by Sarah Picard
The Setting of the Story
I began this school year full of hope that my second grade students would become lovers of books and all types of text before the end of the year. This was my first year teaching second grade at a public school in lower Manhattan. The population in my classroom is roughly 40% Asian, 30% Latino, 20% African-American and 10% Bangladeshi. Most of my students live in nearby housing projects and all qualify to receive free school lunch. Looking at their first grade reading assessments, I could see that I had a wide range of readers and speakers of a second language in the class. All of my readers at level G or lower (see Fountas and Pinnell’s Guided Reading leveling information) were speaking Chinese, Spanish or Bengali at home. I knew that some dynamic teaching was going to have to take place. I was ready to research the best way to accomplish my goal, to do some research on my own, and to meet the state standards at the same time.
The Question and Rationale
According to New York State Second Grade Reading Standard 1, students should be expected to, “read one or two short books or long chapters every day and discuss what they read with another student or a group. Standard 2 address the component of reading fluency. Specifically, it notes that students should be expected to”independently read aloud from unfamiliar Level L books that they have previewed silently on their own, using intonation, pauses and emphasis that signal the meaning of the text.” Meeting these two standards with a range of readers was going to be difficult. I began with students ranging from Level C to Level L. See Appendix b for full class statistics. Meeting their unique needs was going to require an organized schedule of partner reading, individual conferences and flexible guided reading groups. I felt confident about my approach to each reader after meeting with my staff developer, but I began to wonder if my planning could be any better, and if student achievement would increase if I planned my reading workshop with another colleague.
Would our talk about both of our students help us get a better handle on the strategies each child controlled, and the strategies they needed to refine in order to meet these standards? It is not typical for teachers to work together in this way; to talk about individual students, to make decisions together and help teach each other’s students. But I wondered if these extra conversations would help both of us become better teachers and help our students achieve higher levels.
By the second month of the school year, I built a relationship with one of my colleagues in the second grade. Jenny and I began to talk about our children’s progress informally and I began to notice the comfort I felt in confiding in a colleague about the curricular decisions I was making for my students. I approached Jenny and asked her if she wanted to meet on Friday afternoons to talk about our children’s reading conferences and our flexible guided reading groups. She did not hesitate to join me on this journey of making our instruction more specific to the needs of the students.
I was inspired by some research already in print about conversations among teachers to increase teacher and student learning. In Sandra Hollingsworth book, Teacher Research and Urban Literacy Education: Lessons and Conversations in a Feminist Key (1994), a group of teachers met to take part in, “sustained collaborative conversation,” in order to better serve the needs of their students.
In addition, Japanese teachers have made a routine out of this collaboration model (Lewis & Tsuchida, 1998). The practice of collaborative planning is commonplace in Japan, and as a result, teachers feel less isolated from each other.
Lieberman and Miller (1999) propose that a school can be transformed through the power of these collaborative relationships. They write, “[pleer observation and consultation contribute to sharpened professional culture in which risks are encouraged, mistakes acknowledged, and learning scrutinized.”
I read through The Art of Classroom Inquiry (Hubbard & Power, 1993) to decide on the tools I would used to gather my research data. I wanted to record the conversations Jenny and I were planning to have on audio tape as well as take notes on our conversations. I also wanted to include my beginning data on my students reading, specifically my conference notes and their running records, ECLAS assessments, and report card narratives. Jenny and I would discuss these running records during our meetings, and as the year progressed they became our main tool for understanding what the children controlled and strategies in which they needed further development. I also decided to tape some of my guided reading lessons so I could watch to see if I was putting our conversation recommendations into my practice.
Jenny and I began our conversations by going through individual readers running records and making decisions about what they already controlled and what strategies we needed to address in a guided reading lesson. We started to notice trends in our classrooms. We noticed handfuls of children in both of our classrooms that needed help with a specific concept or strategy.
Jenny and I continued to meet throughout the school year. We talked at great length about the children and solicited advice from our staff developer as well. As the year continued, our groups changed and our teaching became more flexible. After each meeting with Jenny and/or Kerrie, I would plan my guided reading lessons with detail. I followed my notes from our conversations while planning and kept in mind each child’s most recent running record. When I videotaped my lessons I discovered that I needed to be more prepared for the unexpected miscues of the children. Thus part of my planning began to involve predicting which words or phrases may cause trouble for the children. I talked with Jenny about the prompts she I thought were appropriate for each group of kids. Having the support of another colleague was incredibly valuable as we were there to remind each other to make sure the students were doing the majority of the problem solving.
The conversations Jenny and I had about our children’s reading is not what most teachers do when they plan for children’s reading instruction. Nowhere could this be more true than in New York City where the constant teacher shortage makes it difficult for teachers to stay at the same grade level, in the same building. Jenny and I took time after our regular work hours to have these conversations, often staying late on Fridays to review the previous week’s work and plan for the next week’s lessons. It is a unique relationship, but I do believe can be duplicated by others. Some school policy recommendations follow.
- At the administrative and district level, teachers should be given the opportunity to have some collaborative teaching time during the school day. This time to talk about student progress is incredibly valuable. It may be difficult to convince teachers to give up their time after school hours to have these vital conversations.
- At the contractual level, teachers should be given the option to work and extended day with added time for this collaborative planning.
- At the classroom level, teachers should be encouraged to seek out collaborative relationships in their building.
- Also at the classroom level, teachers should group students in flexible reading groups based on authentic assessment, such as running records.