Around the Block|
by Cheryl Ristow (Aggie)
Around The Block With…True Stories from 4-Blocks Classrooms
One Saturday, about 5 years ago this past fall, I was surfing the 'net for one of the very first times. I had already found the site where I could post my condolences to the Royal Family about Princess Diana's recent death. I had figured out (sort of!) how to send and receive emails. I was beginning to discover the wealth of resources that abound on the 'net for teachers. Little did I know, however, that on this day I would find a website that would profoundly change my life forever.
While at another website-- long since forgotten and no longer visited by me-- I was looking for lesson plans and ideas for an upcoming unit I was starting in my first grade classroom. I was also reading comments and questions from other teachers. One question was from someone looking for information similar to what I was looking for-- and a poster suggested that s/he ask for help from the "friendly people" (these are the words that attracted me) at a website called Teachers.Net. This poster included a hot link for the site and I clicked it. That one click is all it took--- I think I've been here at least once daily ever since then! I immediately felt that I'd come home-- this was the place I was looking for! I have watched and participated in Teachers.Net's growth and change ever since.
Starting with one of my first visits here, I began to see posts on the board about "writer's workshop," "the word wall," and something called " Guided Reading," which I thought I was familiar with…but this Guided Reading was different than what I was doing! I didn't know it at the time but these were descriptions of the 4-Blocks Literacy Model. I was going to find out a lot more about them very soon!
At about this same time I began hearing at my school about word walls. I remembered reading about these here at Teachers.Net so, whenever I saw a Word Wall post, I'd read it. These posts led me to others-- and I began to see that the Writer's Workshop and Guided Reading posts that I'd been intrigued by earlier were all connected and a part of something called 4 Blocks [Literacy Model] created by Pat Cunningham and Dottie Hall. Soon I purchased one of Pat Cunningham's books and read it through at least 2 or 3 times. By now it was time for another school year to begin and I decided to try some of the ideas I'd read about. And guess what? THEY WORKED!!!!! I saw my first graders make a lot more progress-- and a lot earlier in the year-- than they had in years past. I knew I was onto something good here!
In the spring of 2000 while surfing once again at Teachers.Net, I saw that Pat Cunningham was conducting a survey of how teachers were modifying and adapting her Literacy Model for use in their own unique classroom situations. I was more than happy to fill out the survey and emailed it to her that very same day. Almost immediately-- within a day or two-- she emailed me back! In her email, Dr. Cunningham asked me to give her some more detailed information about how I use 4 Blocks in my ELD (English Language Development) classroom. It took me a few days to answer all of her questions in depth and then I emailed it back to her. To thank me for going to this extra work I was sent an autographed copy of her latest book, which at that time was Guided Reading the 4-Blocks Way. I was absolutely delighted when I received the book in the mail--- it was autographed by all 3 of the authors-- Pat, Dr. Dorothy Hall and Dr. Jim Cunningham (Pat's husband). I ran around proudly showing it to everyone at school. My friends began to tease me and ask if I was going to put it in a glass case and if they could touch it without wearing gloves. I was sure that this was to be the high point of my year--- but I was wrong!
I had a miserable summer that year. I was sick and had to endure a lot of medical tests. It was not a lot of fun to say the least! In August, though, my family and I were renting a house on the beach for a week. I was longing for a break, some sunshine and an end to my medical woes. The morning before we were to leave, I was checking my email, getting ready to un-subscribe from my mailrings, and looking for notes from friends. I must admit that I was deleting almost everything unread--- and I was just about to do that very thing to an unknown email when I caught the letters "WFU" and "Pcunningh" in the email addy. Was that "Pat Cunningham" and "Wake Forest University"?? YES, IT WAS! In her email Dr. Cunningham told me that she and Dr. Dorothy Hall were writing a new book to be called True Stories from 4-Blocks Classrooms--- and they wanted me to be one of the stories!!!!!! To say that I was excited was the understatement of the year! I screamed, ran around the room dancing, and then sat down to read it again and just shook! I was overjoyed and in complete shock that I was going to be a published author!
Once I had somewhat gotten over the initial excitement, I began to realize that I needed to get to work! They needed my chapter in 3 weeks-- and I was leaving on vacation the very next day! I made a few calls, got the loan of a laptop computer, went to school to get some books and records I'd kept, etc. This had turned into a working vacation-- but I was too excited and honored to care!
Attached to the email was the survey (with the extra information that I had given Pat on working with ELD students) that I had completed many weeks before. At the end of each question, Pat asked me for more specific information by posing questions or asking me to go into more detail. As I remember it, the attachment was about 4-5 pages long. Early in the morning-- before the rest of my family got up, and in the late afternoon before dinner, I would sit down and try to write. At first I'd look at the questions and think, "I don't know what I do! I just do it!" Then I began to think of this as writing plans for a substitute--- I began to think of a reader who might not know anything about 4-Blocks or an ELD classroom. What would this reader need to know? What had I come up with on my own and how had I done that? Once I began thinking that way it was easier to get going on the writing. I also began to wonder, would my colleagues and administrators read it? And what about parents of my students? I realized I had to be careful with what I said so that students couldn't be identified or parents offended by what I was writing. It was an interesting, reflective, and exhilarating experience! I really enjoyed this process a lot!
Weeks later, I finally got a publishing contract from Carson-Dellosa. While I would have written the chapter for free, it was also exciting to know that I would be paid for this job! At the time I received the publishing contract, I was also sent an invitation to attend the annual 4-Blocks Leadership Conference held every January in Clemmons, North Carolina. The book's publication and the conference would coincide and all the authors were asked to attend if possible. I jumped at the chance to go!
Seeing the book in print-- and my name attached to it--- will go down as high points of my life! Another thrill during my 3 days at the Leadership Conference was being asked for my autograph. I never in my wildest dreams would have ever imagined being asked for that! It was also wonderful to meet so many of the other authors there. We all share a common bond of being ordinary teachers asked to participate in an exciting and rewarding writing project.
Once the book was published, I expected my life to go back to normal. This was not to be, however! I have now become a Professional Development Provider for my district, I write for the Teachers.Net Gazette, and, just recently, I was asked to speak to my good friend Kim Tracy's college students on yet another trip to North Carolina and the Leadership Conference. I have also had a lot of visitors coming to my classroom. Later this spring, one of the visitors will be the Superintendent of schools for my district along with some School Board members. I'm not sure where this is all going, but I know I'm enjoying the ride!
I often read and hear about the "evils of the internet." People warn me to be careful about what I say and what information I give out. I know their intentions are good and that their warnings are to be taken seriously in many instances. However, I have made wonderful friends and professional contacts since discovering the Internet and, more specifically, the Teachers.Net website. Thank you, Bob and Tony! Thank you, Mary and Kathleen and volunteers extraordinaire eimmik and Valerie S.! Without you, this website, and the opportunities Teachers.Net provides, none of this would have happened to me! I thank you from the bottom of my heart.