Welcome to A Look Inside Fountas & Pinnell Classroom™ – a new podcast series by educators for educators and school leaders. Throughout the series we’ll be joined by educators, in conversation with the Heinemann team, who share inspiration and reflection as together we explore important, timely and practical topics centered around the implementation of FPC.
In this preview episode, listen in with Jen, a former teacher and director of literacy with first-hand experience implementing Fountas & Pinnell Classroom™ (FPC). Our conversation focused on building a classroom community, and establishing routines for effective and efficient teaching within FPC.
Stay tuned for future segments of A Look Inside Fountas & Pinnell Classroom™. Upcoming episodes will feature practical tips, stories from inside the classroom and expert advice on topics that help us lean into our practice and celebrate the teaching and learning we do every day.
“Your work as a teacher of literacy is worthwhile and important because it transforms the lives of children.”
– Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell
Below is a full transcript of this episode.
Sam: It's that time of year. Teachers and students are headed back into the classroom for the start of the school year. The hustle and bustle of teaching and learning is about to begin. I'm Sam from Heinemann, and today we launch a new podcast series, a look inside Fountas & Pinnell Classroom™. You are about to embark on an exciting journey. Exciting for you, your students and your entire school community.
Whether you are anxiously awaiting your Fountas & Pinnell Classroom™ materials, just starting to unpack, or have it all in front of you and wondering, "Where do I start?" Together in this series, we'll explore topics centered around getting started, building a classroom community, diving right into FPC. And we'll even share tips from teachers who have recently implemented FPC in their own districts.
Today on this episode of A Look Inside Fountas & Pinnell Classroom™, I sat down with Jen, a former teacher, director of literacy, and now a member of the Heinemann team. Our conversation centered around building a classroom community in establishing those teaching routines and transitions for effective and efficient teaching within Fountas & Pinnell Classroom™.
Jen: The first month of school is really about building that community of learners. Learners who talk, read, write about their reading all day long. It's essential to create that community where students know that our thinking is valued and an important part of the classroom. To do this, we start by setting up expectations for how we're going to listen to the ideas of others, build on them, show respect for their thinking. And the reading minilessons are a great place to get this work started. The management umbrella provides opportunities to bring your students together, and talk about and practice what it looks like and sounds like to do all of those routines we need to be successful as we get going. There is an idea for a turn and talk. When students are on that rug together, sharing ideas, how can we get them to efficiently share their thinking with a partner or a neighbor on that rug and then come back together as a whole group and expand upon that and have that larger conversation?
We also can talk about solving problems while the teacher is working with the small group to limit instructional interruptions throughout our day. The important thing really is to remember though that you have some clear expectations, and you use this time to practice these expectations so they become part of who you are as a class. All this talk with students, the work you're doing now will show what you value as a teacher and what's valued in your classroom. It's so important this time of year to really give yourself permission to use this time to set up those routines, so you're ready to go for the rest of the year.
Sam: I want to take a moment and highlight something really important that you just mentioned, Jen. Those clear expectations in classroom management are so strongly related to the building of community during this getting started period. Let's talk for a minute about expectations and predictability. How did establishing routines and those transitions make an impact when you implemented Fountas & Pinnell Classroom™?
Jen: Yeah. Really the goal is to increase student productivity and the time that you're able to teach. And the key to that, like you said, Sam, is to really build in those routines that are predictable for students and they know how it all works and comes together. That management umbrella and the reading minilessons is the resource to lean on when you're looking to set up those systems. Where I like to start thinking though is about the different parts of your day. For example, you're going to do some whole group teaching. How are students going to gather for that? What are they going to bring? Where will they sit when they come for that? No routine is too small, too inconsequential to teach. So really thinking it through as a teacher, what do I want that to look like in my classroom, and what are the steps I can practice with my students right now so that we're efficient and I don't have to every day say, "Bring out your reader's notebook. It's time to come to the rug." Students just know when it's time to come to the rug, what the cue will be and what I should bring with me.
The same goes for small group and independent work. Thinking through as a teacher, what are the steps students will need to make that efficient and how can I teach each little increment this time of year is really what our goal is. All of these routines seem so small, but they get back those precious minutes in the day that we're always after. Cutting back on those transitional moments because you don't have to prompt students really will make your day run efficiently and save you time overall.
Another consideration this time of year is how can you get students involved when you're setting up some of these routines. Are there places within the day where they can as a group make some decisions about how your classroom is going to operate? Really will increase the buy in and increase your overall success.
Sam: And that student agency is so important in this getting started period. I want to take a minute and talk about, we all know that time is so precious in the classroom. In line with establishing routines, how did establishing a predictable schedule support stability in your classroom?
Jen: You're right, Sam. The schedule is always the problem, right? No matter how many minutes in the day we have, how long that school day is, we're always struggling to fit it all in. For me, I found working with teachers that the best thing to do was to use the resources, those sample schedules that are throughout your Fountas & Pinnell Classroom™ materials. So kind of to get started, we use those sample schedules, but really as a guide. You know, one thing that I like to keep in mind is you can look at the amount of time, the ratios I like to say, for interactive read-aloud compared to that small group instruction. Your interactive read-aloud is a much smaller amount of time than students are spending in independent work time and working with the teacher in small group. So while you might not have the exact minutes it's suggesting on those schedules, think about that ratio. I should be spending less time with whole group instruction than I am in that small group and independent work time.
It's also important to be flexible within your day. You know, we like to organize and have a clear plan, which is important, but literacy shouldn't be confined to just one chunk of time. We'd love for students to see that we read them right throughout the day because it's an important part of who we are as the classroom. We also sometimes end up with those little awkward chunks in between a special and lunchtime, and how could we use those effectively.
One strategy I've seen teachers utilize to kind of make sense of this schedule is to write each of their contexts on a sticky note. So interactive read-aloud, shared reading, guided reading, independent reading, book clubs, whatever context they're working with at this time. They write them on some sticky notes and kind of piece together their day, moving them around so that all contexts are taught but maybe not all together. Especially thinking about your students and the amount of time, you want them engaged in that whole group instruction. For a lot of students sitting through and participating in an interactive read-aloud and then moving into shared reading, is just too much time on that read together. We love when we can find opportunities to spread them out. Maybe you start your day with an interactive read-aloud, and you come together after lunchtime and participate in a shared reading. So just really thinking through your day as a whole, and how you can fit in all of your contexts within the day really benefits your students.
Sam: I love that tip about the sticky notes. That's really helpful, Jen. Managing that independent learning time is such an important part of this getting started period. Any other tips you can share on managing the classroom so that teaching within those small groups during guided reading and book clubs can really be focused and uninterrupted?
Jen: Well, I think it's important to start with thinking through those tasks that we're asking students to do. You know, authentic tasks that are worthwhile, that build upon other parts of our day really set you up for success and that students catch on quickly if this is meaningful work. So as long as we're thinking them through, how do they connect, how are these meaningful for students, we typically see more buy-in. The classroom library is really key to much of this independent work. A lot of the work during this independent time, we're going to be asking students to read and respond to text. So having a classroom library that they can access that is user friendly, that students have had a hand in organizing and really know the ins and outs of will really free you up to pull those guided reading groups without the interruptions of the, "Help me find a book, I don't have something to read today."
Along with practicing in that library is really practicing expectations throughout that time. So modeling for students what that's going to look like. I'm going to take a few friends here to this table, here are the expectations for the group. This is how you're going to know what they are for the day, what your literacy tasks are, and then practicing each of those tasks. I love to ask teachers to be the coach of that. And what I mean by that is having the whole class practicing independent reading while the teacher kind of hangs back and watches and then coaches individual students, maybe small groups of students, maybe sometimes having to pause everybody, about what that looks like as a whole group before you try to pull that small group for instruction.
So we work on it, we practice it as a whole group. Once we've mastered what independent reading looks like, they don't need you to coach them through that. Then it might be time to move on to another context. Now as a whole group, let's practice some word study activities. What might that look like? Have the whole class practice those word study activities while again you're hanging back coaching students who need it and once as a group we're competent that we can do that, now we're ready to go. You can start pulling groups and having students work more independently.
Sam: Yeah. That independent classroom library is the heart of most classrooms. Can you talk for a bit about how you set up your classroom library, and any tips to share on how you set that library up?
Jen: I think the classroom library, again, those reading minilessons under the management umbrellas will give you some ideas for getting going with your classroom library. Then you have to kind of think through the resources you have at hand. How can, again, you go back to that student ownership. Can you have kids help with setting up that library? I've seen teachers pile up books on tables, have kids sort through how they think they should be organized. Together make labels for bins and sort through those books that way. I've seen teachers make the bins themselves.
Jen: You know, in our classroom we're going to organize our books this way. Help me get those books in bins. So students have a part in that, and want to maintain that library and use that library as a classroom because it's theirs. They've set it up with the teacher. So I think that's my biggest tip is to, no matter how young your students are, to let them take part in setting up your classroom library.
Sam: Thanks, Jen, for sharing your expertise, your first-hand experience and your practical tips for teachers doing the work of implementing Fountas & Pinnell Classroom™. Before we close, I think it'd be fun and beneficial to wrap up each episode with practical tips, those bright spots or a-ha moments from your own experience in getting started with FPC. What stands out in your mind in your first year of implementing FPC?
Jen: Sam, as we were talking about all of these routines and how important they are, it really did bring me back to the start of last school year. It was about a month in to our implementation with Fountas & Pinnell Classroom™, and I was just walking through classrooms one afternoon. Just taking it all in, seeing where we were. And as I walked through classrooms I saw so many different anchor charts setting up these routines and classrooms. And as I kind of scanned them and went room to room, I was thinking they all had some similar threads. I could see where the reading minilessons came in, but I could also see how the teachers made them their own. And I think that's what's important. As you set up those routines, be flexible. Use your reading minilesson management umbrella as a guide, but make it your own. Have fun with your students, and let your personality really shine through. That's what's going to make this a great school year.
Sam: Thanks for joining us. Stay tuned for future segments of a look inside FPC, a new podcast series by educators for educators.
~ The Fountas & Pinnell Literacy™ Team