What a big word for just seven letters. Balance can make or break a year, and it is something I'm not very good at finding. I'm constantly telling myself that something has to give, but I can't figure out what that "something" is. Perhaps it is my perfectionist streak that can't let go of the tiniest thing. Perhaps it's the pressure I feel from added initiatives and responsibilities at school. Perhaps it's the new schedule that has my plan periods the first two periods of the day and non-stop go, go, go for the rest. Perhaps it's because I have a hard time saying no. Perhaps it is all of the above.
This school year I am doing a coaching cycle on conferring with another colleague and our literacy coach. We are using Conferring: The Keystone of the Reading Workshop by Patrick Allen (Stenhouse, 2009) as our guiding text, and as I read the first chapter I got to thinking about the non-negotiables in my reading/writing workshop. I refuse to give up:
- our three-times-a-week read aloud. This half-hour a week is among my most favorite times with my kids. During this half hour I read aloud to my seventh graders as they lounge comfortably in our class's "living room". They get to hear some really great books purely for enjoyment. The kids almost always beg for me to read more, and it makes my heart glad. I know that there are curricular benefits to the read aloud, too, but what's most important is how it adds to the feeling of community in our classes.
- student choice. Allowing the kids to choose their books and their writing topics gets me more buy-in from my most reluctant readers and writers. It might be easier for me to assign topics like "A Day in the Life of a Shoe," but I don't get nearly the quality of writing that I get when I allow the kids to write about topics they're passionate about. Since I've moved to giving students more and more ownership over their learning, I've seen great gains in both enthusiasm and ability.
- time. The 20-30 minutes each day that students have to work independently gives them the opportunity to make decisions about their learning and how to use their time. While I sometimes have specific tasks that students must complete during this time, most of it is guided by the kids. I strongly believe that allowing students to choose how to use this time helps them learn how to prioritize tasks and work independently. It also shows them the consequences (both positive and negative) of their decisions.
What gets pushed aside, though is probably the most important part of my workshop: the one-on-one conferring that SHOULD happen during the independent work time. I haven't been able to put my finger on exactly why I haven't been getting to those conferences. It seems as if I finish my minilesson, answer a few student questions, and POOF, the bell is about to ring! I haven't found a way to BALANCE all of the things I need to do in the 80 minutes a day I'm given with the students. This frustrates me to no end, and I think about how to fix it almost constantly. It's to the point where I think I need some sort of intervention before I lose my marbles!
So that's the imbalance in my classroom. The imbalance in the rest of my life is a whole nother story!