The Top 10 Reasons This Principal Loves Daily Five and CAFE by Mindy Reid



As an elementary principal, I got to witness my former school’s three year transformation in becoming a school-wide Daily 5/CAFE environment and see the amazing results firsthand.  We set a goal of creating a culture of readers, and D5 and CAFE helped us get there.  I am excited to begin that journey at my new school as many of my teachers have already begun implementing this year.  (Some had dabbled in it last year as well.)


For those of you who don’t know what Daily 5 and CAFE are, I hope you will explore Gail Boushey and Joan Moser’s structure and philosophy for teaching reading (the 2nd edition of The Daily 5 is now available).  The Daily 5 provides a structure during the reading block in which students are explicitly taught to be independent readers and writers.  This structure, once up and running, provides the teacher with the opportunity to meet with individual students or small groups (after teaching a whole group mini-lesson) to provide reading instruction specifically tailored to students’ needs.  CAFE is an acronym for Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expanding Vocabulary.  Starting with the standards, teachers focus on the key skills and strategies from these four areas on the “menu” to assist in planning whole group mini-lessons and to  help students set personalized goals based on the specific skills and strategies they need practice with–true differentiation!


Here are the top ten reasons I love this structure and philosophy and can’t wait to see the results of another school-wide implementation!


1.  Structure:  As I mentioned previously, The Daily Five provides a structure for the reading block by providing 5 choices for independent literacy tasks–Read to Self, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Work with Words, Work on Writing. Students are explicitly taught the procedures for engaging in these tasks and are immersed in authentic literacy learning each day. While they do not do all 5 tasks each day, care is taken to ensure that Read to Self is always one of the requirements.


2. Meaningful literacy practice:  Students have real books in their hands, manipulate words in meaningful ways, and write about what they are reading.  Gone are the activity-based centers that teachers must spend hours creating.  Gone are the meaningless worksheets and workbooks.  Instead, students are really reading and really writing.  Just as with sports or learning to play a musical instrument, practice is necessary for mastery or improvement.  The same holds true for reading and writing.


3.  Choice:  Students get to choose which books they read after they have been explicitly taught how to select “good-fit” books.  Students have the freedom to select books that they are interested in.  By having the freedom to select reading material, students are much more motivated to pick up the book and read it!  Teacher read alouds and book promotions offer students the opportunity to be exposed to a wide variety of genres and reading materials, aiding in their personal selections.  Another bonus–there is no need for the traditional basal textbook.  Hooray!


4.  Conversation:  The role of speaking in literacy instruction is often overlooked.  In a D5/CAFE environment, rich conversations take place between the teacher and the students and between the students themselves. As teachers confer with readers, they are conversing about strategies, the teacher is listening to the student read, and they are making meaning together.  As students read with and talk to one another, they are making connections and further solidifying their understanding.


5.  Differentiation:  Each student’s specific needs are being addressed on a daily basis in this type of learning environment.  Teachers track students’ progress on a regular basis.  Through frequent meetings between teacher and student, the teacher is better able to identify specific areas that a student may need more practice with and can set goals and tailor instruction to meet those needs.


6.  Strategy Groups vs. Traditional Guided Reading Groups:  While there is nothing particularly wrong about traditional guided reading groups, grouping students based on the strategy they are working on as opposed to the “level” they are reading at makes much more sense.  You can have a heterogenous group of learners who all need to work on the same strategy and make more of an impact that a traditional group where they all may be reading at a Level G, but one student may need  help with fluency, another with checking for understanding, and yet another with decoding.


7.  Mini-lessons:  There are short bursts of whole group instruction followed by breakout sessions in which students can practice and the teacher can work with individuals and small groups.  Lessons become much more laser-focused and purposeful.  Brain research has shown that students’ attention span is about the same number of minutes as their age in years.  To learn, you need to pay attention.  Therefore an 8 year old can optimize learning by having an 8-10 minute lesson on comparing and contrasting as opposed to a 20-30 minute lesson on the same skill.


8.  Time to read:   Time is built into each classroom’s schedule for students to read.  There is no more need for “DEAR” time (Drop Everything And Read), because students have this time already built into their day. As Allington  tells us, some of our weakest readers get the least amount of time to read books that they can accurately read, thus the least amount of practice.  How can we expect our students to become better readers if we are not providing them time?


9.  Students own their learning:  Students become active participants in their learning by setting goals and becoming aware of their strengths and needs.  They are focused on one or two skills/strategies at a time until they are mastered.


10.  The Pensieve:  All of you Harry Potter fans will appreciate the teacher’s conferring notebook being referred to as a pensieve.  If you’ve ever had the pleasure to attend one of the Sisters’ workshops, you have heard the story of a student making the connection between the notebook and the pensieve that holds all of Dumbledore’s thoughts.  The teacher’s pensieve contains important information that documents each reader’s progress–all of his or her important thoughts about student learning.  There is also an electronic CC Pensieve available for teachers to utilize with technology.


Our students absolutely love their reading block and beg to continue to read their books  when it is time to move on to other learning.   Students are engaged, excited, and have read many more books as a result of this change in practice.  I hope you might take a little bit of time to learn more about The Daily Five and CAFÉ and that you will continue the Nerdy tradition of promoting books and reading every opportunity you get.


Mindy Reid is an PK-5 elementary principal in Bethlehem, GA, who is passionate about creating a culture of reading at her school.  She would love to connect with other educators who are finding success with Daily Five and CAFE.  You can find her on Twitter @leaderandreader and follow her blog