“When I suggest that we need to “teach with a sense of urgency” I’m not talking about teaching prompted by anxiety but rather about making every moment in the classroom count, about ensuring that our instruction engages students and moves them ahead, about using daily evaluation and reflection to make wise teaching decisions. Complacency will not get our students where they need to be. I am relaxed and happy when I am working with students, but I am also mindful of where I need to get them and how little time I have in which to do it. I teach every day with a sense of urgency.” – Regie Routman
These wise words have stuck with me since 2003, when I first read them in Regie’s wonderful book, Reading Essentials. This year they came back to me loud and clear. I have a group of fabulous students. They are kind, loving, thoughtful, fun, curious, passionate, inquisitive and they need A LOT in the area of school literacy and academics. Our beginning of the year assessments made it very clear to me that intentional teaching, with a sense of urgency, was essential for this year to be a success.
Urgency doesn’t mean that our classroom is a stressful, rigid place full of drill and skill activities. Do we have fun? YES! Do we play? Absolutely! (It’s how children learn!) Do I keep in mind that they are 5 and 6 years old and make sure that my practices are developmentally appropriate? Of course! Do I enjoy each day with my learners and do they enjoy being at school? For sure. Do I stay true to the belief that I teach children – not standards – every day? Indeed. Do I make sure my children have every opportunity to learn the necessary literacy skills to be successful? That’s my job.
Teaching with a sense of urgency is happy, relaxed, purposeful teaching. It’s making every moment count. And that makes an impact on student learning.
Here are a few structures I’ve put in place that are supporting my young learners and helping them make great progress in the area of literacy.
-A stronger focus on letters, sounds and other “item-based” things in the context of meaningful literacy work. One example is our daily morning message. It’s a 10 minute, highly focused, literacy event that kids love. I highlight a letter and how to correctly form it, we find words that start with that letter and say the sound the letter makes, we find that letter in the message and we look for other letters and words we know. We talk about words vs. letters, capital vs. lowercase letters, spaces between words, what letters are first and last in a word, and punctuation – just to name a few things that come up during morning message. This is all done through a meaningful message – keeping in mind that meaning making comes first. This message goes home with the kids to share with their families. I print a copy before we do our work together and then another copy that shows the work we did – I copy it 2-sided and send it home. I plan my focus each day based on where my children are and what they need next in their learning.
-Guided reading groups with all children 3-4 times each week. Our kindergarten team is reading and discussing Jan Richardson’s book, The Next Step in Guided Reading. We looked carefully at the pre A – emergent lesson plans and structured our lessons around her framework. When I meet with my pre-A emergent groups (currently, 14 of the 18 children in my class – students who know fewer than 40 upper and lower case letters and hear few, if any, sounds and are lacking in early concepts of print), we go through a fast-paced, engaging lesson that includes working with names, working with letters, letter formation, working with sounds, a shared reading lesson where each child has a copy of the book and an interactive writing lesson. I have a record of where each child is in their letter, sound and link acquisition and can teach directly to their needs within the small group lesson. I love that these groups have the necessary item-based components AND the meaningful reading and writing piece that is so important. I reflect and assess often, changing the groups and the activities within the groups to make sure that they are matching the needs of my learners.
-Daily letter tracing books with my instructional assistant. Jan Richardson talks about tracing alphabet books in her book. I made paper ABC books with upper and lowercase letters and a picture and started by tagging the letters in their name with a Post-it. The students take their finger and trace the letters using the correct formation path, then say the link. (A a apple) As they learn the letters, we add new letters for them to learn – tagging those letters with Post-it notes. Each day, our students have a 3-5 minute session with an instructional assistant or a volunteer, tracing and saying the letter names and links that are tagged. Eventually, they will have all 26 pages tagged with Post-it notes and will be able to trace, say and identify the link for all the letters. We have seen remarkable results in letter identification through daily use of the letter tracing books.
These are just a few of the ways I’m teaching with urgency this year. This is all in addition to many read-alouds throughout the day, rich discussions and purposeful talk in the classroom, a daily writer’s workshop, shared reading, community writing, inquiry based projects, listening to and responding to interests and wonderings that the children have, and building a strong community of learners.