About Cheryl Sigmon...
Cheryl Sigmon is the author of Implementing the 4-Blocks Literacy Model (Carson-Dellosa, 1997) and the co-author with Pat Cunningham and Dottie Hall of The Teacherís Guide to the Four Blocks (Carson-Dellosa, 1999). Cheryl was a classroom teacher for a number of years. For nine years she was a language arts consultant for the SC Department of Education, where she worked in K-12 classrooms to help schools strengthen language arts programs. Since January 1999, she has been a freelance consultant, helping thousands of teachers across the United States implement the Four Blocks Model.

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Sifting and Sorting Through the 4-Blocks Literacy Model
by Cheryl M. Sigmon

Looking Back: A Salute to 4-Blocks Teachers

For most schools around the country, the year is ending. For many teachers this was their first year of implementing 4-Blocks. Among those, many teachers report that it was their best year yet; many report that they think that next year will be an even better year after working out the kinks this year. Even the veteran 4-Blocks teachers agree that the framework isnít easy, but most agree that the rewards far outweigh the investment of time and energy. As we close out the school year, letís take a quick look at what 4-Blocks teachers have achieved this year. So often teachers donít give themselves enough credit for a job well done. All of the following items represent a teacherís hard work and dedication, and, hopefully, reflect, too, the support of administrators.

By the end of the school year, 4-Blocks teachers have:

  • Organized books in their rooms so students are more aware of their reasons for selecting books. Some books are in bins around the room categorized by genres, favorite authors and illustrators, different formats, and maybe by topics. These are not likely the book bins that come out to the tables during Self-Selected Reading Block, but they are there to help create the desire for students to read during other times and to choose books to carry home.

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  • Constructed book baskets for students, usually monthly, that will meet the needs of students during the Self-Selected Reading Block. They have considered readability levels, favorite authors and illustrators, topics of interest, varied genres and formats (magazines, pamphlets, newspapers, books). This has taken countless hours over the year as well as a great deal of expertise in assessing the needs of all of the kids in the classroom.

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  • Created an environment that speaks volumes (notice the pun!) to kids about what is valued in the classroom - books, reading and literacy. Books are ever present with covers beckoning the kids from all around the room. Charts and the Word Wall offer a great deal of support for reading and writing.

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  • Worked to create a nurturing environment for children that encouraged their interaction with each other. Desks or tables have had children facing each other, and the teacher has been skillful in facilitating learning and in giving kids more responsibility for their own learning. The room reflects the "heart" of 4-Blocks - that ALL children can learn without being labeled.

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  • Assessed the strengths and weaknesses of studentsí reading and writing through one-on-one conferences during Self-Selected Reading Block and Writing Block as well as during occasional small group interaction as students read and shared. Teachers have documented through hours of anecdotal note taking, running records, and informal reading inventories just how much children have grown under the teachersí guidance.

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  • Impressed students about how many books those students have read throughout the year. Students have kept reading logs and have collected an impressive pile of Story Bits at home. The teacher has a long list of books recorded during the Self-Selected Reading conferences with each child throughout the year. In so many ways, students are truly amazed at how much they have read and how they have been able to stretch and grow through reading these books!

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  • Encouraged students to feel at ease about getting up in front of the class and practicing their verbal skills. Teachers have given each child many opportunities to share in the Book Chat chair and in the Authorís Chair. Kids are usually quite comfortable by the ending of the year. This is such an achievement for some kids to overcome "stage-fright"!

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  • "Blessed" dozens of books for students in read-alouds. These books have all become the class favorites. A teacher who reads just ten minutes a day has now read an astonishing 30 hours to children during Self-Selected Reading!

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  • Taught many, many skills and strategies through carefully planned mini-lessons in Guided Reading and Writing Blocks. Students have absorbed these brief lessons and have applied them to their own "real" reading and writing.

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  • Ingrained in kidsí minds that there are certain things you always do before you read text that can help you to be so much more successful with that book - pre-reading activities. This year students have learned to make predictions, plan with graphic organizers, brainstorm the K and W for a KWL chart, do a picture walk, review vocabulary, make connections with what they already know about the topic, and set a purpose for their reading. These are life-long skills.

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  • Helped students collect many new words through their vocabulary study and their word play. Many of these are permanent words now in these kidsí vocabularies.

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  • Replaced lists of spelling words with teaching kids HOW to spell. Now these students have a life-long strategy for spelling words that they want to write. They rely upon their knowledge of patterns, context, and visual and auditory cueing systems.

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  • Organized writing folders so that each child could participate in the Writing Block workshop approach with independence and confidence.

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  • Provided around 60 hours of time for students to practice and apply reading skills and strategies during the Guided Reading Block, spending approximately twenty minutes per day. Teachers have watched fluency and comprehension increase as the year has progressed.

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  • Worked long and hard to align Guided Reading lessons so that the mini-lessons, the purpose, the practice/application, and the closure all help students to grow in reading proficiency.

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  • Increased studentsí written communication skills. Students now feel confident writing about self-selected topics and have learned the necessary curriculum standards that deal with writing. Students have learned to support each other through their daily sharing and their peer coaching.

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  • Shown students so much about their language - its patterns, rhythm, rhyme, and flow. All of the blocks have supported studentsí understanding about the English language and their application of this knowledge into their own personal use. Students have enjoyed dozens and dozens of activities in the Words Block to help them understand patterns of language, spelling, and decoding.

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  • Educated parents about the differences between 4-Blocks instruction and the traditional instruction of the past.

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  • Ensured that students will go to the next grade, having added approximately 120 sight words to their knowledge base. This will make reading so much easier for them!

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  • Built confidence in studentsí abilities to read, write, speak, and listen through all of the blocks.

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  • Told children in so many ways that they are special.

I salute all 4-Blocks teachers as you close out the school year! I hope that 4-Blocks has made your year more complete and enjoyable for both you and your students. Now weíll start thinking about the coming school year. Thereís much to be done before they come back. But, thereís time for you to rest, relax and have fun between now and then. Letís start the summer by practicing what we preach - letís read a good book!

Book Recommendation: Because of Winn-Dixie is a must-read this summer! Everyone at the IRA conference was raving about it, so I just had to read it. Itís for children of all ages, though targeted probably for intermediate children. I think itíll always be one of my favorites, and Iíve just passed it along for my 84-year-old mother to read, too. Itíll touch your heart with the clearest, sweetest, wisest voice of a young girl. Hope youíll like it as much as I do!

Personal: I had a great week working with administrators in Cherokee County in my own state of SC. These administrators have been taking a 4-Blocks course this year. How wonderful to see administrators work towards actively supporting their teachersí implementation! Elizabeth Moorehead has done a great job of spearheading this effort. The week before that I worked again in Michigan City, IN with the teachers at Neimann School who have invited me several times into their classrooms so that I can observe their implementation and give them some feedback to help them strengthen their model. Theyíre doing a great job! Thanks Marsha Tappan and Neimann teachers for your hospitality! One more exciting thing to share: the teachers Iíve worked with from San Juan Bautista, CA, traveled all the way to SC this past week to visit 4-Blocks schools in Charleston. I met them there and observed along with them. Itís great how this model has brought us all together across the country!

One very personal note: My youngest child, Caroline, graduates from high school on June 2nd!! This is such a red-letter day for us all. You might remember reading about Caroline in one of my articles entitled, Caroline, Community and Colorado. Iím really proud of her! Now Iím becoming an empty-nester! Yikes! I wonder what itís going to be like after 30+ years of raising children????


Cheryl Sigmon is a regular contributor to Teachers.Net.

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