In my Grade Two classroom over the last two years I have utilised the Daily Five, a literacy learning system created by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser. Although this system has worked its magic with my students, I am never complacent about anything going on in my classroom and have continually questioned the Daily Five – namely WHY and HOW. My interrogation has occurred in my personal journal, on Twitter – often joining in the #D5chat discussion. It’s also been a part of my coffee conversations with friendly colleagues Michelle and Robyn. Last week, Rosalyn Muir from AISV invited me and Michelle to attend an afternoon with her colleagues to discuss the Daily Five. Ongoing conversations with my wise friend Jasmine Dwyer have prompted me to record my questions and thinking here.
HOW DOES THE DAILY FIVE DIFFER FROM THE VICTORIAN EARLY YEARS LITERACY SYSTEM?
Similar to the EYL, Daily Five operates in ‘rotations’, or time periods of about 25 minutes. Usually, EYL sessions offer no choice: each student has to rotate through all activities during the session, whereas Daily 5 students choose which activity they will do. Absent from both systems is the element of the student choosing how long they participate in an activity. Both systems halt or interrupt a student’s work after the set time, and often I wish that this was not so. I believe that in some instances young learners can decide how long they themselves need to spend on a task, being in the flow of enjoyable, sustained practice. However, the element of choice in the Daily Five is one cause of the eager reception by students each day.
The more choice, the more chaos. The EYL rotations just require students to move together to the next activity. The Daily Five transitions can take up valuable learning time while students are making their choices. The five-week set-up period for the Daily Five, where routines and behaviours are learnt and practised, enables the teacher to fine-tune organisational decisions to maximise learning time. All literacy teachers make organisational decisions, whichever system they employ. We have to question whether these decisions are to suit the teacher’s need for control and convenience, or to enhance rich, natural, relaxed student learning.
Both systems contain explicit teaching through teacher ‘focus lessons’. Hopefully these will be centred on students’ current needs, rather than ticked boxes on a mandated checklist. Explicit/Systematic/Responsive can make a powerful focus lesson, whatever literacy system is used.
WHAT OTHER CHOICES DO THE STUDENTS THEMSELVES MAKE?
The Daily Five system requires each student to maintain a personal library, or ‘book box.’ There is a huge emphasis on learning the skill of choosing a ‘good-fit’ book, and peer recommendations are a large part of the selection process in my classroom. Many mistakes are made, and the greatest difficulty lies in explaining to parents that their child may occasionally bring home a book that is not a ‘good fit’. I advise to remind parents of an old favourite title that may be on their own bookshelf or coffee table and suitable for home reading practice when the book from school is just not right. The ‘good fit’ box encourages independence, delight, repeated reading, meeting new reading challenges – NOT learned helplessness.
Whereas the student appreciates a title recommended by a teacher, it would be a real shame if the element of student choice was eliminated from the personal libraries. It’s all about loving what you read, thinking about how you read, and organising yourself for success. In my classroom, the element of student choice means that the classroom library is not necessarily organised by reading level. Sorry, you won’t find the purple dot books all together. Therefore I have to allow time for students to select books on a regular basis. I also have to know and actively promote all the books in my room. Basal readers? Yes, they do have a place if they are an appetising read and worth promoting.
I recently visited a Grade 5 classroom where the students each had a personal library box on their desks. The titles were revealing: a pretty homogenous selection of Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants, Andy Griffiths titles. All great reads, but I had the feeling they had been purchased by the students’ families all from from the same supermarket shelves. The Daily Five doesn’t insure against limited reading material. Whatever the literacy system, I must choose wonderful. With the help of my indispensable librarian, my mission is to flood the classroom with a wide range of material, so that they may come to love tasty, challenging, thought-provoking literature.
Other choices to be made by the students? Increasingly, I am involving my students in decisions based on their ideas. Each Daily Five session usually includes a focus lesson created by a student. Collaborative work evolves as the school year progresses: yes, as long as we can all work and you show Daily Five behaviours, you may write or work on words together. Our Bring-Your-Own-Device Classroom enables some students to choose different ways of practising their literacy. Guided reading and writing groups have benefited immensely from involving student choice, allowing students to invite friends to create their mini-learning community on the day. No, we’re not all reading and writing at the same level, but the Daily Five and CAFE model allow students access to the language of thinking about the strategies they use.
My writing contains a thread about choice, emphasising the relaxed, independent, joyful literacy going on in my classroom. I could interrogate any literacy system and adapt it to suit the learners in my room. The elements of the Daily Five are a ‘good fit’ for me, but I have a niggling undercurrent: I have discussed two aspects of literacy systems via the Daily Five, namely teacher organisation and student learning. I feel I have left out a discussion on which students benefit the most, which students’ needs are ignored, which hierarchies or priveleges are maintained – all by the decisions that I make in my literacy classroom? Hmm, another time.