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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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A More Effective Writing Block

It may just be the time of year, but so many teachers are asking for support in their Writing Blocks. In the beginning of the year, around winter and spring breaks, and at the very end of the year, the Writing Block can become a bit hectic for teachers. Kids may lack focus, may be more talkative, and may generally be less cooperative and less creative (dreams of sugarplumsÖspring feverÖraging hormonesÖ). Letís not give up, though! Letís just try to channel those kids in the right direction.

Here are some questions asked by Valerie (from the mailring) and others that might help us all:

# l
Question: Help! The noise level is awful during my Writing Block! I've tried everything I've heard of: playing music; writing it instead of saying it, etc., but they are just the biggest chatterboxes you could imagine. And, because of this, they don't write. The talkative ones distract others who are actually trying to write. When the writing time is up, we share, and they are frantically writing something and take forever to get down on the floor for sharing. They did not use their actual writing time to write! What do you suggest?

Answer: If you're trying to hold conferences at this point in the year, I would suggest suspending those until you feel the kids are on task and things are going well. Take the middle segment of Writing Block to go around the room and encourage kids, "What are you telling about today" "Oh! I love flying kites, too! That was a good choice for your writing today." etc. Don't hold conferences (or turn your back on the class!) until you're totally comfortable doing that.

If conference time is not what's getting in the way of your getting control of the workshop time, then I would suggest stopping right now and, through a democratic process, let kids determine the rules for the workshop time. Tell them many students are having a difficult time, so together youíll make some rules that will make it an easier time for everyone to work on writing. Let them help you make a list of the things that would help all class members have a better work environment (maybe suggest that they should see this an their "office" time). Post the list and hold them accountable to it.

# 2
Question: I still have some kids asking, "How do you spell...?" I donít spell anything for them, and I tell them not to ask. In one of my first mini-lessons, I showed them how to use the word wall and how to sound out other words like a rubber band. Some of them use this, but others still ask. When I remind them of these techniques, they just sit there, stuck on spelling the word right. I tell them that writing time is just to put down their ideas and not worry about spelling. We'll fix it later during editing. I guess they don't believe me.

Answer: You've done the right preliminary things to get the kids to understand what you want them to do. Unlearning the behavior of thinking that everything needs to be correct is difficult---the higher the grade level, too, the more difficult unlearning becomes. Make sure that "I've circled words I think I may have misspelled" be added to your Editor's Checklist. Many teachers have reported to me that this was magical for their students who didn't want to have any words spelled incorrectly. It gave them "permission" to have it wrong and to go on writing. See if this helps your class.

Also, be sure that when your students conference with you that you value revision even more than mere editing of capital letters, spelling, and punctuation. "Clean" writing and "good" writing are not synonymous! Be sure that they know that.

# 3
Question: Some of my students just don't get it! They don't see this time as a gift, a chance to write about whatever they want. They don't see their notebooks as a way to record their hopes and dreams, interests and imaginings. They just don't see writing as a beautiful experience.

Answer: Maybe your students just need more time to appreciate their own writing. You may want to find some different ways of publishing like a bulletin board, for example, that they would take pride in. Make them responsible for having a current piece of polished writing posted on the bulletin board at all times. Put large zip-loc bags (1-2 gal.) or plastic paper storage sheets on the board with the students names on each one. Tuck a comment sheet in the back, and ask that when students read each others work that they write a brief comment on the comment sheet and sign it. Occasionally, your sharing time at the end of this block can be spent reading someoneís published piece from the bulletin board and writing a quick comment in response.

Some classrooms have Author's Teas once a month or once a grading period, inviting parents of students who have published to come. The tea includes sharing time for the kids to sit with their parents and to read their newly published books.

Also, on an easier note, look closely at the type of feedback that kids are getting and giving during their sharing time. Model the kinds of questions that make writing better.

# 4
Question: Writing time is just not long enough (45 minutes total). I have 10-15 minute mini lessons, usually 20 minute writing time, and 5-10 minutes sharing. I have no way of making it longer, as I would have to cut from other blocks (all the others are 30 minutes). If the students would only get going on their writing right away, not waste time talking, etc., I imagine 20 minutes would be enough. Any advice, suggestions, explanations would help.

Answer: Before you got to the end of your question of this one, you'd already answered it! The kids have plenty of timeóthey just aren't using it. Making the time longer will not make the block any better. Have that class meeting to discuss what you've observed and to get their feedback about how to make this block more effective and efficient. They need more ownership, perhaps. Also, be sure that they are having ample opportunities to write on self-selected topicsóanother way that they gain ownership.

# 5
Question: Can you share any ideas that will help me save time on conferencing and make my conferences more effective?

Answer: Here are a couple of suggestions: 1) If you havenít tried peer editing as an intermediate step before kids come to conference with you, then you might try adding that step. Few students at the primary grades will actually know how to guide the revision of the compositions, but they can help each other with the "clean-up" so that youíll have more time for the "serious stuff" that only you can help with. 2) Hold kids accountable for writing several good pieces before coming to have a conference to choose one piece to polish and publish. If one or more of the pieces is not what you would consider to be "good" for that student, donít hesitate to say that he/she owes you one more good one before the conference. 3) Donít feel that one brief conference is all the time you have with a student before the publishing step. If a student needs to rework sections, have them return to you or turn in the paper for you to look at it over night. If a student needs to check the dictionary, thesaurus, or other reference source before publishing, set up a station in the room that can be the reference table. Circle words that must be spelled correctly or that need to be replaced with a synonym and send them to the resource table for more work. You donít have to do all of this yourself.

# 6
Question: Is there a time of year that I stop modeling every day? Could it be that theyíve seen my writing enough this year?

Answer: Modeling has been the missing link in our classrooms for far too long. We have been assigning and requiring writing, but students havenít had enough experience sometimes to be successful at what weíre requiring. We need to continue to provide good models of everything we want kids to learn. If you begin to feel that you need something different to catch kidsí attention or you need to tap some different models, then use the writing of their favorite published authors. Take a page of Gary Paulsenís novel that shows how he skillfully uses fragments in his writing and why he has adopted that style. Use a page of Cynthia Rylantís book on the Appalachian people to show how skillfully she combines her ideas into a wide variety of sentence types. Use Martin Luther King, Jr.ís speech to explore the power and emotive quality of his diction. Put them on a transparency and explore them as your model. So, yes, you might go beyond your own writing, but do offer the models all year.

I hope that these questions and answers will help to keep your Writing Block up and going until the end of school. What we accomplish during this block lasts kids a lifetime: 1) We help them apply their own phonetic understanding towards becoming proficient readers; and 2) We teach them to communicate clearly and effectively through the written word. Who could dispute the importance?

Have a great week in your 4-Blocks classroom! Keep on writing!

Upcoming 4-Blocks training Iím conducting:
Philadelphia, PA March 29, 2000 Contact SDR (800-678-8908)
Fairfax, VA March 30, 2000 Contact SDR
Long Island, NY March 31, 2000 Contact SDR
Denver, CO May 10, 2000 Contact SDR
St. Louis, MO May 8, 2000 Contact SDR
Kansas City, MO May 9, 2000 Contact SDR
Indianapolis, Indiana June 19-20, 2000 Contact ERG
(2 Day Seminar!) (
Charleston, SC June 29-30, 2000 Contact ERG (Upper Grades- 2 Day)
Cleveland, OH July 6, 2000 Contact SDR
Columbus, OH July 7, 2000 Contact SDR
Chicago, IL July 10, 2000 Contact SDR
Detroit, MI July 11, 2000 Contact SDR
Dallas, TX July 14, 2000 Contact ERG
Milwaukee, WI July 31, 2000 Contact SDR
Minneapolis, MN August 1, 2000 Contact SDR
Columbus, GA Week of 8/7 TBA Contact ERG

Personal: I feel like an honorary Hoosier, spending so much of my time in Indiana lately! What wonderful teachers and administrators in this state! Last week we continued with the second cycle of Indiana statewide training and this week Iím in Michigan City working with the good folks at Neimann School. Thanks to Marsha and the great teachers who welcomed me to their classrooms! Itís so much fun to get to see the stages of implementation! Some new territory is upcoming. Iíll be going to Germany in October to spread the news of 4-Blocks! Exciting!

For those of you who continue to ask about the new grand daughter, Iíll be keeping Meg this weekend! I canít wait to get her in my arms again! Weíll be rockiní and readiní all weekend! Heaven!

Cheryl Sigmon is a regular contributor to Teachers.Net.