won’t really help our children. We don’t teach programs. We teach children. Abandoning my planned unit allowed me to do this. My students are better for it.