Observation is one of the most effective forms of professional development for teachers, but it’s also the most logistically challenging to implement. So this week we’re taking you on a virtual tour of first grade teacher Samantha Cusick’s reading workshop.
Ms. Cusick’s reading workshop begins in her classroom meeting area. She writes the teaching point on the board: Readers re-read books. She explains that readers notice something new each time they read a book and invites students to share what they notice for the first time as she re-reads a classroom favorite, Boot & Shoe by Marla Frazee.
Ms. Cusick has strategically chosen to use a reading-focused read aloud. Unlike a minilesson—where the teacher would share only a brief excerpt of text related to a teaching point—a reading-focused read aloud allows a teacher to model the thinking she wants students to do throughout a longer selection of text. By reading the whole book, Ms. Cusick demonstrates exactly what she wants students to do, underscoring the significance of re–reading the entire text. Hear a portion of the read-aloud here:
As the read-aloud progresses, Ms. Cusick pauses less often for student observations. At the end of the story, she dismisses students from the gathering area to practice re-reading familiar books independently and notice something they haven’t seen before in the pictures or text.
After students have been reading for a few minutes, Ms. Cusick talks one-on-one to three different students, mostly checking in to hear what new things they’ve discovered and nudge them a little further in understanding the significance of the lesson.
“So you’ve never noticed that detail before, all the times you’ve seen this book?” she asks with excitement. “Why do you think the illustrator put that on this page?”
Students’ answers suggest that they are picking up new details about characters’ emotions, or relationships between characters, or hints that foreshadow what they know comes later in the story.
Most of the students’ new observations are about the illustrations, which is appropriate for first graders, especially at the beginning of the year, but Ms. Cusick nudges kids who are ready a bit further by asking, “Have you noticed anything new about the words in the book?”
One student flips back a few pages to show her where he noticed a lot of y words in his Dr. Seuss book, giving Ms. Cusick an opportunity to introduce him to alliteration and think with him about why the writer chose words with similar sounds. After she walked away from the student, he could be heard saying some of the words in his book aloud, emphasizing some of the phonetics, as if testing how the words sound together.
Next, Ms. Cusick invites students to get with their reading partners and continue re-reading together.
She again confers with a handful of pairs, often just a quick check-in to hear what they’re seeing in their books. One pair is struggling, so Ms. Cusick asks them if they are doing what reading partners do. She models the self-assessments she wants them to make. “Are you sitting close to each other so you can both see the book? Did you choose a book that you both like?” She points to a chart in the classroom as she talks, reminding them of the expectations they set together earlier in the year. The pair makes corrections without needing reprimands and begins to engage in a text they choose together from one of their book bags.
At the end of the reading workshop, students gather again in the classroom meeting area, and Ms. Cusick invites two students, Grant and Maggie, to share what they noticed. This provides an opportunity to reinforce the teaching point. See for yourself:
Did you notice? When Maggie reads the title of the book for the class, she says, “Zach’s Crocodile,” when the title is actually Zach’s Alligator. Ms. Cusick doesn’t correct the miscue, because it’s not an error that hampers the students’ comprehension of the text.
Samantha Cusick teaches first grade at IPS Butler Lab School 55 and, previously, K/1 at School 60. She graduated from Butler University's College of Education in May 2016.