Home » Educational Principles » Is the Goldilocks English class a fairy tale?

Is the Goldilocks English class a fairy tale?

In my never-ending quest to design the “just right” English class experience, I am becoming convinced that no such animal exists. I’ve been trying for several years and have not yet found the magic formula that will allow me to address everything I wish to teach in the way that I wish to teach it in a mere 45 minutes per day. I have tried every new idea that sounds exciting to me, but it is always at the expense of something else I’ve done in the past. Is the “just right” class a reality or a fairy tale?

Here’s my problem. I am addicted to professional literature about teaching. I also attempt to go to at least one literacy conference per year. I consider these endeavors successful if I can gather one new strategy, concept, or resource from each. This doesn’t even include the fantastic ideas I get from Twitter chats. Trouble is that these add up. Every single experience yields at least one great technique I want to implement the very next day. At this point, I have an extensive list of approaches I’ve tried—all of which produced great results.

Among the things I love to do with my students are:
• genius hour
• PBL
• reading workshop
• writing workshop
• book clubs
• Article of the Week
• independent, choice reading
• whole-class novel study
• student blogging
• book talks
• read alouds
• author visits
• iPad apps
• and many more

The problem is that I haven’t found a way to do everything in such a short amount of time, but I don’t know what to eliminate. Everything adds value, but whole-class novels (the foundation for my school’s curriculum), choice reading, and writing workshop are non-negotiable. I know that none of us ever have enough time, but I am hoping someone else has determined a magic way to fit all of the pieces into the puzzle and what you’ve had to let go.

I’ve used two different schedules. One is to alternate a reading-focused unit (3 weeks) with a writing-focused unit (2 weeks). I have also alternated days of the week between reading and writing Monday through Thursday and “something fun Fridays” which involve critical thinking and skill development. Penny Kittle gave me the great advice to spread out the workshops to two days. This would be a great solution for my reading and writing workshop, but I need to figure out how to incorporate some of the other wonderful ideas out there. It’s overwhelming. If anyone has this solved, I am all ears. A great group from my twitter PLN put together a Google doc to share ideas, but would love to hear more.

Thanks. I look forward to learning with you.

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5 thoughts on “Is the Goldilocks English class a fairy tale?

  1. I get it! I want to do it all, too! (I’ve written about that, as well!!) Anyway, let me share one thing with you… During our genius hour time, I get to have… : • PBL – of Student’s choice • writing • book clubs • Article of the Week – if I or students choose to share one • independent, choice reading • student blogging • book talks • author visits • iPad apps • and many more… I love how so many of these things are touched on during Genius Hour, and if students want to pursue them more, they can. Ahhhh…. This time during the week is my salvation (and my chaos)! Thanks for sharing with us!!

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  2. Cheryl,
    I have read this post a few times since you have put to words what is always running through my mind. Here is how I’m trying to work through it:

    1. What is your bottom line? Mine: I want my students to be readers and writers who can contribute to their society.

    2. What instructional strategies and learning opportunities would best help my students get to my bottom line? From your list, I can see you have some great ones and yes, which do you cut? I’m still working on this myself.

    3. Take the minutia out of your instructional time. For instance, this year I started getting good at creating 4-6 min tutorials of how to use new apps/tools or examples of what products should look like. I would assign these as homework and if students couldn’t access them at home, they could get the tutorial viewed within the first 5 minutes of class (the main reason they are short to begin with). I store all the tutorials in a shared class folder in my google drive so if students have questions, I point them back to watch the tutorial. This alone has begun to save instructional minutes and students like having the tutorials to go back and watch as many times as they want. Please know that I am no master of creating tutorials and often tell my kids not to laugh.

    4. Can workshop, PBL, and/or Genius Hour be the umbrella under which everything else falls? Between the tutorials and mini-lessons, could students have more independent time to practice what we are teaching? All of these umbrellas allow for differentiation as students need it and may be the way you get in using some other strategies. I am working on letting go of how the students meet my bottom line and focusing on getting them to meet the bottom line. As students get good with a tool or strategy, I leverage their expertise and they begin to be teachers themselves, often better and more efficient than me. It can be chaotic at times as Joy refers to, but it is the best noise EVER!

    Man I need to turn this into a blog post of my own! I guess I needed to get this out of my head. Thanks for the opportunity and I hope it helps. By the way, where is this google doc you mention? I would love to see what others suggest. If you figure it out, please share. 🙂

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  3. Hi Trisha, thank you for putting so much thought and passion into your comment. I do agree that PBL/Genius Hour is a great umbrella under which to address many of the ideas I enjoy. I am working hard on getting it together for next fall.

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  4. It’s scary to start planning next fall before this year’s group is even finished. I say to try different stuff now, using this year’s troops as collaborators in your plans.

    Reading your words reminds me of how grateful I should be for the 63-minute classes I now enjoy. Sure, I pine for 90-minute block scheduling, but I have to remind myself that others out there (like people named Cheryl) have it even worse than me! As Simon (and Garfunkel as well) once said: “Time, time, time… see what’s become of me, while I look around at my possibilities….” And so forth.

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