At some point towards the beginning of the year, I have my students create their writing folders. Writing folders are kept in class and are a place for students to store their polished, graded writing assignments. Throughout the year, their writing folders become a portfolio of their growth as writers . Each time I return a piece of writing, I distribute their writing folders as well; that way, students are periodically interacting with their development as writers, by seeing their older pieces in their writing folders, instead of returning their writing assignments and running the risk of those pieces slipping into a black hole somewhere (their backpacks, the trash, etc.).
I have decided to begin class today by allowing my students to briefly create their writing folders, explaining their purpose, as well as explaining that the decorating of their folders will be a work-in-progress throughout the year; each time I return a piece of writing, I will give them a few minutes to add to any artwork they might want to develop on their folders. Today, however, they have only the time it takes me to take attendance to do any decorating (Writing Folders).
Once I have collected my students' writing folders, I explain that today they will be responsible for reading six vignettes from The House On Mango Street on their own, in small reading groups that I have determined (A Case For Small Reading Groups). I inform them that they will be meeting a handful of new characters in today's reading, and that they will be responsible for recording shared inferences about each new character (Small Reading Groups Task). I explain that these characters will then be added to a growing list of characters that we have met in the book thus far, from which they can choose to work with for a project that begins in class tomorrow. Additionally, I tell them that each student is responsible for doing some of the reading out loud in each group, and that I will be circulating to each group, checking for participation from each member.
The groups are arranged in sets of three, and I arrange them as much as possible in high-medium-low skill formations. In order to do this, I consult the results of my students' diagnostic writing prompt, where I have categorized my students in three levels of development as writers, as well as consider my informal assessments of student comprehension throughout our many class discussions.
The vignettes for today include "Born Bad" (carried over from the previous lesson, as we were unable to get to it in all classes), "Elenita, Cards, Palm, Water," "Geraldo, No Last Name,","Edna's Ruthie," "The Earl of Tennessee," and "Sire."
I allow up to two groups to assemble in the hallway, just outside my door, since students in each group will be reading out loud. This helps maintain a manageable level of noise, so that all groups can hear each other (Small Reading Groups).
At the end of the period, as students are turning in their shared inferences, I have them return to their seats for the last few minutes and take an informal poll. I ask for all who found it helpful to read and discuss in small groups to raise their hands. I take a quick count, and then ask for all who prefer reading and discussing as a whole group to raise their hands.
Regardless of the results, I explain to my students that we will continue to mix up our approaches to exploring a text, in an effort to successfully reach as many learning styles as possible.