Meet “The 2 Sisters”


Last weekend at the annual CRA conference (California Reading Association), I had the pleasure of hearing, then actually meeting, “The 2 Sisters,” Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, authors of “The Daily 5.” They are teachers making a big impact on elementary school classrooms nationwide. Here are the daily five activities they address, designed to foster literacy independence:

*Read to Yourself *Work on Writing *Read to Someone *Listen to Reading *Word Work

What’s most intriguing to me about the Daily 5 is how the Sisters rethink classroom management. If these are the activities most likely to yield progress, students need more time to practice them during school. So…Gail and Joan propose that students spend more time working independently, and that teachers spend more time instructing individuals or small groups as opposed to the entire class all at once. Of course, for this to really work, a classroom must establish a respectful learning “culture.” Students must buy into the attitude that learning is worthwhile, that it’s important not to disrupt their classmates, and students AND teachers must hold themselves accountable to each other. In their talk, the Sisters showed video segments of teachers speaking privately with students, working out plans and sticking with them, when students were not comprehending the words or main ideas of their reading material.

Many factors contribute to the success of a Daily 5 environment. Half the desks in the classroom may give way to carpeted floor space and sofas so that children (can you say ‘boys’?) don’t fidget quite so much. Students are encouraged to find a comfortable place where they can sit, stand, crouch and, most importantly, FOCUS. Students expressly work on their “stamina,” the number of minutes they can concentrate on a task. K and 1st grade students even work on their “stamina” between potty breaks. And when they do have to go, they quietly ask their teacher’s permission rather than broadcast their private needs to the class. Students also learn to select “good fit books,” ones from the teacher’s or library’s collection that they find meaningful, interesting and not too hard or easy. (Research shows that students do best when they can read 99% of the text without much difficulty.)

Seeing the Sister’s presentation and reading “The Daily 5,” I came to envision today’s grade schoolers as miniature college students. They are doing more of the focused work, enjoying greater freedom of movement, spending less time feeling bored or bewildered, less time put off by the sound of their teacher’s voice. I know that my son, now in college, would have LOVED a primary school learning environment with a greater emphasis on independence, accountability, and more frequent consultation with teachers.

So kudos to Gail and Joan and the Daily 5 movement for producing more engaged, more empowered readers! I see it complementing today’s emphasis on Common Core and part of a refreshing break after the rigid aspects of No Child Left Behind.