Sifting and Sorting Through the 4-Blocks Literacy Model|
by Cheryl M. Sigmon
It's All About Transfer!
One of the greatest signs of success that we can hope for in our 4-Blocks instruction can be summed up in one word: TRANSFER. We work hard to teach skills and strategies in the blocks. However, unless students make the leap from practicing under our direction to application in their "real" reading and writing, we haven't really accomplished much. Sometimes independent application doesn't occur naturally; rather it takes our constant reminders, encouragement, and modeling before it happens. Let's look at how and when we should expect transfer to occur.
In Guided Reading Block, we plan a central focus that deals with comprehension each and every day. Taking Katherine Mead's Why Spiders Have Eight Legs as an example, let's say that on the first day we might choose to teach distinguishing fact and fantasy to which this text lends itself well. The teacher teaches a short minilesson on this skill and sets a purpose that causes students to apply the new skill. The purpose might be: "I'm going to give each partner group 2 sticky notes, each a different color. The sticky notes have been clipped into strips so that you can tear off four strips from each sticky note. I want you and your partner to read the story and find 4 examples of something that's real in the story. Place one of your yellow strips in the book right where you find something that's real/factual/could happen. I also want you to use your green strips to stick on places in the story where you find things that don't happen in real life---fantasy." After students have read and completed their task, the whole group meets again to discuss what things in the story have been marked with yellow strips and which items have green strips on them. The teacher is observant during this closure discussion and determines whether students were able to grasp this skill with relative ease.
If students were successful on day one, then the teacher might make the decision to progress to yet another skill or strategy on day two, using the same text for the experience of application. Day two, the teacher might choose to teach how dialogue affects comprehension---if you don't know who's speaking the line in the story, you most likely won't make sense of the story. She briefly teaches how quotation marks help you figure out who's speaking and also how the paragraphs change according to changes in the speaker. The purpose on day two might be: "I want you to read independently today. I'm going to tell you something that a character in the story says, and I want you to read until you think you know which character is speaking those lines. When you think you know, I want you to raise your hand." (This is an ERT---Everyone Read To…)
Again the teacher informally evaluates the success of students' application of the skill on day two and decides whether to reinforce the same skill/strategy again on day three or whether to advance to yet another skill. If the students where successful, the teacher might plan on day three to teach the characteristics of a fable as it applies to How Spiders Got Eight Legs. One characteristic is that fables teach us lessons. The purpose might be stated that, "I would like for you all to re-read the text today. After you finish, I want you to discuss with your partner what lesson you've learned from the spider at the end of the story. Write that lesson on a piece of paper for us all to discuss."
Now, it's important to note that on each of these three days the teacher has taught something specific that will help students grow as readers. Sometimes we're guilty of planning lessons around the story itself and not so much about how to read it. Here's an important point: When we plan guided reading lessons what do we value most? Are we hoping that students will remember the story/text for years to come? As much as we might enjoy How Spiders Got Eight Legs, in the grand scheme of things, remembering that story for years to come isn't important! But, what IS important is that students will remember for years to come HOW TO READ a story of this type. That they know how to distinguish fact and fantasy IS important. That they know which character in a story is speaking IS important. And, that they're able to identify the genre they're reading as a fable and that it's likely to teach a lesson or moral IS important.
We cannot stop at merely teaching these three skills, though, because the actual transfer may not occur without some fairly constant reminders---at least in the beginning. How will we encourage the transfer and what do we mean by achieving transfer from this lesson?
First, transfer means that students can take the skill or strategy that they've learned and actually use the skill in their "real" reading, as it is useful to them. Unfortunately, many students think that skills such as distinguishing fact/fantasy, using dialogue and quotations, and identifying characteristics of a fable are isolated either to the specific story being read or only to what is read during Guided Reading Block. After that block, they don't even think about those skills again!
How can we encourage their transfer to other reading? There are several points at which we should remind students about transfer. First, as we bring closure to lessons, we can routinely ask the question, "Now how will what we've learned to day be useful to us in other reading that we'll do?" Help them think about and verbalize the relevance of the new skill/strategy to different situations.
Next, we should encourage the transfer to occur during Self-Selected Reading Block. Students shouldn't be distracted in their reading by a simple statement by the teacher to the effect that, "As you read your book this week during SSR, remember what we've just studied about distinguishing between fact and fantasy and see how that helps you to understand what you're reading." Or, "Since we just studied setting in Guided Reading Block, I'd like for you to use this bookmark during your reading this week. Whenever you come across evidence of where or when your story takes place, put your bookmark right there in the book. But, then, go right on reading and don't pay it any attention. When you come for your book conference with me, I'd like for us to go back to that spot and talk about it. I'd love to hear your opinion about whether the setting played an important part in the story. Could the story have taken place in some other place or at some other time?"
We can also encourage transfer through appropriate assessment. Instead of a test that asks a bunch of "nit-picky" questions about the story, the questions can be about the skills, strategies, and relevant vocabulary learned through the text. In fact, the ultimate test would be to have students apply the skills and strategies they've learned to completely unrehearsed text.
We must remember to help students make the transfer to materials we use in other content areas, too. While reading science, math, social studies, and health, we should help students see that the same skills and strategies apply to this text. In making assignments to be completed outside of school, we should again encourage the transfer.
Real-life application is our goal. That's when we'll truly have better readers and writers! In future articles, let's talk more about the transfer that we want to encourage in the other blocks!
(Soon you can check my website at www.cherylsigmon.com for a sample test on the above book---How the Spider Got Eight Legs that shows how to test for transfer.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 803-799-8024.
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 www.ergsc.com. 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:
||June 21, 2002
||ERG - (beyond the basics for primary)
||June 25, 2002
||June 26, 2002
|St. Louis, MO
||July 10, 2002
||July 16, 2002
|Grand Rapids, MI
||July 17, 2002
||August 5, 2002
||August 13, 2002
||August 14, 2002
||October 5-6, 2002
||ERG - (Second annual Balanced Literacy---Block Style~Conference and Block Party! Registration is limited! Register now!)
For ERG workshops on 4-Blocks and Building Blocks, call 843-539-1213 or go to www.ergsc.com. For SDR workshops, call 800-678-8908 or go to www.SDResources.org or www.ceea.org (CA seminars).
Hope to see you at a seminar soon!
Wow! The upper grades seminars have been so well received! I've had so many emails from teachers who attended who said that they've really needed something new! It's been exciting to see how the modifications have worked at grades 4 through 8.
I've just returned from a wonderful week in Portsmouth, OH, working with Patty Gilmore and the faculty of Portsmouth West Elementary School. I had the opportunity to visit classrooms to see good 4-Blocks in action which is always exciting to me! One day, several kindergarteners read along to me! It was truly amazing how well they were doing! Building Blocks is offering such a strong foundation!
My daughter, Caroline, won a poetry award at her college this week. I missed the ceremony while I was in Portsmouth, but I'm surely proud of her!
This week is my mom's 86th birthday! She volunteers at a nursing home regularly to entertain by playing the piano! Isn't that wonderful? Sure hope I've inherited her good genes! She's amazing!
I hope to see many of you in San Francisco for IRA. Along with Eve Hayes and Sylvia Ford, I'm doing an administrators' strand of the 4-Blocks preconference institute. Hope you'll be with us! Also, please drop by and say hello to me on Wednesday between 3-4 p.m. at the Carson-Dellosa Publishing booth.
Hope you're having a wonderful spring! See you back here soon!
More about Cheryl Sigmon, Balanced Literacy and the Four Blocks Model can be found on Cheryl's site at http://www.cherylsigmon.com
Cheryl Sigmon is a regular contributor to Teachers.Net.