Minilesson Mojo: Working to Keep it “Mini”

mojo
noun mo •jo \ mō-(,)jō\ : a power that may seem magical and that allows someone to be very effective, successful.

Full Disclosure—I have, in the past, violated the acceptable time limit for a targeted mini-lesson. And I didn’t need a schoolhouse clock on the wall to tell me I’d gone over. It would have been painfully obvious even to the most unskilled observer. Kids were not learning.

Even though I knew what was best for kids, I caved to the crushing pressure of local and state assessments, increased accountability and the never-ending data-collection maelstrom.

I had to change my practice and I did. You won’t be surprised to know that even now, I still have to intentionally plan very carefully to stay on track and on time.

What the practice was supposed to look like

In Units of Study for Teaching Reading: A Guide to the Reading Workshop by Lucy Calkins she has this to say about the mini-lesson:

The workshop tends to go like this: people assemble and expect to work for about an hour, every day. To open the hour-long session, the teacher teaches everyone a short lesson, called a minilesson. This minilesson is usually a quick demonstration of a powerful reading skill or strategy—a way for readers to handle a challenge or, in general, to lift the level of their reading work. The lesson is meant to be helpful to people in their ongoing work, today and in the future, not just an activity to do for the day. Then, after the ten-minute minilesson, students turn to their ongoing reading work. (Emphasis mine)

Elizabeth Moore Two Writing Teachers

Elizabeth Moore Two Writing Teachers 

Kari Yates, in her book, Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom, (excellent book BTW) shares that the very label, minilesson, helps to clearly define this part of the Readers Workshop.

As the name implies, minilessons are intentionally quite shortten to fifteen minutes at
most. And they can be short, because they focus on one clear, explicit teaching point. One.
Clear. Explicit. (Once again, emphasis mine)

I love it—insider secrets. That’s what guides me now when I plan for a minilesson to model for a classroom teacher or to co-teach in an elementary classroom. I look at our state standards (in Texas we don’t use Common Core, but our TEKS are surprisingly similar) AND I think about what is essential for readers to know and then I plan the one thing I’ll teach in those few, short minutes.

The reason it’s critical to keep the minilesson to 10 minutes is that it forces me as the teacher to find the essential “insider secret” to model for the kids on that day. Then I’m further challenged to simplify and articulate the exact thing that students should practice on their way to becoming accomplished readers.

I’ve found this tool helpful when I plan to model a minilesson format for teachers that I coach.

I’m not perfect, but I see the power of targeted instruction delivered in a way that shows apprentice readers the authentic work they must engage in daily. I wasn’t really after perfection anyway.

I just wanted my mojo back.

What magical tips do you have for making minilessons effective and ensuring the success of your apprentice readers?

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