Making the Most of Mini-lessons

I attended a great workshop by Krista Palmquist at the Boundless Readers Foundation today.  It was all about how to make mini lessons more effective.  I’ve been using reader’s workshop for many years now and truth be told, it’s not easy. Good teaching rarely is, but I love it and I  know it’s the right thing for my students.

Today’s workshop focused in on the cycle of mini-lessons.  Before attending we were asked to watch this short video of teacher Beth Newingham, a Scholastic Blogger, delivering a lesson to her class.  (This is a great video if you are just getting started with RW.)  We talked about the cycle of responsive mini-lessons and how we could use it to make sure that each lesson was really meeting our students’ needs. The key word here is responsive, a.k.a. lessons that meet the needs of the group of students in front of you.

The Cycle of Responsive Mini-lessons

Responsive Mini-lessons

  1. Determine Students’ Instructional Needs
  2. Create mini-lessons
  3. Implement mini-lesson
  4. Gather data/evidence of student application
  5. Reflect on teacher next steps

I suspect that many of us already use a similar cycle, but the trick is how often do you complete the cycle?  In order to really make your lessons responsive you need to go through the steps between each lesson, or at minimum every few lessons.  I can honestly say that I’m not sure I go through this cycle as frequently as I should.  How often did that stack of student work sit for a few days on the coffee table?  Too often.

One of the obstacles that our group discussed was how to gather data in an organized way on a daily basis so that we can move through this cycle.  Of course, experienced teachers can make some pretty educated decisions about what students will need based on knowledge and prior experience.  However, we must remember that every group of students is unique and they won’t always master a strategy at the same rate as a previous group.  Remember, we’re trying to make our mini-lessons more responsive.  That is why gathering evidence is so key.  Here are some ways that I plan on improving my data gathering next year.

  1. Implementing the Post-it record form as shown in the video above.  I love the way that it forces students to limit their comments and then reflect on them.  I don’t normally use post-it’s for independent reading books, ever.  But going forward I think I might occasionally ask them to use a short form like this to have them archive how they were applying certain strategies.  I also think it would help me to look at student thinking more often which will be a great way for me to improve my ability to be responsive.
  2. Exit tickets, while not a new idea, are a great tool and one that I think we “forget about” sometimes.  I’m excited to use Google forms and the iPads as a more streamlined and paper free way to collect this data but index cards work too.  I think they can vary from open ended questions to short assessments and they can be used in every subject.  A quick look at the tickets from the day will be a great way to gauge where students are at and be more responsive.
  3. Video think alouds where students record a short response to a question or text.  Sort of like a verbal exit ticket.  I played with these a little this year, but now that I will have better technology access I think I will try them out more.  These benefit students who express themselves better verbally than in writing and can provide additional insight into students thinking processes, thus making me more responsive.

Other ideas the group brainstormed were reading response journals, observational records, conferring with students, student self reflections, and student self assessment on a rubric for the lesson or day.

What things do you do in your classroom to make sure you are responding to students’ needs?

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