Cheryl Sigmon

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Are We Demanding Enough of Our Students?

From the Teachers.Net Gazette archives;
Cheryl Sigmon makes the case that the 4 blocks Literacy framework encourages higher levels of reading achievement for today's students than the teaching methods we remember from the past.

by Cheryl Sigmon
Regular contributor to the Gazette
April 1, 2008

Nationwide there has been a cry for more rigorous standards for our students. Every state that I visit shares learner objectives that proclaim a higher level of proficiency with equally rigorous levels of accountability for students as well as for teachers. Driven by the desire for our students to be globally competitive, administrators, teachers, parents, legislators, and community members scrutinize our programs and our classroom practices--as well they should. Some of the people who visit our classrooms and schools have a mindset of the past, however. They often expect to peer into classrooms to find neat rows of desks with students sitting quietly and passively absorbing the information espoused by the all-knowing, all-divining teacher at the front of the classroom. We must be ready to explain our practices in 4-Blocks--how it looks different, how it "feels" different, and how we're achieving objectives that are different from those of the past.

One of the most frequently asked questions from those who want to assure that 4-Blocks offers what is necessary for students to excel with the new standards is, "Are you demanding enough of our students? Kids are having a good time here and the instruction is efficient. But, some of the framework looks so much easier than what they were given in the past. How can this framework possibly be encouraging greater levels of achievement?"

Let's look at this issue and answer their question.

I believe that 4-Blocks actually requires far more of students than our traditional instruction did. The most complex part of why this is true deals with the shift in why we teach the way that we do in 4-Blocks. This is a model based on strategic teaching and strategic learning. In the past, much of our teaching and learning was at the lowest level of Bloom's taxonomy of learning--the recall level.

For example, in our traditional instruction of guided reading, we had students read stories, placing great emphasis in our round-robin groups on calling the words with precision. When we taught comprehension of the story, it was usually through having students answer questions at the end of the chapter or answer a series of detail questions about the text called from our teacher's manual. In our 4-Blocks classrooms, we have realized that it's not really the story that is the essence of our lesson. We want students to learn the skills and strategies necessary to read the text. True, some of the text is at an easier level than some students are able to read; however, these higher achieving students learn something about the skill or strategy and are then held accountable for apply them during their "real" reading.

In the past we gave kids long lists of words to learn--or rather, to memorize--for the test on Friday. Parents worked with kids at home to practice the words, and kids did exercises out of the spelling book to practice these words, too. And, yes, they usually did really well on Friday's test--most "aced" it. But, on Monday, we found those words misspelled in their journals. What's wrong?

Now, in 4-Blocks we realize that what kids spell is not nearly as important as how they spell. The "how" becomes our objective. We want kids to learn about the patterns of words, the ways we change words to make new words, the meanings of the morphemic units of words (prefixes, suffixes, bases). We constantly call attention to how students' knowledge of these things will help them. Then, we go a step beyond--we expect them to apply what they know to their real reading and writing. Our spelling tests are likely to have kids write the words that have the same rime (spelling pattern) as a key word they've learned, edit a paragraph we give them for words they've learned, and write from dictation where we've inserted old and new Word Wall words, pattern words, Nifty Thrifty Fifty and anything else kids should know from our work with them. This is a test that's a much higher level than the old test of the past.

In 4-Blocks we actually expect students to articulate what they've learned. Our Guided Reading lessons are so tightly aligned that a student can tell us at the end of the lesson, "Today I learned about cause and effect in the text." Or "Today I learned about how important sequence is to a story." In Writing Block, they (not the little ones!) may be asked to record the mini-lesson from the teacher's model lesson in their writing notebook. They know they'll be held accountable to these lessons in their own writing.

In Self-Selected Reading, the students are making choices. We teach them how to make appropriate decisions about book choices, and we introduce them to various genres. We expect them to read widely and deeply and to be able to discuss the text with us progressively more in-depth. Their decision-making and their ability to discuss books--maybe even evaluating and analyzing the text--is a far greater demanding skill than assigning a book and evaluating with a generic pencil and paper test.

As far as writing instruction in the past, we often had students write on assigned topics and complete workbook pages that drilled the concepts we were teaching. In the Writing Block of 4-Blocks, we actually make kids think about their own topics and plan their own organizational pattern! They may sit like "knots on a log" in the beginning when we provide them the opportunity to write on self-selected topics, but they soon get the message that they'll be writing every day and that they should come to class prepared to write about things in their world that matter to them. We work during conference time to guide them to make choices and decisions that writers must learn to make. Even beyond growing as writers, these students acquire decision-making as a critical life-skill.

So, yes, 4-Blocks is challenging for students--all students. We are not "dumbing down" the curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Rather, we are elevating them to a level that provides much greater potential for our students as they face this competitive world. Choices, opportunities, application--that's what 4-Blocks does for students. Let's defend our practices and assure parents and community members that 4-Blocks is far up the ladder of Bloom's taxonomy!

Happy reading and writing! -------Cheryl



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About Cheryl Sigmon...

Cheryl Sigmon has been an educator for nearly 30 years as a classroom teacher, a Dept. of Ed. language arts consultant, and currently as a seminar presenter, trainer and consultant in schools and districts around the US and Europe. She owns her own consulting firm, Sigmon & Associates, Inc., that brokers consulting services. She is co-author with Pat Cunningham and Dottie Hall of the bestselling Teacher's Guide to Four-Blocks and author of Modifying Four-Blocks for Upper Grades. Also, she is the author of numerous other professional books on literacy, including a writing mini-lesson series, Just-Right Writing Mini-Lessons (grade 1, 2-3, 4-6) and her newest comprehension mini-lesson series, Just-Right Comprehension Lessons (grades 1-6) with Scholastic Publishing Co.

Visit Cheryl's website at http://www.cherylsigmon.com.

On a personal note, she and her husband, Ray, live in SC, where they enjoy their stateís beautiful beaches and spend time with their three daughters, two grandchildren, and a multitude of grand-dogs and grandĖcats!


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