Saturday, January 8

Breaking the Rules


I follow this philosophy:  If I wouldn’t shout it down the hallway in school; I don’t say it on my blog or on twitter.

I’m about to shout and I may summon the Reading Workshop Gods/Rule Makers/Police to come down on me in a reign of disappointment and anger.  I’m breaking one of the biggest rules…


(I’m taking a HUGE risk!  Here comes my secret…)

I’m teaching using a novel! 

Those that know me and follow my blog know I am more than passionate about Reading Workshop.  As a matter of fact, I threatened to quit my current school position if they didn’t let me switch to Reading Workshop!  I was determined to rid myself and my students of the dreaded basal and the mind numbing, useless and worthless multiple choice tests.  (Obviously, I work in a private school and I could make this threat.)

To me, the worst and most damaging thing we can do is force students to read the same story.  In the past, I was forced to use a basal that included stories that were boring, tedious and basically, turned kids off from reading.  Using the basal did not give them a chance to apply strategies and reflect their comprehension.  I need to have one-on-one conferences where I can engage with students. 

So, why am I contradicting myself?  Why am I teaching using a novel?  Why am I breaking the rule that everyone should have choices about what they read to foster a love of reading as well as build comprehension?  I’m a firm believer that requiring a student to complete endless worksheets about a novel will foster nothing but drill and kill hatred of the novel and maybe, even reading.

My approach is different.  Here’s what I’m doing.

In fourth grade, the students are required to spend the year learning about Pennsylvania.  The text book that I’m required to use is dry as dirt and boring.  I needed a way to make learning about the history of Pennsylvania interesting and engaging.  So, I developed an integrated approach to learn about the time period after the Revolutionary War and leading up to the Civil War.

I am reading Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson to the students.  Each student has their own copy and they read along with me.  Through this novel, I provide mini lessons each day on the comprehension strategies.  Rather than using picture books, we are reading the novel. 

Then, we are doing a wealth of project based learning activities. 
  • When the students returned from winter break they found the classroom had been transformed into a coffeehouse and each student had to assume the role of an upper class, middle class or lower class person in 1793. This led to reflective essays that they will record as podcasts. 
  • We are creating a radio station (WTSF 1793) to broadcast events from this time period. They are working on advertisements for different products/people that you would find in 1793. (For example, they will advertise Dr. Benjamin Rush’s method of bleeding to cure you of an infection.) The students came up with the idea to do a newscast as well as the radio station and use the video camera, but we are still figuring out if we can accomplish this. 
  • They are creating a giant mural of Philadelphia in 1793. They are using math and measurement skills to design the map that is historically accurate. 
  • The students will create “I Am” poems as if they were the characters in the novel.
  • All of the activities that we are doing are done cooperatively in groups or with partners. 
  • Concurrently, I am still providing mini lessons about informational text, and the students will be doing historial research projects about topics they choose. 
  • We will be taking a field trip that is a Walking Tour of Historic Philadelphia.
I’m admitting that I’m breaking the “rules” of Reading Workshop, but I’m confident that the students will not only enjoy this novel, they will learn in every area of the curriculum. 

So, I’m teaching using a novel. 
It is so much fun.
I hope my fellow Reading Workshop colleagues will understand.







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