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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

The Daily 5: An Interview with the Two Sisters

By Peter DeWitt — September 08, 2012 8 min read
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“Daily 5 takes the students from where they are in relation to their ability to be independent, and teaches them to become intrinsically motivated as they build stamina.” Gail Boushey

Sharing best practices is one of the most important components of any inservice or professional development session. Teachers are the experts in their field and sharing best practices allows them to bring their most creative and innovative teaching ideas to a venue where they can share with colleagues. Sometimes, teachers learn their most useful ideas from their colleagues.

Five years ago I taught an inservice in the Averill Park Central School District where I am a principal. Robin and Kim, two teachers from another elementary school in the district wanted to focus on the Daily 5. I had never heard of it but within 24 hours after they shared the program it spread like wildfire and our teachers have since become better practitioners. Over the years I have seen teachers from across the district do some very creative things with their students.

As a school administrator, I want proof that the programs teachers use are worthwhile. I want to be convinced that the students understand what they are supposed to be doing. In these present times of data driven instruction and accountability, we don’t have time to waste on programs that don’t give us the most bang for our buck. In the end, we are here to make sure that our students are learning and the Daily 5 provides those experiences.

Interview with...The Sisters
“CAFE is an acronym for Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expanding Vocabulary, and the system includes goal-setting with students in individual conferences, posting of goals on a whole-class board, developing small group instruction based on clusters of students with similar goals, and targeting whole-class instruction based on emerging student needs and fine tuning one on one conferring.” Daily Five Website

At the time of the inservice, I was concerned that the Daily 5 was a passing fad. Perhaps the students were being bombarded with busy work as the teacher worked with a small group of students. I was incorrect in that assumption. Time after time, as I talked with students during the Daily 5 I found that they understood exactly what they were supposed to be doing. The teachers and students were doing it with integrity. Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, also known as the Sisters, are the authors and creators of The Daily 5®, and The Literacy CAFE®.

Educators understand that students can learn only when they are given engaging work. Gail and Joan are both former teachers and their energy and passion for literacy is infectious and it carries over into their work. They help teachers make sure that students are building the stamina to work independently at the same time they are growing as learners.

PD: Where does the Daily 5 fall between management system and direct instruction?
JM: The Daily 5 is really a management system, a system to teach our students to learn to be independent. When you think about direct instruction, we believe this is what sets the Daily 5 apart from other workshop models. Daily 5 begins with direct instruction, teaching students to become independent, intrinsically motivated students. Some students arrive at school with the ability to be independent, who have experience engaging with books and are able to focus for extended periods of time. Others arrive without those skills.

When a child comes to school we teach them to become better readers, writers, mathematicians and thinkers. Likewise, Daily 5 is all about taking those students who come to school without the skills to be independent and teaching them to build their stamina for independent work. All that is done through direct instruction.

GB: Direct instruction is definitely a big piece of Daily 5 as with all good explicit explanation, teachers share the knowledge of why students are doing what they are doing, that reading is the very best way to become a better reader. The best part of all of this is that Daily 5 is not scripted. It is about teaching children, not curriculum. Daily 5 takes the students from where they are in relation to their ability to be independent, and teaches them to become intrinsically motivated as they build stamina.

PD:How can teachers manage the Daily 5 at a time when they may have larger class sizes?
GB: We are in the state of Washington which is #48 in class sizes. Washington does not have a class size cap. It depends on the school district and whether they subsidize class sizes or not. Some class sizes range from 20 -25 if they are subsidized. If they are not subsidized, they may be 25-32. In middle school they go much higher.

Being that we are from Washington we thought that every class was that large and we really had to figure that out. As much as class size is important, some teachers do not have the ability to change their circumstances. They really need to figure out what will work best for them given the class sizes they have.

JM: We developed Daily 5 many years ago merely for the fact that we knew the very best way to teach children was one-on-one or in a very small group. Yet the bottom line is, if we want to work with individuals and small groups, it doesn’t matter if you have 5 students or 35 students, it all hinges on the age old question, ‘What do I do with the rest of the students?’ That’s what Daily 5 is all about!

PD:Are there age appropriate standards for students who work independently?
GB: We have 6 behaviors that we think are must have behaviors for working independently, regardless of their age. For those who know Daily 5, if students choose “Read to self” they have to make sure they are prepared for Independent behavior 1. If they have control over that behavior, they can focus on the following:

  • Read the whole time
  • Stay in one spot
  • Get started right away
  • Build your own stamina (...and your bathroom stamina!)
  • Read, write and work quietly

Those behaviors are standard in all Daily 5 choices. Once children know these behaviors they automatically transfer them to everything from walking in the hall to Math.

JM: There isn’t a direct guideline that states what third grade students should be able to do for how long. It really all depends on the individual needs of each student in any grade level. However, we do provide guidelines for teachers to understand when students are ready to move on to the next Daily 5 Choice.

GB: We try to set the standard that once our primary students have 10-12 minutes of stamina they are ready to move on to the next Daily 5 choice. Intermediate students, we wait until they have 12-14 minutes of stamina before introducing the next Daily 5 choice. Kindergarten, once they have 7-8 minutes of stamina, we know it is time to introduce the next Daily 5 choice.

PD: How does the Daily 5 fit with the Common Core State Standards?
JM: The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) really go hand in hand with our Literacy CAFE. The Daily 5 is all about the structure teachers put in place so children are engaged in meaningful literacy activities, allowing teachers to work with individuals and small groups. What they teach in those individual conferences and small group lessons comes from our CAFE Menu, which is aligned to the CCSS.

GB: When we were developing The Daily 5, we wanted to work on the behavior component first so we could get our students at a point where they were independent, not relying on us to keep them busy with busy work. It was after we taught them to be independent that we wanted to focus on what we were teaching, that is where The Literacy CAFE came from and is how we focus on those standards. Teachers will be able to teach the CCSS within the Daily 5 Framework and the Café will help them with ways in which to do that.

In the End
The Daily 5 is a system that teaches students to be independent. It offers an incredible amount of choice for students, which is directly linked to high accountability for children. The Daily 5 helps teachers and students set expectations for themselves and therefore allows teachers to differentiate their instruction so that students who excel can be challenged and students who struggle can be given the assistance they need. Within those parameters, students become more independent and improve in literacy. However, the skills they learn transfer into the other subjects they learn in the classroom.

Over the years I have watched teachers react to the Daily 5 in the same way that children and adults reacted to Harry Potter. There are book clubs, #d5chat on Twitter and teachers and principals who can’t wait for the next Daily 5 resource to be released from the sisters. One of the best things that happen around the Daily 5 is that it gets students, teachers and administrators excited about reading.

I will end with some great questions that Matt Renwick, an elementary principal in Wisconsin sent me to ponder when observing a Daily 5 classroom. They were derived from the article “What I’ve Learned About Effective Reading Instruction From a Decade of Studying Exemplary Elementary Classroom Teachers” by Dr. Richard Allington.


  • Students are actually reading and writing around 50% of the time.
  • Students are reading independently, meeting with the teacher for guided reading, and/or reading and writing in the content areas.


  • Students are reading texts that allow for high levels of accuracy, fluency and comprehension.
  • Classroom texts reflect a broad range of interests, diversity and levels.


  • Teacher gives direct, explicit demonstrations of thinking strategies that good readers and writers use when they read and write.
  • Teacher assigns work that is responsive to students’ needs and fosters a transition of thinking strategies to independent use.


  • Teacher facilitates lots of purposeful dialogue - both teacher/student and student/student.
  • Classroom talk is more conversational than interrogational.


  • Teacher assigns activities that are substantial, challenging and complex.
  • Students are allowed some choice and autonomy in work to promote ownership and engagement.


  • Teacher evaluates student work based on effort and growth rather than just achievement.
  • Students take responsibility for their scores with the help of clear and visible academic expectations.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.