Thursday, February 6, 2014

Daily 5 and CAFE at Wascana School

I've had a lot of interest lately in the way that Daily 5 and CAFE look in our Middle Years classroom. This is an indication of some positive change in my opinion. For years, I've been telling people that, despite the fact that most of the materials surrounding Daily 5 and CAFE are published for an audience of mainly primary teachers, I believe that the philosophy behind it is perfectly suited for older children. This post is not intended to dictate the way that anyone else should be teaching ELA in their classes. Rather, it is just a brief summary of the philosophy and practices that work really well in our class.

Our daily routine starts immediately after lunch with a check in. During this time, the students choose what they will work on during Daily 5 that day. During a 1.5 hour period, our class runs three "rounds" per day. I hesitate to call them "rotations", as that would imply that I determine where each student will work, and when. I expect that all students will participate in Read to Self and Work on Writing every day, and that they complete every component of Daily 5 during the course of the week, but the students always determine when these tasks will occur.

When I began using the Daily 5 model, I made up the daily schedule for the class, but this isn't always appropriate for a middle years student. Sometimes, they just don't feel like reading quietly, and sometimes they don't have anything to write about. I have found that, even though they are still doing the same tasks, allowing them to have the choice results in a much bigger "buy-in" from the students on a daily basis. Besides, is it ever a bad thing to allow a little independence for our students?

Checking In

The check in process is extremely fast, and consists of the students placing three labeled name tags onto task bars that have been divided into columns to show three rounds. Generally speaking, the students are done their daily check in before I have even finished my attendance for the afternoon, and it is much more streamlined than models I have used in the past! As well, the visual organization of the check in wall makes it very easy for the students to understand, and allows me to get a quick glimpse of how many students are working on a certain task at any given time. This is handy when I want to limit the number of people in a group due to noise concerns or availability of technology.

Whole Group Instruction

Following our check in procedure, I lead the class in a short mini lesson. The topic of this lesson is usually determined by trends I have seen in their writing, such as punctuation concerns, use of dialogue, or paragraphing. I try to keep these lessons extremely brief (~5 minutes) and a little on the humorous side. I also try to use as many direct examples from student work as possible. During a standardized assessment time, we will also use this time to review important aspect such as how to use a graphic organizer on a test, a discussion about the rubric for the assessment, or a whole class review of a featured strategy.

Daily 5 in Motion!

Following the mini lesson, I always give the students the same script:

"Who knows what they are going to need to be successful in round one?"

I say this very deliberately for a few reasons. First of all, it is entirely possible that their 11 year old brain has legitimately forgotten what they chose to work on in any given round. Secondly, I want us to base our successes on individual chunks of time. Sometimes, particularly in the school I work at, we have periods that are less than perfect. There are disruptions that exist in every school, and it is important to remind the students that a minor hiccup in routine is not going to prevent us from being successful in the next round. We always have the opportunity to get things back on the rails!

During the first round, I usually "migrate" from student to student. I choose not to run strategy group meetings during this round, as this is the block of time with the most distractions - by far! Between logging on to computers, students leaving to go to the washroom, dealing with issues from recess or the lunchroom, this first 30 minutes can be a very busy time, and not terribly conducive to running a small group strategy meeting. Instead, I just wander. I chat with students about the book they are reading, or the progress they are making in their writing. I listen to students as they read to one another, or have them read directly to me. I give reminders about the importance of "Good Fit" books, or make recommendations for books to read next. I would estimate that, even with the distractions that occur every day, I am easily able to chat with twenty or more students during this first short round. My wandering has actually become a favourite activity of mine, as these chats allow for great assessment opportunities.

Transitioning Between Rounds

Transitions can be a dangerous time for Daily 5 at any grade level, as any positives from a great first
round can quickly become eroded by noise and confusion. To combat this, I use a Time Timer in my class. Every day, following the first and second rounds, I tell the students that I am putting two minutes on the timer and that, at the end of those two minutes, they are expected to have started their next task. I also make a point of talking them through their transitions. I give them reminders to save their work on the computer, safely eject their flash drives, close any apps that they used, clean up game materials, put away headphones, etc. I find that by doing this, the opportunity to start a conversation doesn't even exist because "the teacher won't stop talking!"

Small Group Meetings

The students sit in groups of four in my class, and during the second and third rounds of Daily 5 each day, I meet with these groups for small group meetings. The topic for these meetings come directly from the CAFE menu, and I rarely have to adjust the teaching component much from the outlines in the Two Sisters' book. I begin the meeting by telling the group what strategy we will be working with, and what type of strategy it is (comprehension, accuracy, fluency, or expended vocabulary). I always make a point of asking why they think this is a useful strategy and if any of the students can remember using the strategy before. Often times, I have the students come to a meeting with a good fit book from their book box, but I will also frequently use a collection available at our school, such as Literacy in Action or Boldprint.

I am always impressed by the level of thoughtful discussion that comes out of these meetings. My students learned long ago that they could not get away with attending a meeting and not contributing, and now they are usually eager to make themselves heard. I also like to keep my groups as diverse as possible. In my experience, working with small groups that are constantly based on ability groupings allows little opportunity for students to move up in the their world. We have a climate in our school in which everyone understands that no one learns the same way, and the students are extremely respectful about the strengths and challenges of their classmates. I have yet to see an issue where a strategy I am teaching from the CAFE menu is too simple or challenging for any of my students.

Thanks for your interest, both in this post and in making positive changes to the way your students learn! If you have any comments or questions, please post them below or tweet me @MrHExperience

Celebration in Rider Nation!

To help us get ourselves prepared for the 101st Grey Cup game, our class turned our PWIM routine into a reflection of everything we know about our beloved Riders. I was pleasantly surprised by the ways that the students were able to push their vocabulary and look beyond the images in some cases. During the activity, we talked about parts of speech (verbs, nouns, proper nouns, etc.) and types of words (compound words, etc.), among other things, and this always helps us to understand our complex language a little better each time.