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January 22, 2012

In blogposts and via Twitter some teachers report that the Daily Five routine is often ‘tweaked’ to suit their classroom constraints. Less apparent is the ‘tweaking’ that is done to match a teacher’s pedagogy, their beliefs about how learners learn and how teaching works. If you believe that the eye and ear work best together in the reading process, then you may set up the ‘Listen to Reading’ activity to ensure that the students are looking at the words as they are hearing the words. If you believe that the teacher only must conduct all small groups focusing on fluency, you may like to reflect on why you believe this and how it affects your students’ learning. The smooth running of the Daily Five machine in my classroom, such a beautifully organised literacy system, might just lull me into omitting my questions: WHY do I use it, why do I modify or ‘tweak’ it, and do these ‘tweaks’ improve the literacy learning?


This question was an important part of the discussion at AISV with Rosalyn Muir and her colleagues. I say yes for three reasons: the Daily Five and CAFE books centre around real reading and real writing, with no worksheets or iPad drill apps mentioned. The Daily CAFE book guides the teacher to actively teach literacy – this certainly helped me to lift my teaching game. The Daily Five book is very prescriptive about setting up the literacy classroom, describing routines, book selection, systematic assessment – all helpful to the graduate teacher.

My words of advice to the graduate teacher: follow the recommended five-week setup period closely, as detailed in the Daily Five book. Subscribe to The Sisters’ members-only materials for the first 3 months, as it’s helpful to access their videos to get a better idea of what they are talking about. Connect with other teachers using the Daily Five, via blogs or Twitter, and request an online colleague to mentor you throughout your Daily Five journey. Don’t be in a rush to be the perfect Daily Five teacher: improve your literacy teaching craft by focusing on one aspect per term, for example conducting writing strategy groups. If you encounter opposition to the Daily Five within your school, go quietly about your business of teaching the Daily Five without using the title. In this day and age of shared teacher learning and collaboration, it’s hard to imagine but in-school colleagues may talk negatively about your efforts to try something new as if it’s some sort of cult!


Have you ever noticed that some of more capable students love doing lower-order tasks and enjoy drill-based games? Are they avoiding the hard work of thinking? The Daily Five routine can easily accommodate this – if the teacher permits or prefers. I question the use of set reading comprehension tasks, writing prompts, spelling tests in the Daily Five session, as I believe these limit choice and therefore student independence. The greatest literacy potential of the Daily Five lies in the students themselves employing oral language in higher-order thinking opportunities: making a book promotion video for peers, a group reflection on the best way to learn your spelling, giving feedback to a friend as to why you love their rich sentences. Student involvement and initiative in the mini-lessons and strategy groups can make all the difference. The Daily Five session can be rich student-centred literacy rather than ‘schooly’ routines that control students nicely.


It is a difficult job managing classroom time so that the Daily Five is a relaxed student-choice-based routine. Many Daily Five teachers conduct separate literacy sessions for class blogging, word study and Writers’ Workshops. The explicit teaching in these separate sessions is the ideal moment to model problem-solving in literacy, impart expert literacy knowledge and to raise the bar on what is expected from students. I have decreased the length of time of my explicit teaching, to maximise the time students themselves spend on actual reading and writing during the busy day. One effective way of decreasing time while maximising effectiveness is to prepare explicit lessons beforehand, screencasting using screen recording tools and iPad apps. The Daily Five system has been a great way for me to examine and increase students’ daily reading time.

It is also a tough job allocating time to student Inquiry. A prescriptive -and effective – literacy system such as the Daily Five takes time, and it’s very easy to proritise these lessons that ‘work’. I have struggled with the smooth integration of our class Inquiry learning into the Daily Five. It hasn’t been enough to supply the Daily Five readers with books about cultural celebrations when conducting an Inquiry on this. The only way I have managed is to put Daily Five sessions ‘on hold’ for a few weeks whilst the Inquiry takes centre stage. Isn’t literacy a useful toolbox that is essential to Inquiry?


Any literacy system I use must be interrogated, to keep my eye on the ball of my students’ literacy learning. How do I interpret and then ‘tweak’ a literacy system, and is this based on how I learnt and succeeded at literacy when I was a young learner? Am I aiming for a quiet, controlled classroom and somehow then omitting the foundation stone of good literacy – oral language, and also the power of collaboration? Am I meeting the needs of all my students? Please post your questions in a response to this post so that I may continue my interrogation of any literacy system that I use.



January 18, 2012

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.


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.


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.


August 20, 2011

Sometimes we come together in groups to learn more about reading. In the Victorian Early Years Literacy system, this is known as GUIDED READING. In the Sisters’ CAFE model, this is known as STRATEGY GROUPS.

I believe that the best reading teaching happens when I work one-on-one with a student. I believe that guided reading/strategy groups supplement this individual instruction.


Why is guided reading/strategy group a part of my classroom literacy learning and teaching?

·     Economics: it allows me to contact with as many students as possible within the literacy block

·     Focused learning: I can tailor the instruction to meet the needs of the individual students within the group.

·     Peer learning.  Children learn best from one other.

·     Observation: teaching is mostly listening. The guided reading/strategy group situation allows me to get to know my students better as they negotiate a text, and time to record my observations.

Guided reading/strategy group helps me to teach and helps my students to learn.


The focus in the guided reading/strategy group is not performance, but leading students to find out what they do as readers, and to become independent self-monitoring readers.  Therefore each guided reading group session will have a strategy focus that is relevant to the readers.  During a guided reading/strategy session, students are involved in more than round-robin reading-aloud, and answering only teacher-led questions.  Although it is the teacher who leads the group, it is the students’ questions that matter the most, and their awareness of their own strategies used in the reading process. Therefore the group conversation is about using specific strategies and also about the students’ wondering and own questions about the text.

The guided reading/strategy group focus is on more than developing accuracy in reading: saying words correctly. The skills associated with comprehension, accuracy, fluency, expanding vocabulary, and critical analysis are all integrated in the process of becoming an experienced reader.

The guided reading/strategy group offers the ideal situation for peers to support one another. Less experienced readers will understand a strategy demonstrated by a friend. They will also be well-supported by the language used by a friend to identify reading strategies, and to ask questions about a text.


The selection of materials is important.

Although the conduct of the group is led by the teacher, the students’ strategies in focus will determine the material chosen. The students’ interests will also determine the material chosen: consider which texts the students need to understand their world, and consider the types of texts that they use in their daily lives.  The teacher needs to be familiar with the text to enable opportunities for learning about the strategies in focus for each group.

All students need to be able to comfortably view a shared text, but not necessarily from an individual copy. A text can be viewed with a partner, on a projected screen, or on an iDevice.

If the strategy focus requires, students may each be using a different text.


In the photo above. Tim, Jae and Jeyan take over a guided reading group. We have been working on the text ‘Jack at Sea’ by Martin Waddell and Philippe Dupasquier, to focus on the strategy of using the pictures to help build understanding. At this point these students don’t need the teacher any more and are able to practise the strategy without me.

Alicia brought a gorgeous boxed set of her favourite Billie B. Brown books and requested a reading strategy group – nice when the kids themselves ask for it!  I asked her to invite some friends into our group, and she chose three friends at different reading levels. We visited our CAFE strategy board and decided we would look at the strategy of ‘skip a word you don’t know and come back to it’. This was just what Alicia needed to practise. Each student found a word on a page, took a photo of the page using the iPad, then we used the ShowMe App to record our strategies in action. (Please excuse the ‘sideaways’ video – students are just getting used to iPad).

Michael and Chloe were contributors to a guided reading/strategy group looking at the meaning of unknown words, using the iPad app Epicurious.  A video of their summary is here:

How do you conduct your Guided reading/Strategy groups?  Have you found that this has changed in the last few years?


November 20, 2010

In my first years as a teacher I felt that the way I taught spelling and word study was disconnected. I could design fun activities, however I was not sure these word searches and blends worksheets actually helped students to move on.  I wished that my spelling and word study programme was more connected with reading and writing.

I approached the Daily Five WORD WORK activity centre with a critical view.  It had to help students progress, and it had to be strongly connected with reading and writing.

A quick explanation of Word Work:  students work with kinaesthetic materials to practise words they are challenged with reading or spelling. Students independently select their words and materials, and there are no worksheets for the teacher to mark.

Which materials have I provided?

  • play-dough.  A fresh batch is made by parent helpers each term.  Students roll out lines of playdough to form the letters, or flatten out pieces and carve the words into the shape with a plastic knife.  Plastic placemats are provided.
  • Wikki Stix.  I purchased my set from I found them difficult to get in Australia, and quite expensive, however, availability here has improved dramatically in the last few months.  The students enjoy placing these on vertical surfaces, such as windows and whiteboards.
  • cube letters.  I found these at a two-dollar shop.  Excellent fine-motor practice as they are very small.
  • individual word cards.  These are of the most common 100 and 200 words, prepared and laminated by our school resources officer.
  • student thesaurus and dictionary
  • magnetic letters.  These sets include single letters and also blends, digraphs and common endings.
  • mini white boards
  • large laminated handwriting  ‘dotted thirds’ charts
  • plastic counters
  • a large ‘final eight’ poster
  • digital camera
  • I do not make all the materials available for every session, otherwise there is too much to clean up.


Which words can students practise?

  • Each student has a word card, on which I record words from their writing that they need to practise.  Lists of eight words from these cards are tested each week in individual partner spelling tests.
  • Students are encouraged to find challenging vocabulary words in books from their ‘good fit’ boxes.
  • Students may use the dictionary and thesaurus to locate words.
  • Most common 100 and 200 words posters
  • Topic word charts

The Word Work component of the Daily Five has been a success.  Most students choose Word Work in their daily routine (we usually complete three rounds of daily Five activities each day.)  All children have  shown independence and only two children need guidance about selecting appropriate words and staying on task.

Why has Word Work been a success?  Students are challenging themselves and moving themselves on. A component of self-monitoring ans self-evaluation has grown into the routine. Students have chosen to record their work using the class digital camera and also to present their own mini–lessons or demonstrations to the whole class. This component can only happen if a teacher makes resources, such as digital cameras, available, and allocates time for the students to present their own mini-lessons.

The link between the students’ improvement in reading and writing is strong.  The individual student word cards containing words misspelt in students’ writing pieces are always used.  This means that students are practising the words they understand and need to practise. They often choose to work with a partner, and this has enabled less experienced students to call upon a partner to help with decoding a more difficult word.   I have made more of an effort to teach incidentally about ‘vocabulary words’ as they arise in our class novel time and shared texts.

The open-ended nature and the element of student choice have much to do with the success of Word Work.  I have recognised when students themselves have made their own changes to the routine, for example working with a partner or placing the Wikki Stix on a vertical surface.  I have let Word Work grown into a useful and enjoyable activity.  Sure, it’s not a silent sit-in-your-desk time, however engagement is high and students are motivated to improve.

This week one of my students needed help with independence during Word Work. She had moved next to a very capable student – good sign – but had not yet produced anything with the playdough. I gave both students the challenge of looking over their word cards, finding words with one, two, three and four syllables to make with playdough and then record with the digital camera.  All good – back on track.

How do you manage Word Work?

How does Word Work compare to your previous strategies of teaching spelling and word study?


September 20, 2010


One aspect of the daily Five that instantly attracted me was the setting up of individual personal book collections for students.  Instead of insisting that students borrow one book per night from the boxes of basal readers, they are taught how to select a handful of books from a variety of sources, which they then keep in a personal ‘good fit’ box.  I have always made available a collection of quality literature items in my classroom, mostly from my own children’s shelves, or from op-shops and garage sales.  I know all these books intimately and am able to match them up with individual readers. I also borrow books from our school library, and I choose books that I know well and love.  I also include photocopies of favourite poems: think Colin McNaughton or Michael Rosen.  There are also restaurant menus, toy catalogues and play scripts.  All these may be read at school and borrowed for home reading practice.

What has happened to the basal readers?  They are not all bad.  I have taken home a handful of these each weekend to read, and if I have enjoyed them I will promote them to the students – just as I would any other worthwhile read.

At the beginning of the Daily Five year I spend a lot of time selecting the books for each child’s ‘Good Fit’ box.  This is very time-consuming -taking about 30 minutes a day – but worthwhile. I believe that the students enjoy finding something good to read in their boxes, and begin to trust me to recommend them a good book.  Having completed a reading assessment during Assessment Week (each child comes in for an assessment interview in the week before school starts), I have a good idea of their reading abilities.  Sometimes I don’t get it quite right, and give a student a book which is just a bit too hard for independent reading.  It helps to warn parents at the beginning of the year about what books are going home, telling them not to panic but to let me know if a book is too hard for home practice.

After a few days it’s time to relinquish control.  After all, the skill being practised through the ‘Good Fit’ box is for the student to find a book that is the right fit. We utilise the ‘I PICK’ chart from the Daily Five, although I found the ‘Purpose’ aspect a bit hard to explain to my Grade Twos.  The good old Five Finger Test – if you make less than five errors on a page, then it’s an okay book for you – is useful and the students find this easy to do.

It is time also to call upon the power of peers and  cultivate an environment where students recommend books to one another.  Once a week we would sit in a circle with our boxes, and take turn to place in the middle any books we did not want, and to select any books placed there by other students.

Establishing the ‘Good Fit’ box system takes time.  When the daily Five routine is up and running, students can spend a few minutes at the beginning of the day to update their boxes.  At the beginning of the term I found it best to invest the time, advertise books by telling the class my summary and opinion of some titles,  get students to model and recommend titles, and to spend time with individuals talking about what they had in their box.

To summarise,


  • read the books yourself
  • inform the parents about the ‘good fit’ box
  • make maintenance of the boxes a part of the weekly routine – don’t slack off

Do you have any tips to add?  Any questions?


September 20, 2010


The ‘Daily Five’ and ‘CAFE Model’ literacy systems have been designed by the two sisters, Joan Moser and Gail Boushey. I first found out about the Daily Five through my friend Kerry Ely, who has taught in international schools in Singapore. My friend and work colleague, Robyn Fox, was directly supportive and encouraged me to implement the daily Five system in my Grade Two classroom this year.

In a nutshell, the Daily Five literacy system offers student choice, purposeful literacy practice, and self-monitoring of literacy goals for the students.  For the teacher if offers a well-organised daily routine, and a systematic method of assessment of individual students.

The success of implementation of the Daily Five in my classroom has been due to these factors:

  • closely following the initial five-week setup as described in the ‘Daily Five’ book
  • online support from The Two Sisters’ free email newsletter and their subscription membership
  • practical support and encouragement in my school from Robyn Fox
  • my continual process of self-reflection, to determine if this system matched the learners in my classroom, and my own pedagogies.

Has ‘Daily Five’ worked for you?  How does it compare to your previous systems of teaching literacy?


August 11, 2010

To make the most of the planning process in my junior school class, I have devised a a list of points to consider when looking at an inquiry topic.

This list came about after an examination of inquiry topics that I had taught with my Grade Four class in 2009.  I also found inspiration in the book “Inquiry Circles in Action” by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels.

Before developing a new inquiry, I believe I should look at previous inquiry units with a critical eye. I aim to improve design of the new unit by tossing out old, bad practice of my inquiry teaching and enhancing the good stuff.

When to use the checklist?  I find it most useful when surveying the planning document before teaching the unit.  I also find it useful during the course of the unit.

Does the inquiry show:

  • Differentiation
    • in the plan
    • in practice
  • Kids’ own questions are central within the inquiry
  • The topic is authentic, significant and relevant
  • Thinking is at the centre of each activity
  • Kids get to take a critical stance with an issue
  • Kids take responsibility for their learning
  • Kids take responsibility for something in their world
  • Collaborative skills are taught
  • Kids get to challenge/question a text
  • Kids get to use language to persuade about an issue
  • Essential literacy skills are developed
  • The student voice is apparent
  • Kids have created knowledge, built up from their own prior understandings
  • Multimodal learning – kids have used and created non-print texts
  • The inquiry has a real purpose and audience
  • Kids have opportunities for caring and taking action
  • Kids have used disciplinary tools, such as microscopes, surveys, timelines
  • Teacher has continuously modelled the Inquiry Process
  • Beyond the ‘facts’ phase, kids get to ask ‘So What?’
  • Kids’ questioning is continuous
  • Kids’  choice enhances differentiation
  • the inquiry develops global awareness and a social conscience