Student Accountability During Independent Reading

I run a reader's workshop in my classroom, and at the midpoint in the school year, my students are reading independently for about 40 minutes a day.  Because I am conducting small groups and individual conferences, I don't have the time to be constantly monitoring whether or not my students are actually reading. And you know we always have a few that appear to be reading but really aren't.... How can I get ALL of my students to take their independent reading time seriously?
Are you having trouble keeping your students focused during independent reading time? An independent reading reflection activity is the perfect solution to helping your students take ownership and responsibility over their own work!
Enter the Independent Reading Report. It's a quick checklist that my students use to self evaluate their work during independent reading time. Every Friday, my students complete this half-sheet to reflect on their reading work for the week.
Students score themselves on three areas: Reading the Whole Time, Writing 2-3 Sticky Notes per Day, and Completing their Reading Logs (don't get me started on my opinion of reading logs... but I'm required to use them, so it is what it is...). They rate themselves on a three-point scale. One week I tried to use a 4-point scale, but how can you Exceed Expectations for completing your reading log?

Then, I take about 10 minutes on Friday to go through all my students' reports and I score them as well. Sometimes I'll check in with a few to look at their sticky notes and reading logs again, just to be sure.
You should see my kids run to their mailboxes at the end of the day to see how I scored them and see if our scores matched. I've even had a student approach me, show me her sticky notes for the week, and make me change my score :) And for those kiddos who maybe earned a 1 or a 2 for a certain area, they are motivated to work harder next week to get to the 3. Do I have students who overrate themselves? Yes, a few. But for the most part, they are very in tune with their efforts for the week.

My district's copy center can copy these on two-ply carbon paper, so I send the top copy home and keep the second copy. Then at report card time or for parent teacher conferences, I have lots of data that supports each student's classroom performance.
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What else do you do to support your independent readers?

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Are you having trouble keeping your students focused during independent reading time? An independent reading reflection activity is the perfect solution to helping your students take ownership and responsibility over their own work!


Quick and Easy Cooperative Games that Build Classroom Community

My third class I ever had was pretty rough. Besides a few high needs behavior issues and a wide range of academic abilities, they struggled with social skills. Specifically working together cooperatively. As a beginning teacher, I was under the assumption that community building only happens at the beginning of the year. Boy was I WRONG! Building classroom community is something you have to do all year long. And coming back from Winter Break is the PERFECT time to start including community building into your daily routine. It will be so beneficial as we head into these next few long winter months.

With all of the standards and curriculum on our plates, it is HARD to find the time to do another thing in the classroom. If you're already holding a morning meeting, you can easily sneak this in during your activity time. If you don't have this time, all you really need is 5 minutes a day, two to three times a week for students to practice valuable social skills.

Since our time is at a premium, here are some of my favorite cooperative learning games that are quick and easy to implement:

1. Human Pretzel

Students work in groups of 5-6 and form a circle. Each student reaches one hand into the circle and grabs the hand of another student. Then they reach the other hand into the circle and grab a different person's hand. Then they have to work together to untwist themselves into a circle. I do allow students to let go of hands to readjust their grips, if needed, but other than that, they have to stay holding hands.

2. Balloon Bump

Start with groups of 3-4. Students have to hold hands in a circle and work together to keep a balloon from touching the floor. They can use any part of their body except for their feet. As they get better at it, make the groups larger. Maybe you can even get your whole class to work together with one balloon!

3. Hula Hoop Balance

Borrow a few hula hoops from your PE teacher and put students into groups of 5-6. Together, they will start with one hula hoop at about nose level and using only their fingertips, they need to work together to lower the hula hoops to the ground.

4. Pass the Hula Hoop

Keep those same hula hoops and put students into larger groups of 7-10. They will hold hands and put one hula hoop in between two students. Then the students will work together to pass the hula hoop around the circle by moving it over their heads, stepping through it, etc.

5. In the Loop

You can do this in groups or as a whole class. With a long rope or piece of yarn, make a large circle in your carpet area. Students work together to get everyone sitting inside the circle. Then you repeat the activity, making the circle smaller each time.

6. Minefield

I like to borrow the plastic spots from my PE teacher for this, or you could use pieces of paper. You need 25 dots/pieces of paper to make a 5x5 grid on the floor. The teacher maps out a secret path to get from one side to another (I write it on a sticky note so I don't forget it LOL). Students line up, and one at a time, they take a step onto the spots. If it is a safe place to stand, I say nothing. If it isn't I say "boom!" and the student goes to the end of the line and the next person goes. The student keeps going until they either step on a "mine," or they get to the other side. The class works together to get everyone from one side of the mine field to the other.

7. STEM/STEAM Projects

There are SO many ideas out there for STEM/STEAM, but many of them take up a ton of time. To keep it within 5-10 minutes, I pick the ones that don't need a lot of supplies and I set a timer for no more than five minutes. Give groups of 4-5 students 20 plastic cups and tell them to build a structure. Or give them a handful of mini marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti noodles and ask them to build a bridge or a structure to hold up an object. The key is to make sure the activity is cooperative and not competitive, so as to create a collaborative classroom environment.

After the Game is Over...

Take the time to debrief with your class when the game is over. Ask questions like, "What went well?" or "What can we do better next time?" Don't forget or skip over this part! This allows them to process their own actions and behavior, which reinforces good behavior and helps them to see what they can work on for next time.

If you like these ideas, check out my Pinterest board for Cooperative Learning. Not only does it have ideas for games, but also for cooperative learning strategies:

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