Sifting and Sorting Through the 4-Blocks Literacy Model|
by Cheryl M. Sigmon
Are We Demanding Enough of Our Students?
Nationwide there has been a cry for more rigorous standards for our students. Every state that I visit shares learner objectives that proclaim a higher level of proficiency with equally rigorous levels of accountability for students as well as for teachers. Driven by the desire for our students to be globally competitive, administrators, teachers, parents, legislators, and community members scrutinize our programs and our classroom practices--as well they should. Some of the people who visit our classrooms and schools have a mindset of the past, however. They often expect to peer into classrooms to find neat rows of desks with students sitting quietly and passively absorbing the information espoused by the all-knowing, all-divining teacher at the front of the classroom. We must be ready to explain our practices in 4-Blocks--how it looks different, how it "feels" different, and how we're achieving objectives that are different from those of the past.
One of the most frequently asked questions from those who want to assure that 4-Blocks offers what is necessary for students to excel with the new standards is, "Are you demanding enough of our students? Kids are having a good time here and the instruction is efficient. But, some of the framework looks so much easier than what they were given in the past. How can this framework possibly be encouraging greater levels of achievement?"
Let's look at this issue and answer their question.
I believe that 4-Blocks actually requires far more of students than our traditional instruction did. The most complex part of why this is true deals with the shift in why we teach the way that we do in 4-Blocks. This is a model based on strategic teaching and strategic learning. In the past, much of our teaching and learning was at the lowest level of Bloom's taxonomy of learning--the recall level.
For example, in our traditional instruction of guided reading, we had students read stories, placing great emphasis in our round-robin groups on calling the words with precision. When we taught comprehension of the story, it was usually through having students answer questions at the end of the chapter or answer a series of detail questions about the text called from our teacher's manual. In our 4-Blocks classrooms, we have realized that it's not really the story that is the essence of our lesson. We want students to learn the skills and strategies necessary to read the text. True, some of the text is at an easier level than some students are able to read; however, these higher achieving students learn something about the skill or strategy and are then held accountable for apply them during their "real" reading.
In the past we gave kids long lists of words to learn--or rather, to memorize--for the test on Friday. Parents worked with kids at home to practice the words, and kids did exercises out of the spelling book to practice these words, too. And, yes, they usually did really well on Friday's test--most "aced" it. But, on Monday, we found those words misspelled in their journals. What's wrong?
Now, in 4-Blocks we realize that what kids spell is not nearly as important as how they spell. The "how" becomes our objective. We want kids to learn about the patterns of words, the ways we change words to make new words, the meanings of the morphemic units of words (prefixes, suffixes, bases). We constantly call attention to how students' knowledge of these things will help them. Then, we go a step beyond--we expect them to apply what they know to their real reading and writing. Our spelling tests are likely to have kids write the words that have the same rime (spelling pattern) as a key word they've learned, edit a paragraph we give them for words they've learned, and write from dictation where we've inserted old and new Word Wall words, pattern words, Nifty Thrifty Fifty and anything else kids should know from our work with them. This is a test that's a much higher level than the old test of the past.
In 4-Blocks we actually expect students to articulate what they've learned. Our Guided Reading lessons are so tightly aligned that a student can tell us at the end of the lesson, "Today I learned about cause and effect in the text." Or "Today I learned about how important sequence is to a story." In Writing Block, they (not the little ones!) may be asked to record the mini-lesson from the teacher's model lesson in their writing notebook. They know they'll be held accountable to these lessons in their own writing.
In Self-Selected Reading, the students are making choices. We teach them how to make appropriate decisions about book choices, and we introduce them to various genres. We expect them to read widely and deeply and to be able to discuss the text with us progressively more in-depth. Their decision-making and their ability to discuss books--maybe even evaluating and analyzing the text--is a far greater demanding skill than assigning a book and evaluating with a generic pencil and paper test.
As far as writing instruction in the past, we often had students write on assigned topics and complete workbook pages that drilled the concepts we were teaching. In the Writing Block of 4-Blocks, we actually make kids think about their own topics and plan their own organizational pattern! They may sit like "knots on a log" in the beginning when we provide them the opportunity to write on self-selected topics, but they soon get the message that they'll be writing every day and that they should come to class prepared to write about things in their world that matter to them. We work during conference time to guide them to make choices and decisions that writers must learn to make. Even beyond growing as writers, these students acquire decision-making as a critical life-skill.
So, yes, 4-Blocks is challenging for students--all students. We are not "dumbing down" the curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Rather, we are elevating them to a level that provides much greater potential for our students as they face this competitive world. Choices, opportunities, application--that's what 4-Blocks does for students. Let's defend our practices and assure parents and community members that 4-Blocks is far up the ladder of Bloom's taxonomy!
Below are seminars (some 1 day and some 2 day ones) that I have coming up in the future. Notice that I have a couple scheduled for "Beyond the Basics of 4-Blocks" where we'll look closer at grading, conference skills, plugging in lessons, curriculum planning and other items. That's in response to your requests.
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. You'll love getting to know Sylvia Ford, Becky Faulkner, Jodi Fletcher, JoLane Hall, Eve Hayes, Susan Jenkinson, Linda Kirtzenbaum, Sylvia Lollis, Susie Seckinger (Buiding Blocks), Patty Schaffer, Leany Spires, Linda Wigley, Elaine Williams (Building Blocks), Cindy Wood, and DeLinda Youngblood. For their services, you can simply call 843-549-2684 and speak with Cathy Bell or visit her 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 scheduled training:
|Carmel, IN||October 25||ERG (1 day primary advanced)|
|Batavia, NY||October 27||ERG (1 day primary advanced)|
|Portland, OR||November 2||SDR|
|Seattle, WA||November 3||SDR|
|Collinsville, IL||November 9||ERG (upper grades, 4-6)|
|Boston, MA||November 14||SDR|
|Cherry Hill, NJ||November 15||SDR|
|San Francisco, CA||November 28||SDR|
|Sacramento, CA||November 29||SDR|
|Louisville, KY||December 5||SDR|
|Atlanta , GA||December 6||SDR|
|Orlando, FL||February 13||SDR|
|Lexington, KY||March 6||SDR|
|Minneapolis, MN||March 7||SDR|
|Albuquerque, NM||March 27||SDR|
|Phoenix, AZ||March 28||SDR|
|Houston, TX||April 3||SDR|
|San Antonio, TX||April 4||SDR|
|Chicago, IL||April 24||SDR|
|Detroit, MI||April 25||SDR|
|Anaheim, CA||May 9||SDR|
|Ontario, CA||May 10||SDR|
For ERG workshops, call 843-549-2684 or go to www.ergsc.com.
For SDR workshops, call 800-678-8908.
Hope to see you at a workshop soon!
I arrived this week in Ohio on Monday evening, but my baggage didn't arrive until Thursday night--just in time to go back home with me today! Oh, the adventures that my 4-Blocks travels have brought about! One good thing, though--I went shopping this week compliments of Delta Airlines!
The folks in Ohio have been wonderful this week--the Mad River Green district and the Tacumseh schools, too. Thanks, Lois and Gayle, for hosting my visit! The teachers in these districts have been reading and studying 4-Blocks and are implementing all four this year. Three of my days were spent in round table discussions with teachers who asked questions and got clarification (hopefully!) on their implementation. There were a good many "ah-ha's" in the group as they discovered little things about the model.
I'm on the plane right now flying home. I'll get one night in my own bed and will head to Germany tomorrow--my first trip abroad, and I'm nervous! I'll have a week of work with the DOD schools and then a week of play. My husband will be flying to Germany, too--just in time for the week of play, of course!
Have a great week in your 4-Blocks classrooms! See you back in the good 'ole US of A real soon!
Cheryl Sigmon is a regular contributor to Teachers.Net.