Sifting and Sorting Through the 4-Blocks Literacy Model|
by Cheryl M. Sigmon
A Little Stress Relief with Timing Issues
Listening to mailringers at Teachers.Net lately has revealed that a number of teachers are a bit frantic at this point in the year about the timing issues involved in Four-Blocks. I think that's a great topic for us to pursue more in-depth. If we don't solve the problems, you're going to burn out mid-year, and we certainly don't want that to happen! We want Four-Blocks to rejuvenate you, not wear you out!
At the primary grades, Four-Blocks requires a minimum of thirty minutes for each block. I'll have to admit that, with all of the practice I've had, I still have a difficult time getting Guided Reading delivered within thirty minutes. I'm much more comfortable with around 40 minutes---finding that the additional 10 minutes are so valuable! Also, the Writing Block is a very tight squeeze, especially when students grow to enjoy the writing time. So, ideally Four-Blocks needs about 2 ¼ to 2 ½ hours. By the way, we also find that going beyond 45 minutes in any block probably doesn't serve us well. If you go beyond 45 minutes two things are likely to happen: 1) You might have to short-change something else in your day or even another of the blocks, and you don't want to do that; and 2) You run the risk of burning out students' enthusiasm and your energy as well!
Let's start our conversation with Guided Reading Block since that's what most of the mailring teachers mentioned as a problem area. First, if you're spending an hour or longer on that block, you're including too much during that block daily. You need to break your instruction into manageable bites. Here are a few hints that I can offer:
1 - Be sure that you're sticking to comprehension only during this block. Don't try to cram in instruction in grammar, mechanics, phonics, writing, etc., etc. There's a more appropriate place for all of those things to be taught---in another block where it'll make better sense to students. Focus strictly on comprehension during Guided Reading.
2 - Connecting students to the text each day prior to reading is important, but, as Dick Allington reports in his research, we have to be careful to limit the "stuff" about reading and spend most of our time actually reading. The "stuff" like prior knowledge, vocabulary, mini-lesson, purpose setting should be held to about 10 minutes. You'll have time for connections and direct instruction daily, so don't feel that you have to get it all in within one day.
3 - Limit the amount of text you try to read each day. It should be the amount that can be read within about 20 minutes, also allowing for some brief task (purpose). You should be sticking with the same text for a number of days (rule of thumb at primary grades is about 3 days of grade-level reading and two days of below grade-level). That'll allow you to re-teach the same skill/strategy for several days or teach different skills/strategies as you move day to day. Also, allow time for re-reading text to build fluency. If this means that you move beyond the 3 day/2 day plan, so be it!
4 - If you're using a basal reading series, don't try to do everything the publisher tells you to do. Be selective! See the basal as a menu from which you can pick and choose what you feel your students need and what your curriculum tells you your students need to know. To do a good job, you'll need to be in charge of the basal---not allowing the basal to be in charge of you!
5 - Give thought beforehand about how your students will be supported in their reading each day. What format will best support each reader---a partner, playschool group, teacher read-aloud, echo reading, choral reading, independent reading. Streamline the during reading segment of Guided Reading by planning and organizing the formats prior to the block. You might try a chart so that students quickly check the chart to see where and with whom they are reading that day.
6 - Focus your instruction so that students come away from the lesson with a clear understanding of the skill/strategy that you've taught. Give thought to alignment in your lesson---Pick a primary focal point (mini-lesson); set a purpose that gives students an opportunity to practice and apply that skill; give them reading time to do that; and then bring closure by coming full-circle. Closure should give you some formative information about whether they "got it". In fact, I think it's revealing (and a bit brave) to ask your students at the end of a Guided Reading lesson, "What have you learned today that will make you a better reader?" You want to make a point that this time is about learning to be a better reader and that what they've just learned can be transferred into their "real" reading---content areas, Self-Selected Reading, and the reading they do at home.
7 - In this block and others, don't get too stressed about the time. Most Four-Blocks teachers use timers, but the intent isn't to move without a smooth transition from activity to activity. The timer should be used as a "gentle reminder" to be cognizant of all that needs to be included in your balanced day. The timer also helps students to be more aware of time (since they usually have NO concept of time!) and to use their time wisely.
I hope these ideas help a bit to ease your frustration with timing in the Guided Reading Block. We'll talk about those other blocks soon! Hang in there! ---Cheryl
Below are seminars that I have coming up in the future. Hope to see you at one!
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Hope to see you at a seminar soon!
I just attended a Block Party in Denver, Indiana (Yes, that's Indiana!) where nearly 250 people came together to talk about and learn more about Four-Blocks. A number of folks had to be turned away because of the limited space! What a fabulous event! Diana Bucher, Rhonda Reed and the teachers and administrators of North Miami Elementary School have been movers and shakers in that part of their state since taking part in the first round of statewide Four-Blocks training. Thanks to Rhonda and husband, Bryan, for the hours they spent chauffeuring me to and from Indianapolis!
By the way, later this school year in April, there will be a BIG Block Party in Indiana, coordinated by Claudia Wheatley who spearheaded our Indiana statewide training over the past several years. Watch for announcements! It's going to be a blast!
I'm on my way to keep my grandchildren for the weekend. We'll be readin' and rockin' all weekend! Can't wait!
Hope your holiday season is off to a great start. See you soon!
Happy Reading! ---Cheryl
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