It's not enough time, of course. But then how much time is enough time?
As I work through this dilemma, I have decided that some routines are non-negotiable. Independent reading and read aloud need to happen every day, and my students need time to write and explore different writing techniques in a writer's notebook. So far, I've been able to stay the course even if we've had to skip read aloud on occasion.
In the meantime, here are some things I've noticed so far:
Most of my students come in at the beginning of class and settle in around the room with a book; they know that the first 10 - 15 minutes are for independent reading and they take this time seriously.
I have my work cut out with some students who don't like to read, or so they say. What they don't know, or at least don't think I'm serious when I tell them, is that my goal for this year is to make sure that everyone loves to read or, at least, likes it a lot more than they do now.
Some of my 7th grade students choose to write any chance they get. I've started calling this group of six kids, "the writing circle". They don't object.
I've heard my students groan when I tell them we need to stop reading during an specially poignant part of Out of My Mind.
At the beginning of class, my 6th graders ask if we're going to read Esperanza Rising today. They don't yet trust that reading aloud is going to be a fixture in our classroom. After reading a couple of chapters, one student says, "Hey, this isn't a bad book at all." Music to my ears!
We are talking about some universal themes in literature and writing about the one(s) we are noticing in our independent reading books.
We update our reading status every day and share what we're reading with each other. By doing this, the kids are getting to hear about books that they might want to read. (Thanks to Donalyn Miller for sharing this idea in her book, Reading in the Wild.)
My students are starting to keep track of books read, books to read, and books abandoned on Goodreads.
We have launched our classroom Twitter account though that needs more thought and fleshing out on my part and with my students.
I will be figuring out how to maximize our 55 minutes so that every moment counts. How I'm doing that will be for another post. What matters is that over the next few weeks I will have solidified those 55 minutes so that we don't run out of time for what's important - reading, writing and talking about literature. But, for now, I think we're doing fine.