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On Baking, Precision and Knowing When To Get Messy...

I bake. Often. It is one of the ways I meditate, take care of myself and seek out joy. In my next life (or next phase of life?) I want to work in a bakery. Not own one, but work in one. I want to get smarter and more experimental. You see the reason I bake is that it matches my personality: follow the recipe, measure accurately, and you will be successful.

Last year my good friend and colleague, Kristi, sat across from me and said, “You should share that.” I was walking her through a schedule I made for one of my districts in New Jersey. It was my second year with the district, their fourth year with literacy consultants, and too many teachers were not meeting with kids during independent reading.

“Really? It seems too prescribed,” I hesitated.

“It can be a step. A recipe. Until it’s no longer needed,” she encouraged.

Whenever I walk into a school the first thing I notice is independent reading. I try to assess:

  • Are children reading? Really reading?

  • How do children access books? Do they have baggies? Is there a book shopping schedule?

  • Are teachers working with students? In what way: conferring? Strategy groups? Guided reading?

To be honest, a lot of times I see kids reading and I see access to books. What I sometimes don’t see, and what worries me, is teachers supporting kids during independent reading.

I tend to think, as this happens more and more often, that teachers must be struggling with decisions. And planning. I know they can teach. I know they want to teach. But what to teach? How to teach it?

Being a workshop teacher means, in heart and soul, believing that children learn best when they are active participants in their own learning life. It means targeting instruction to the individual goals of every reader in front of you. But orchestrating minilessons and read aloud is a lot to plan. Add to that small groups? Conferring? Angled instruction targeted to meet the needs of everyone in the precise, right way?

It can overwhelm even the seasoned reading teachers among us.

So, with hesitation, I share what I created for my district. It is a schedule. A recipe. A temporary scaffold of sorts. I met with these teachers in the cold of January and said, “Listen. We aren’t working with kids and there are loads of reasons that are valid, but the impact is unacceptable. We need to meet with kids. What if we make a schedule, for now, to get us back into the swing of things? Sort of a recipe, until we no longer need it?”

I shared the schedule below:

Each teacher came to our meeting with their January assessment data. We organized kids by category based on their relationship to benchmark. All students who fell far below benchmark were scheduled to receive guided reading three times a week. All students who read above benchmark were scheduled to receive a conference or strategy lesson once a week.

This schedule, while prescribed, was also a framework that teachers were missing. It took some of the work out of deciding when and how to support kids. It did not solve the WHAT to teach problem, but it made the other parts manageable.

It’s been nearly a year since I introduced this schedule to this district. When I walked into classrooms last week I saw:

  • Children reading

  • Access to books

  • Teachers working with students

As a consultant, I needed to get teachers working with kids so I could then coach them to teach in more sophisticated and targeted ways.

None of this is dissimilar to my baking journey. While I once followed recipes step by step, measure by measure I now add some zest or vanilla extract because… it tastes better.

Recipe or not. And hence, why I’m ready to work in a bakery.

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