Monday, April 18, 2011

Interview with Franki Sibberson

I recently had the opportunity to do professional development within my district using the text, Day to Day Assessments in the Reading Workshop: Making Informed Instructional Decisions in Grades 3-6 by Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak.  I was intruiged for two reasons.  When I jumped up to teaching third grade for 5 years, this text was the foundation of my classroom and I knew the ideas within this book were important for early literacy.  Since I knew the text, I felt I could reread it with a new lens and I was interested how someone would bring it down to support K-2 teachers.  I would like to thank our instructor Tracy for taking the time to help primary teachers with additional research to support the ideas written by Franki and Karen related to early literacy.  As our class was thinking and discovering this text, I started hearing thoughtful questions and asked my friend Franki if we could submit a few to her  to answer.  Thanks for stopping by today Franki, and for always being willing to help others.

 What are your favorite online resources? (blogs, etc…)
I have soooo many favorite online resources. We are lucky to have lots of local bloggers as well as other bloggers who write about children and literacy. Some of the blogs I read regularly include:

All-en A Day’s Work

AM Literacy Learning Log

Carol’s Corner

Creative Literacy

My World-Mi Mundo

The Book Whisperer

Jen Robinson’s Book Page

Refect and Refine

The Boy Reader

Two Writing Teachers

Watch. Connect. Read.

Lit for Kids


Kevin’s Meandering Mind

I am sure I have left some out. These just popped up in my mind right away. There are so many great people who are sharing their learning and teaching. The ones I listed are mostly connected to books and elementary classrooms. I also love resources like Choice Literacy, Goodreads, and Twitter.

Are there particular mini-lessons that you do prior to book clubs to support book club conversations?
So many mini-lessons and experiences lead up to book club conversations. First and foremost, our read aloud time each day helps students learn to talk and create thinking that is collaborative. They learn in read aloud that our collective thinking is bigger and better than our individual thinking. I also do many mini-lessons that help kids practice building on each other’s thinking, getting ready to talk, changing your thinking as you read, changing your thinking as you talk, etc. My goal for book clubs is for kids to grow in their thinking because of what others say so I have to teach them to talk in ways that is more than taking turns.

How often are your read alouds purely for enjoyment?

Do your read alouds always have an instructional focus using the reader’s notebooks?
My read alouds always have an instructional focus in terms of I have chosen the book intentionally. But my goal is for the kids to participate in the conversation for enjoyment. Read Aloud is by far a favorite time in our day and I want it to stay like that. The teaching comes through natural conversations that the book chosen invites. I don’t have mandates for the reading notebook. My only requirement for read aloud is that the talk and writing somehow impacts their understanding and they have lots of ways to show me that it does. For some kids, talk is more important. For others, writing becomes more important. Read aloud offers an opportunity for them to try these things and to see the power of collective thinking and conversation. So, I would say all of my read alouds are for enjoyment but each of the books I chose is chosen intentionally knowing that it will invite certain types of conversations. I can’t justify spending ½ hour a day without being intentional about book choice. But, as I said, the kids don’t feel like there is an instructional focus. They are very in charge of the conversation and their own thinking. For them it is a powerful book talk every day. It is a big community builder too.

When brainstorming topics/lessons that the students would like to focus on for student-initiated small groups, how do you prompt or promote needed skills that you see in your assessments?
I don’t really have to prompt or promote needed skills for this. First of all, I want it to be authentic in terms of what students feel they need. I have learned over and over again that often, students have a need that I don’t really know about. My job, once they choose their group, is to then tie in the skills I know that they need. For example, if they need support in retelling and have signed up for a group trying to read and stick with more nonfiction, I may conference with the child to work on retellings. Or I may work the retellings into the nonfiction group by asking students to summarize book recommendations to others. I have found that after the first round of student chosen groups, students do a better job than I do of determining their need if this is part of the culture of the classroom. Then it is my job to fill in with the things I see that they haven’t identified. It isn’t an either or. I want to meet the needs that are important to them as well as those that I see. Since all groups are not student-initiated, this is not difficult to do. The student initiated process gives students the message that these groups are to help them grow as readers. So, when I initiate a group, they come to the group with the same attitude that they do the student-initiate groups because they understand the purpose. I am very honest with them about what I am seeing in their growth as readers.

Student choice and ownership is a big message throughout your book.
Do you think its possible for emerging readers to be successful with choice and ownership?
Absolutely! I think all readers can be successful with choice and ownership. I think the key is teaching them how to own their own reading and be thoughtful as readers. I think it also means expanding our own definitions of what we expect as readers. I believe strongly that kids need to read books at their level, but I also believe that they need opportunities to read books that are a bit easy and a bit difficult. I think there are many ways to grow as readers. I want all students finding favorite authors, rereading favorite books, knowing what to do when they are confused. For school reading to be authentic, I think it is critical that kids have choice and ownership at all ages.

You mention… ”We don’t meet with equal size groups on certain days of the week and don’t require every child to participate.” What are your thoughts about how this quote would resonate in a primary classroom?
I believe that the purpose of small group instruction is to meet the needs of students in the classroom. Years ago, in my work with small groups, I found that I spent so much time worrying about the management piece—how to fit this student into a group, how to make sure each group had the same number of children, how to make sure each group met the same number of times, etc. that I had little energy left for planning what would happen in the group. Once I freed myself of the expectations to meet in small groups with every child for the same amount of time, I found I was better able to meet the needs of students. Some students have needs that are very unique and for those students, I have more conferring time. Some skills invite small group instruction while others are better addressed individually. If I have four students who require one skill and 2 who require another, trying to even up groups gets in the way of teaching. And depending on the skill, some students need to meet daily and others need time between group meetings to practice the skills. For me, small groups and individual conferences are two structures in place to meet student need. I try to use those structures with flexibility so that the focus is on the instruction rather than the management.

How do you help lower readers choose just right books that interest them?
I think all readers deserve depth in their reading and all deserve to be interested in the books they are reading. For readers who struggle with text, there is often more scaffolding that needs done. I may conference more with that child to make sure he/she has good fit books. I also think it is important that as a classroom, we value the “easier” books. I make it a point to read aloud some books that are easier than grade level so that they become popular choices. I also think it is okay for kids to spend a little bit of time each day reading books that are difficult as long as part of their day involves books at their level. There is much to be learned from all of these experiences. I do quite a few book talks as part of mini-lesson work so if I have students who struggle with choosing books because of their reading level, I make sure to include many books in my book talks that are more at that level. I want all of my readers, no matter what level, to develop tastes as readers so I want to give them lots of choice. This often takes more work on my part in terms of embedding good choices into the classroom in various ways.

How do you manage the overlapping that can occur when book clubs and student-initiated groups are going on at the same time?
When the groups start overlapping, we have a large calendar hanging on the wall. When groups set up their times to meet they must add it to the calendar. I also add groups to calendar so students can see if there is an overlap. I do not sit in on every group so as long as kids don’t have two groups meeting at the same time, the calendar works for us, as a class to use as a guide.

How and when in your workshop do you provide strong, explicit instruction on decoding skills for your struggling readers?
In the intermediate grades, explicit word instruction happens in our word study time. I use a lot of the ideas from Max Brand (see Word Savvy: Integrating Vocabulary, Spelling, and Wordy Study, Grades 3-6) for whole class work in word study. I also pull small groups and work with individual students who have needs in decoding. For most intermediate students, decoding is not an issue. For struggling students, much of my conference time and guided writing time focuses on this explicit instruction in decoding. It is based on individual student need.

Can you give some suggestions on mini-lessons/opportunities that could support and guide students to be more metacognitive in the classroom?
I begin every year with a reading interview—asking lots of questions about each student as a reader. I do this individually and in person. I find that this initial conversation gives the students a message that I value their thinking about their reading lives. Even though those first conversations are often quick and students often answer “I don’t know.” for many of the questions, the interview plants the seeds for metacognitive work. I think opportunities are embedded throughout the workshop. If I share a skill or strategy in a minilesson, asking students if it worked for them puts value on metacognitive thinking. Share time also provides a great structure to place value on metacognitive thinking. Instead of sharing books, we use share time to really think about how we’ve changed or grown as readers. I also make sure to take time in each individual conference to learn from students. Asking them what they’ve noticed about their reading, sharing my observations, etc. helps. The student-initiated small groups and book clubs add to this metacognitive environment because students begin to anticipate these opportunities and pay attention to their own strengths and needs.

It's been a pleasure to host my colleagues' questions for Franki and I hope this helps everyone continue their own thinking and journey with literacy instruction.  Remember you can always hear more from Franki at A Year of Reading.


  1. Mandy,
    Thanks for sharing your interview with Franki. I enjoyed your questions and her responses. There is a lot to think about here.

    The ideas for mini-lessons to support book club conversations caught my attention. We often talk about changing our thinking as we read, but I haven't really thought about "changing your thinking as you talk". That's so important for young readers to understand. It sends a message of the importance of listening to each other and really thinking about what our friends say. Franki's conversation was a great reminder about the importance of talk, choice, and trust in our reading communities.

    I always learn so much from Franki's work. Thanks for sharing this interview with us.


  2. Mandy~
    Thank you for posting your interview with Franki. There are so many great points to consider.

    The conversation about small group instruction speaks strongly to me. I currently have a wonderful student teacher that makes me reflect on my practice on an on-going basis. (THANK YOU COLLEEN!) One question that she asks regularly is about groups and conference work and "fitting it all in!"

    This is a difficult question to answer as it varies depending on the needs of the learners. Franki's reminder "…the purpose of small group instruction is to meet the needs of the students…" reminds us of the why we meet in groups or conference with certain kids.

    As educators we often feel the need to make all the pieces of the puzzle fit together (meet with everyone each week). Franki reminds us that fair means getting what you need, not the same. As educators we need to understand the difference between equal and fair.

  3. Thanks for all the info!