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Volume 3 Number 7

Barbara & Sue Gruber help us "to stay energized and enthusiastic about teaching" during our summer break...
Effective Teaching by Harry & Rosemary Wong Teaching Procedures Is Teaching Expectations
Instant Ideas for Busy Teachers by Barbara Gruber and Sue Gruber It's Summer---Rest, Relax, Recharge and Have Some Fun!
Promoting Learning by Marv Marshall Observations From Last Year
4 Blocks by Cheryl Sigmon Choice: Fountas and Pinnell or 4-Blocks?
Ask the School Psychologist by Beth Bruno Building Emotional Intelligence
Online Classrooms by Leslie Bowman & George París Conway Communication in Online Learning Environments: Framing Asynchronous Online Discussions
The Eclectic Teacher by Ginny Hoover I Didn't Know That!
Starting Over Again With a New Group and Learning About Them
The Busy Educator's Monthly Five (5 Sites for Busy Educators) by Marjan Glavac Sites For Beginning Teachers Part 2
Ask the Literacy Teacher by Leigh Hall Sustained Silent Reading
July Articles
July Regular Features
July Informational Items
Gazette Home Delivery:

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 Teacher's 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.

Learn more about Cheryl and her work at -

More articles by Cheryl Sigmon.

The 4 Blocks Center...
Teachers.Net is proud to support Pat Cunningham, Cheryl Sigmon, and their colleagues in the research and development of the 4 Blocks method. Join our community of teachers across the country working with 4 Blocks every day. Visit and contribute to the 4 Blocks and Building Blocks chatboards, and subscribe to a Four Blocks Mailring. It's like having the foremost authorities in 4 Blocks teaching right next door!

Bookmark the 4 Blocks Center.

Best Sellers

True Stories From 4 Blocks Classrooms

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Teachers Guide To Building Blocks

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Implementing the 4-Blocks Literacy Model
by Cheryl Sigmon

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Classrooms That Work : They Can All Read and Write
by Patricia Cunningham

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Making More Words : Multilevel, Hands-On Phonics and Spelling Activities
by Patricia M. Cunningham, Dorothy P. Hall

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If you are looking for some examples of teacher created tools to use when implementing the Four Blocks framework, have a look at the
4 Blocks Goodies Page...

Don't forget to visit the Four Blocks Literacy Center -

Sifting and Sorting Through the 4-Blocks Literacy Model
by Cheryl M. Sigmon
Choice: Fountas and Pinnell or 4-Blocks?
By far the most frequent questions I'm asked revolve around the type of guided reading that Four Blocks promotes as a part of its balanced approach to literacy. Occasionally, I'm even asked if I'll help a school blended the two different approaches to guided reading. My answer is now and will always be, "No! I won't help you blended two very different philosophies about teaching reading." Let me elaborate on why I believe there comes a time when you have to make a choice between the two approaches and stick with your choice.

One of the major approaches to teaching reading we'll refer to as the Fountas/Pinnell approach (or maybe F/P would be easier!) because it's based on the work of two experts in the area of reading, Irene Fountas and Gay Sue Pinnell. These are, by the way, two highly regarded professionals in the area of reading. They wrote a book called Guided Reading in which they promote a system of grouping children in what they refer to as dynamic groups. By the F/P definition of guided reading, the teacher works directly with a small group to help students apply skills and strategies as they read. The children in the small group are at about the same reading level. The "dynamic" part of this grouping system is that students are to be moved from group to group as their needs dictate---up if the reading needs to be more challenging for them, down if less challenging.

As I have visited classrooms and observed what teachers feel is dynamic grouping ala Fountas and Pinnell, the failure that I note in many classrooms is that the grouping is not dynamic. It seems that students, most often, get permanently assigned to these groups, returning to the age-old system of redbirds, bluebirds, and, unfortunately, buzzards. I know that is not the intent of those authors, but it does happen! To me, dynamic grouping is a euphemism for ability grouping---maybe a kinder, gentler term.

Another negative aspect of dynamic grouping is that the teacher's time is consumed with a few students while other students are given busy-work. This busy-work is far more sophisticated that the old kind of busy work that I gave so often in my classroom before I discovered a more productive way to "occupy" students' time. This busy-work involves literacy centers that are visited by the other students. Far cleverer than the worksheets and workbooks we once doled out during this time, but nonetheless, busy-work.

One more drawback is that teachers' time must also be consumed with identifying the levels of books that students should work with during this guided reading time. The levels are not just the 3.5, etc. that we once assigned to designate readability levels. Instead, these levels are extremely small gradients, ranging from a -- z with descriptors to aid teachers in pinpointing with great precision exactly what letter of the alphabet a book level corresponds to. Even though the descriptors are well defined, they are still left to a great deal of teacher-subjectivity. I worry, too, that teachers spend far too much time worrying about whether a book is an "m" or a "p." Life is too short! This reminds me of the line from T. S. Elliott's J. Alfred Prufrock poem that I loved so well---"measuring out my life in coffee spoons".

I realize that I'm presenting the negatives of the F/P approach here. (It's great sometimes to have this avenue for giving my opinions and biases!) I'm obviously a proponent of Four-Blocks and I naturally find fault with those models and philosophies that divide and label children. I do want to make some attempt, though, to give you some summary bullets of what the principles are of F/P and of Four-Blocks. Perhaps these points will make it an easier, more objective comparison for those of you trying to understand the difference between the two. I hope that I'm being fair to Fountas and Pinnell in representing their major points. Yes, I do own the book, Guided Reading, by these two women, and I have enjoyed reading it and using the strategies in small groups. Here are the points I feel that F and P make in their book:

Guided Reading the Fountas and Pinnell Way

  • Takes place in the context of a small group of students.
  • Children in the group are able to read about the same level of text
  • Goal is for students to read independently and silently
  • Emphasis on increasingly more difficult material
  • Children are placed in groups and regrouped in a dynamic process
  • Part of a more comprehensive language arts program that provides balance.

Guided Reading the Four-Blocks Way

  • Children are NOT ability grouped
  • Teacher starts with whole group to present lesson and then connects students to text and provides appropriate support for success through formats (echo, choral, ERT, playschool, book club, partner, shared, etc.)
  • Grade-level and easier texts are used on a rotating basis
  • Emphasis is on comprehension skills and strategies, practiced and applied in the context of real reading
  • Only one part of a balanced approach to reading, 1 of the 4 blocks

These points may over-simplify the principles, but will hopefully point out similarities and differences succinctly. Surprisingly, the one thing that the two frameworks have in common is that we can pretty much agree upon the simple definition of guided reading. In Fountas and Pinnell's book, they define guided reading as;

A context in which a teacher supports each reader's development of effective strategies for processing texts.

On this we can agree! Yet, we do have different ways of putting this into practice in the classroom. Neither way is wrong---just different. Pick one.

Note: There are some new ideas posted at my website Hope you'll visit me there for good ideas and handouts for your use (some for primary and upper grades teachers, and this month for kindergarten teachers, too!).

If you're writing a grant at this time, I'll be happy to write a letter of support for your grant to promise good training, either by me or by one of the wonderful folks who works along with me through ERG. Email me directly at or call 803-799-8024.

Training Opportunities:

Below are seminars that I have coming up in the future. Please know that I have a small group of really excellent folks who work along with me, too. We do site-based work in schools and districts at your request. They did not come from a train-the-trainer program. Their expertise with 4-Blocks evolved over many years of training, teaching and support. For their services, you can simply call 843-539-1213, fax 843-539-1214 or visit ERG's website at We offer various types of staff development: classroom demonstrations, on-site presentations, classroom observations and feedback, and exploring 4-Blocks in more depth, among other offerings.

My seminar presentations:

Carmel, IN June 21, 2002 ERG - (beyond the basics for primary)
Cincinnati, OH June 25, 2002 SDR
Cleveland, OH June 26, 2002 SDR
St. Louis, MO July 9,
Atlanta, GA July 10, 2002 SDR
Detroit, MI July 16, 2002 SDR
Grand Rapids, MI July 17, 2002 SDR
Providence, RI August 5, 2002 SDR
Portland, OR August 13, 2002 SDR
Seattle, WA August 14, 2002 SDR
Charleston, SC October 5-6, 2002 ERG - (Second annual Balanced Literacy---Block Style~Conference and Block Party! Registration is limited! Register now!)
Phoenix, AZ October 15 SDR (Upper grades)
Albuquerque, NM October 16 SDR (Upper grades)
VA November 7 SDR (Upper grades)
Charlotte, NC November 8 SDR (Upper grades)
Chicago, IL November 19 SDR (Upper grades)
Milwaukee, WI November 20 SDR (Upper grades)
Cleveland, OH December 3 SDR (Upper grades)
Cincinnati, OH December 4 SDR (Upper grades)
St. Louis, MO December 10 SDR (Upper grades)
Kansas City, MO December 11 SDR (Upper grade)

For ERG workshops on 4-Blocks and Building Blocks, call 843-539-1213 or go to For SDR workshops, call 800-678-8908 or go to or (CA seminars).

Hope to see you at a seminar soon!

Personal Journal:

Oh, the places I've been! A great visit with Gina Kevern and the teachers at her school in Rootstown---my first visit to this town. They're doing good things there! Gina and two colleagues have developed a wonderful program around the book Fish, a business philosophy that has great implications for schools. Wow! They've really made a positive impact on the environment!

After Rootstown, I journeyed to the hot-lands of Phoenix---hotter than Hades! We had the great debate there about whether dry heat is better or worse than heat with humidity. I think I'll mostly try to schedule future visits for months other than summer! Thanks, Dr. Budan in Glendale and Dr. Erickson and Linda Washington in Isaac District for a great visit! Such warm folks---no pun intended!!

This week I'm with Sara Callahan and friends in Erlanger, KY. They've been into Building Blocks and Four-Blocks for their second year. We've spend a day with beginners, another day with teachers who needed something beyond the basics, and they'll get a day of make-and-take, too! They're really motivated for the coming year already!

Enjoy your summer days. Hope you'll visit my website for some good books recommendations that you might enjoy for your summer reading pleasure! See you back here soon!

More about Cheryl Sigmon, Balanced Literacy and the Four Blocks Model can be found on Cheryl's site at
Cheryl Sigmon is a regular contributor to Teachers.Net.