Around 2010, our school district hopped on the Daily 5 bandwagon. Administration called it a “non-negotiable” and required staff to do one hour of Daily 5 per day. So, each teacher was handed a Daily 5 book and was required to read it, and then implement it in the classroom.
I learned about the five parts of Daily 5: read to self, read to someone, word work, work on writing and listen to reading. I then began to think of what this would look like in my classroom. I had a huge hanging chart attached to a chalkboard where I placed students’ names and then made little cards with the 5 choices and a color card for their guided reading group. Students would come to the board every morning and make their three choices; I required read to self every day.
When I started Daily 5, I had to organize my guided reading groups to fit into the mold as well. So based on recommendations from the Daily 5 book and the district, I would meet with my two low groups every day, my middle group every other day, and then my top two groups about 4 out of every 10 days. I figured out the logistics of this and grouped my students accordingly.
When crunching the numbers, I did not like what I was seeing. Yes, I was meeting with my low group 20 minutes a day during Daily 5, but that meant there was 40 minutes a day, or 200 minutes a week that they were not getting direct instruction or even guidance from the teacher. But when I looked at my middle group it was even worse. Many of these readers were still not at grade level and they were receiving on average 60 minutes of instruction a week (meeting 3 out of 5 days). So they were not being taught by me for 240 minutes a week. The worst, however, was my top two reading groups. Since I was seeing them on average 2 out of every 10 days for instruction (about 20 minutes a week), that meant that they were not having any teacher contact for 280 minutes a week! How is this OK for my students?
So, for the past 4 years, I followed our district guidelines and watched our district and state assessments flat line. Students were not showing gains in reading. It didn’t take a genius to figure out why. They were not receiving direct instruction from their teacher that they needed.
The Daily 5 choice time became more of a management nightmare than a “golden key” to unlock student motivation and achievement. Many of my low readers who had 40 minutes of choice time each day would not use it effectively. No matter how hard I tried to structure their time, they were not on task, or were not making meaningful choices to show academic growth. I would have to sometimes even interrupt my guided reading group to get those students back on task.
Last year I also made the decision to eliminate read to someone and listen to reading at the 5th grade level. No matter how hard I tried to teach the importance of fluency and comprehension for read to someone, I would have 5th graders pair up and not use their time wisely; it would happen on a daily basis. I also took away the listen to reading station because it did not prove effective for 5th grade students to listen to a story for 15 minutes. At this level they need to work on being independent readers, not listening to a story for 15 minutes.
So I was down to the core three choices: read to self, word work and work on writing. I used Words Their Way for the word work portion and that proved to be effective for most of the students. For work on writing I allowed students to continue to work on a writing project from class, or had writing choices for them to choose from. I kept read to self the same because I wanted students to have choice of what they were reading. But the minutes of instruction that I was not with the students didn’t change.
At the beginning of this school year, I decided to only have 4 guided reading groups instead of 5 which was recommended by the district. That way I could meet with each group every day for 15 minutes. I thought this way that I could reach all of my students every day. But students were now having 45 minutes of choice time compared to 40 with the old system.
I began to critically think about what is best for students. At the 5th grade level, students are getting ready to move onto middle school and more complicated texts, both in fiction and non-fiction. The time they were getting with me for instruction just wasn’t enough. Also, at the middle and high school level, texts are not leveled. Students will need to read what their peers read. This went against leveled guided reading groups and the Daily 5.
As in year’s past, I had a classroom subscription to Scholastic News. But I would either hand them out for students to read during Daily 5, or would use them as filler when we had those days where there was an extra spot in the day. That all changed this year, and I have to say that I have seen a huge improvement in not only students’ time on task during reading, but also their reading scores as well!
This year I am still meeting with 4 groups, but not every day. I am now mixing abilities into each group. We follow a three day pacing guide for each Scholastic News article. The first day we watch the introductory video as a class that is online about each topic. Then I break the students into partners and they share what they learned from the video and what questions they have in regard to the topic. We follow it up with a whole class discussion. Then, I have the whole class read the article by themselves. As they are reading, each student has a highlighter that they are using for a few purposes. They highlight: words they don’t know, parts they don’t understand, parts that they found interesting, and anything else that struck them as wanting to discuss in the next class. If students finish this before the hour is over, then they are allowed to have choice. But I am now free to monitor this and even meet with students to discuss the books they are reading, something that was missing from my previous instruction during Daily 5.
On day 2, I meet with the 4 groups. This day is a time to go over what the students highlighted in the featured article. We have rich, and deep discussions about their thoughts, their questions, and their understanding of the text. I assign the students to find evidence from the text with some questions that I post. So they then go back to their seats with the purpose of finding that evidence. The students that I am not meeting with are still doing their choices, but it is just this day that they are doing this.
On day 3, we meet as a whole class and discuss the evidence that students found. I then hand out an assessment that has most of the same questions, and one or two new ones. Their goal is to work independently to answer the questions and use support from the text. Students are highly engaged during this reading time and work hard to re-read the text again, find evidence, and write it down into meaningful sentences. It is easy for me as a classroom teacher to offer support to anyone that needs it in a quick and easy way. I am not tied down by reading groups during this hour.
For fiction text, I used the Notice and Note reading program and we did a whole class novel together. This lead to many creative ways to hold discussions about the book we were reading. I could do partner share, group share, whole class share, and guided reading groups as well. The students loved using sticky notes to track their signposts and enjoyed the discussions we had about the literary elements in the book. Once again, I wasn’t tied down to only seeing students for 15-20 minutes. I could be actively engaged with them during the whole hour block.
Since implementing these approaches this school year, my students scores have gone up on both the DRA and STAR assessments. Through four months of teaching, my class as a whole has gone up over .5 in scores on the STAR assessment with the greatest gains, believe it or not, with some of my lower readers!
It may not all work for all teachers, but Daily 5 was not working in my classroom and I am glad I made the switch. I would love to hear your stories about what works in your upper elementary classroom in regard to reading instruction.