Interview: 4-Blocks Expert Cheryl Sigmon
Why a separate book for upper grades?
Upper grade teachers have been attending lower grades 4-Blocks training and reading the primary material because they realize that there is much about 4-Blocks that makes good sense for older students. Until now, they've had to think through the adaptations that would make 4-Blocks more appropriate for their students. There's no need to reinvent the wheel! Modifying Four Blocks for the Upper Grades helps teachers make those appropriate adaptations. It shares those creative ideas that have been piloted by upper grade pioneers. The examples, book titles, activities, and schedules are those used by teachers and students in successful 4-Blocks classrooms at grades 4 and above.
Which grades are targeted in this book?
The book includes my observations of and work with grades 4-8. Additionally, there are some teachers at third grade working with more advanced populations of kids who feel that they need to make some modifications as well to meet the needs of their students. Often high school teachers attend training, and they might also find some new ideas for motivating and engaging their students and for teaching reading and writing more strategically.
How does implementation of 4 Blocks differ at that level?
Not at all an easy question to answer! Although in many ways the students at grade 4 and above just have longer arms and legs and some of the same basic needs as primary students, they are also very different in many respects-academically, socially, and emotionally. In the new book, I've tried to help teachers make decisions about their comprehensive approach to language arts instruction, taking into account the uniqueness of their students.
Whereas at the primary grades 4-Blocks is fairly standardized, I don't believe that it should be for the upper grades. Upper grades teachers must make many more decisions to implement what's appropriate for their students, especially after basic concepts have been taught in the primary grades. Modifying Four Blocks for the Upper Grades helps teachers think through issues such as:
If my students have had 4-Blocks for a number of years, what new activities and approaches can I include to keep students interested?
If my students are all fluent in their reading and writing, what different focus should I have during the blocks?
With a packed curriculum and with greater accountability, should I move my students away from so much of the self-selected reading and writing that is done at the lower grades?
Should my time allotment remain the same or should I lengthen or shorten the blocks?
Some of the differences between upper and lower grades are critical and some of the modifications are slight. Information will include how to deal with longer text in Guided Reading, finding more variety so that students won't be bored by a routine they've had since first grade, dozens of different ways to engage students in sharing during Self-Selected Reading Block and Writing Block, keeping upper grades students' attention, knowing when to shorten or lengthen the blocks of time, as well as many more topics.
Many teachers will be pleased about the freedom of choice this book promotes for upper grade teachers, though the decisions should always be based on students' needs-not the bus schedule, not the special area schedules, and not doing what we've always done.
Do teachers in grades 4-8 still teach reading mechanics, or is there focus more on comprehension?
There are many people who believe that students learn to read in the lower grades and that they read to learn at the upper grades, promoting the notion that students have learned all that they need to know about how to read. I don't believe that's true. I think that upper grade students still need to know much about reading and the reading process. Reading at the upper grades gets more technical and sophisticated. For example, teaching students how to read and write expository text becomes more and more important. Yes, at upper grades we still need to teach the mechanics of reading. Even the word-level of reading is still important.
Is there ever a point at which a block is dropped from reading instruction? Or are certain blocks emphasized more (or less) at this 4-8 level than those before?
At the lower grades, the blocks are all considered equally important for the development of a proficient reader. At the upper grades, however, the purposes of some of the blocks will differ. Modifying Four Blocks for the Upper Grades helps teachers see those shifts of purposes and make wise decisions about their instructional time. At upper grades, teachers are often dealing with different scheduling configuration-self-contained classes, team teaching, and departmentalized classes. Some schools feel that their students still need a great deal of support from all four of the blocks. Some teachers feel that two of the blocks need less time and may choose to find a balance weekly, rather than daily for the approaches. The book devotes an entire chapter to different schedules being used by different teachers, always based on the needs of the students.
How is your book, Modifying The Four Blocks for Upper Grades, organized?
Chapter 1 is a short chapter that briefly addresses why the four approaches are still viable for upper grades. Chapter 2 describes the environment of a supportive classroom and school at upper grades and how important the climate is to success. Chapters 3-6 each deal with one of the blocks, including the basics and the adaptations that may be made. (Teachers tell me that a favorite part is the vocabulary section of Guided Reading Block with the many different powerful ways to present and reinforce vocabulary words.) Each chapter includes a week of lessons to show how the block might change throughout the week. Chapter 7 gives numerous ideas for scheduling in self-contained and departmentalized situations. Chapter 8 is frequently asked questions, including a section on grading. There's a handy side-by-side chart in Chapter 9, comparing basics of the upper and lower grades blocks. And, last but not least, there's a healthy Appendix of reproducibles. I hope teachers will find the book easy to read and helpful to use in their classrooms.
Can you elaborate on what's included in the reproducible section?
There are lots of forms and templates to make life easier for the classroom teacher: student bookmarks, reading and writing logs for students, a variety of conference forms for teachers, a deck of "Deal-A-Discussion" cards for encouraging discussions about narrative text, some neat task cards for literature circles (separate ones for narrative and expository texts), graphics for word exploration, and much, much more! Twenty-three pages of reproducibles in all!
Is there anything else on the horizon specifically for upper grade teachers?
Yes, a companion lesson plan book has just been produced, Upper Grade Lesson Plan for Modifying the Four Blocks (Carson-Dellosa). It just premiered at the International Reading Conference in New Orleans. In this plan book, I've provided sample lesson plans for intermediate teachers in self-contained classrooms and for middle grade teachers in departmentalized classrooms. There's a structure for planning a weekly focus. Also, this plan book has more reproducibles (including the cards for the expository Deal-A-Discussion deck) and more ideas for implementation. I hope it'll be helpful to teachers for the coming school year.
Also, Teachers.Net members who are interested in Four Blocks should continue to check my column for articles about upper grade Four Blocks issues. Those articles are published twice monthly, and I'm trying to address a balance of upper and lower grade issues.
Any final words for teachers at upper grades who are considering moving towards Four Blocks?
I hope that Modifying Four Blocks for the Upper Grades will show teachers how exciting and engaging teaching and learning can be beyond the primary grades. Four Blocks continues to rejuvenate many administrators, teachers and students around the country and around the world, and it's my hope that my book will give upper grade teachers new ideas and perspectives. Good luck!
Cheryl Sigmon is a regular contributor to Teachers.Net.