Sifting and Sorting Through the 4-Blocks Literacy Model|
by Cheryl M. Sigmon & Debi Bagby
A Look At A Multi-Age Four-Blocks Classroom
Many teachers around the country have been experimenting with multi-age Four-Blocks classes over the past several years. To this point, there has not been a great deal of data gathered to validate exactly how a multi-age Four-Blocks class should function or if, in fact, that approach is the most effective configuration. Even though the jury is still out, I have asked mailringer, Debi Bagby, who has had experience with this multi-age structure to share with you what goes on in her class--how she has structured each block and how she feels it is working. Hereís Debiís story in her own words...
My buddy and I have two very successful 1/2 multi age classes with 13 first and 13 second graders in each class. We love it and will not change our format until someone tells us we have to! We are the only two multi-age classes in our district. We were not forced into it as some teachers are; rather we asked to do it. Now we find that the parents love it so much that we always have a waiting list of students for our classes. Parents are excited to see that their children have positive role models to follow and are equally excited by the chance for their children to be positive role models for others.
As far as Four-Blocks, we think it works wonderfully in a multi-age class. It is the only multi leveled framework that did not need to be changed to meet all of our studentsí needs. We have our schedule laid out in a time line that is based on the Four-Block format to keep us on track. Iíll describe that block-by-block to let you know how it looks in our classes.
Each week in the Working with Words Block, we work with Word Wall words by introducing 2 first grade words, 2 second grade words and two words that we feel may need to be introduced to reinforce a pattern or words we see misspelled over and over in the children's writing. We looked in the 4-Blocks books and found that several of the high frequency words were shared at first and second grade. Those are the words we introduce first. The following year we review all the words again with the second grade. We feel that a lot of the skills covered in first are reviewed and expanded in second. We do not see a problem with reviewing the words, only that our second graders know the skills and the words without a second thought. The rest of the Working with Word strategies are so multi-leveled that they meet everyone's needs without any adaptations necessary, and we make a point to use different Making Words and Guess the Covered Word activities because they are easily integrated into our theme units.
We thought the Guided Reading Block was going to be the worst to adjust to multi age, but we love it the most! On Monday, we break up into two groups by grade levels to introduce the basal stories. Our district has mandated that we use the grade-level basal. We introduce the vocabulary and read the story using strategies such as ERT and story maps, and partner reading, following the before, during and after process. Tuesday through Thursday we usually do Book Clubs. Sometimes we pick the group they are in and other times we allow them to pick. We have found that they usually pick the book that is most appropriate for their reading level. We always try to stay with the same theme, but sometimes it is hard to find six book sets on one theme across several levels. We have 6 groups because we combine our classes for book clubs to give them more choices and for us to cover several different comprehension skills and reading levels. Both teachers have two groups and our assistants each take turns monitoring and leading a book club, too. On Friday, we do whole group Guided Reading usually trying again to tie it into our theme. We have ordered a lot of informational books with grants we have written, which has helped us out a lot. We also use old textbooks, magazine articles, Time for Kids (magazine), and occasionally a Science or Social Studies textbook during our Guided Reading Block. We integrate our Social Studies and Science into our Guided Reading almost daily, so taking an extra 20 minutes does not bother us!
Writing Workshop is easy too! We run it just like you would run it if you had a class of all first or second graders. We start with a mini lesson and shared writing. Next, everyone in the room writes, including the teachers. We have tried a technique of appointing three students as "Experts". Their job is to check work for specific skills such as punctuation, spelling, or staying on topic, to just name a few. The Experts rotate around the room, and everyone gets a chance to use their skills to help others. We also have a rug called the Light Bulb Area. This area can be used by two children to brainstorm things to write about or to include in their stories. We use our assistant to pull small groups to work on a specific skill or to do teacher conferences and, of course, we are conferencing as well. We do both assigned topics and free writes. We do the assigned topic to prepare the students for the writing test that comes up in fourth grade. We always end with students sharing part of their writing in the Author's Chair.
SSR is also perfect for a multi age class. We follow the Four Blocks Model to a tee with SSR: Teacher Read Aloud, Silent Reading, Conferencing and Student Sharing. We assign a day for each student to share or bless a book with the class each month. They can also bring a snack to share. Some parents get very creative and relate the snack to their child's book. It also assures that everyone will share or bless a book at least once a month.
Finally, SSP and Coaching Groups are a huge success. We allow some of our higher second graders and also some of our past third graders to come and do SSP one-on-one with our struggling first grader. Coaching groups are great because you have already taught half the class about how to be a good coach and the others learn from them. There is a lot of peer teaching going on at all times!
We feel that Four Blocks is the best literacy framework to meet all of our students' needs. Whether or not you're working with a traditional grade level setting or a multi age setting, Four Blocks is definitely for all students!
If you're writing a grant at this time, I will 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.
|Kansas City, MO||October 25||SDR|
|Denver, CO||October 26||SDR|
|Cincinnati, OH||October 30||ERG (upper grades)|
|Lansing, MI||November 13||SDR|
|Springfield, IL||November 14||SDR|
|Silver Springs, MD||November 29||SDR|
|Hartford, CT||November 30||SDR|
|West VA||December 14||IRA Conference|
|San Jose, CA||January 15||SDR|
|Sacramento, CA||January 16||SDR|
|Long Beach, CA||January 29||SDR|
|Ontario, CA||January 30||SDR|
|Davenport, IA||February 12||SDR|
|Des Moines, IA||February 13||SDR|
|Albuquerque, NM||February 26||SDR|
|Phoenix, AZ||February 27||SDR|
|Toledo, OH||March 12||SDR|
|Columbus, OH||April 9||SDR (upper grades)|
|Indianapolis, In||April 10||SDR (upper grades)|
|Detroit, MI||April 23||SDR (upper grades)|
|Chicago, IL||April 24||SDR (upper grades)|
For ERG workshops on 4-Blocks and Building Blocks, call 843-549-2684 or go to www.ergsc.com. For SDR workshops, call 800-678-8908 or go to www.SDResources.org.
Hope to see you at a workshop soon!
I've been thinking of all of you who have been so directly touched by the 9/11 tragedy. I was in a school in Gainesville, GA when the news was shared. It's incomprehensible, still. Surely it makes us hold our family and friends a little nearer and dearer than we did before the 11th.
The Charleston Conference was a fabulous experience for us all! Evaluations at the end of the conference revealed that participants are all coming back next year for this one! There were approximately 45 sessions to choose among, and all were popular. Participants reported that it was very difficult to decide between all the great offerings. All work and no play will certainly make educators a dull bunch! And, so, we had playtime built into the conference. The Saturday night Block Party had many teachers and administrators singing karaoke and dancing--line dances, limbo contests, shag demos, and conga lines! Janie and the Florida gang stole the show! Mailringer, Geneva Pemberton, had great conga line style! At one point in the evening, we requested that the DJ call all the "teachers.net mailring people" to the front to sing "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" (appropriate, donít you think?). Well, the DJ obviously had no idea what a mailring was and instead called all the males (rather than mail) to the front to sing our song. We just laughed! It was a great time--made special by many faithful Four Blocks fans. The ERG consultants did a fantastic job of sharing lots of information and generous handouts. Thanks to you all for participating!
Right now I'm in Germany working with the Department of Defense Schools and with one German school. What wonderful folks are here! They all have such great stories. Many of them came to work here twenty years ago, and just never went back home! Wow! Such adventurous teachers! This week I'm staying in a quaint village inn in Hohenecken. Tonight several of the ladies from today's workshop had dinner with me in the little restaurant downstairs. I learned a few new German words from the menu and many wonderful customs. Next week I'll have a thrill-of-a-lifetime: I'll get to present a workshop in a real, authentic, full-fledged castle! My host knew what a "castle freak" I am and enticed me to return with this promise. (Of course, I would have gladly returned in spite of not presenting in a castle!) I'll let you know what it's like!
Take care, and I hope to see you here next time!
Cheryl Sigmon is a regular contributor to Teachers.Net.