Mini Lessons

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

     We are implementing reading workshop, and one part of the model that I really like is the mini lesson.

      Why, do you ask?  Let me tell you!

1.  In 10 short minutes, the whole class is exposed to the same skill or strategy.  That gives common language to all your small guided groups, while also introducing them to grade level expectations as well.

2.  In aligns the universal.  If the whole grade level agrees on the mini lessons, they we are closer to making sure that all students in the grade receive the same core instruction.

3.  There is a gradual release model involved with the Calkins structure  ***IF the skill/strategy matches where the kids are at.

     Lucy Calkins defines the architecture of a mini lesson as follows:
  • Connection/ Teaching Point: 1-2 minutes to connect the new learning to previous learning, and then give a specific teaching point.
  • Teaching: 5-6 minutes restating the teaching point, but then modeling or demonstrating the teaching point for the students, usually using a mentor text.
  • Active Engagement: 2-3 minutes where the children practice the new learning in a scaffolded way to have success, usually in a turn and talk or an individual response way (like writing something in the air, or personal think time).
  • Link: 1-2 minutes giving the specific teaching point so that today, or any day, the kids will practice the skill/strategy independently.
 Back to my #3 above....

     The active engagement part of the mini lesson is supposed to scaffold them to succeeding.  If you look at the I Do, We Do, You Do model of gradual release, her model is almost more I Do, You Do, I Do.  If the skill/strategy is exactly what they needed, this might be ok.  But, as we have moved into non-fiction and the skills/strategies are harder for our kids, this approach might need to be modified.

     The next time you do an Active Engagement practice where the kids turn and talk, try to really listen to them talking in their pairs.  I know.... I taught 2nd grade for a long time... someone will try to talk to you as soon as you say to turn to your partner and talk.  Or, someone won't have a partner and you will spend those 2 minutes pairing kids off for the 500th time.  If the skill/strategy is something that is new to the kids, really try to listen to the partners though.  Because, as things have gotten more difficult, their responses have gotten filled with many misconceptions.  Listening to kids talk with partners about main idea during the first introductions of it have often been filled with a combination of topics, main ideas, summaries, key details, and even some character traits and complete silence.  And, that is to be expected.  They haven't seen non-fiction all year.  I would guess that switching the genre on them would be very confusing.  It actually confused me.  :)

     What should you do if they are filled with misconceptions and errors in their partner talk?

     Lucy Calkins then pulls them back, models what she would do, or sometimes names something a kids has said before giving the Link and sending them off.  If the students were getting it, this would be a very efficient way to end the lesson.  If they are not getting it, we have to make some decisions.  We have to use what we know about our students.

We could:
  • Have them turn and talk one more time, perhaps with a very specific focus that will give them greater chance to succeed.  This might be giving them a choice between two possible main ideas heard, and having them try to find support for them.  (Thanks, 4BEBL, for the idea).  
  • Decide that our midpoint or share needs to revisit this same skill/strategy again, perhaps with a choice structure like the one above.  
  • Decide to reteach the mini lesson the next day, with more scaffolding or visuals, or a mentor text.
  • Look at the ELA standard for the grade level below to see if they are ready for your grade's standard.
  • Use your guided groups to practice the skill/strategy and determine who really struggles with the concept.
  • Pull a strategy group with the kids who you know were unable to turn and talk.
  • Flip the learning, and find a video on Brain Pop (or other sources) for them to watch either on eChalk or Blendspace, at home and try it again the next day.
  • Keep going to the next Calkins lesson... and hope they get it... someday...
     What would you do?  I guess it depends on what the mini lesson was about.  Not all skills/strategies are treated equally, and some are of much greater importance.  But, I just wanted you to think about this a bit, because you know the answer.  Lucy Calkins doesn't.  You are their teacher.  You know your kids.  Calkins in our wise, expert guide in this journey, but you are the one teaching.  

     I found this checklist that might help you reflect on your mini lessons.  Research says that reading 60 minutes independently each day is the most significant thing we can do to help our kids read at grade level.  I happen to think that the mini lesson is a great way to get them to perform at grade level, if we base those lessons on the common core ELA standards and where are kids are at.  If, every time we teach a mini lesson, we use them to slowly give the kids what they need to get them to the next step, then we will have kids who not only read at grade level, but who also comprehend beyond the limited level.  Well, the mini lesson, conferring, and reading response will do that, but that is for another day.  :)

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