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Volume 1 Number 8

Success and failure. Seems pretty clear-cut, doesn't it? This month's cover story/excerpt by author Richard Bromfield explores the reality of Success and Failure.
Effective Teaching by Harry Wong
Promoting Learning by Marv Marshall
The Trouble With... by Alfie Kohn
4 Blocks by Cheryl Sigmon
School Psychologist by Beth Bruno
Bobbi Fisher
Afterschool Intervention
Teachers Not Camp Counselors
Silence Ain't Golden
Enhancing the Curriculum
Thailand 2000
Heroes Unaware
Links Worth The Click
Myth of the Quick Fix
Integrative Curriculum in a Standards-Based World
Student Scientists Win Spot on Mars Team
Teaching Children to be Active Voters
Letters to the Editor
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About Cheryl Sigmon...
Cheryl Sigmon is the author of Implementing the 4-Blocks Literacy Model (Carson-Dellosa, 1997) and the co-author with Pat Cunningham and Dottie Hall of The Teacherís Guide to the Four Blocks (Carson-Dellosa, 1999). Cheryl was a classroom teacher for a number of years. For nine years she was a language arts consultant for the SC Department of Education, where she worked in K-12 classrooms to help schools strengthen language arts programs. Since January 1999, she has been a freelance consultant, helping thousands of teachers across the United States implement the Four Blocks Model.

More articles by Cheryl Sigmon.

The 4 Blocks Center...
Teachers.Net is proud to support Pat Cunningham (, Cheryl Sigmon (, and their colleagues in the research and development of the 4 Blocks method. Join our community of teachers across the country working with 4 Blocks every day. Visit and contribute to the 4 Blocks and Building Blocks chatboards, and subscribe to a Four Blocks Mailring. It's like having the foremost authorities in 4 Blocks teaching right next door!

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Sifting and Sorting Through the 4-Blocks Literacy Model
by Cheryl M. Sigmon

Kids Who Call the Words

Have you ever had a child read aloud to you, calling all of the words perfectly? You're proud that you've brought this child from being a non-reader to reading so fluently! Just as you're given yourself a pat on the back for all of your hard work, you begin to talk with the child about what he has just read--only to discover that he's totally and absolutely clueless about what he has just read! How can this be?

Second grade teacher, Sharon, writes that, "I have a 2nd grade reading student who struggles with reading words that he can spell and read individually but when it comes to reading those same words in the context of a story he goes blank. He doesn't use the letter patterns he knows. He stutters and struggles with the very same words he can spell and write fluently when looking at the words individually. I'm confused. What can I do to get him to use what he knows when reading the words in context? Please help. He's frustrated and so am I."

If this has happened to you, don't feel all alone! This word-calling practice is a rather common occurrence that is not isolated to the lower grades. Many children develop the ability to decode words as a fairly singular operation. Some may do this with a synthetic blending of sounds; some learn to apply their knowledge of patterns and chunks to decode the words (which is the way they'll do it in a 4-Blocks class). However they've learned to do it, they do it skillfully.

The big question that remains, however, is... Are these word-callers REALLY READING? If you believe that reading is gathering meaning from printed words, then NO they aren't really reading. They're doing one part of the complex process of reading which is decoding, but they haven't achieved the most critical part of reading-comprehension.

Why has this happened to these children? There could be any number of reasons. One could be something we've done. With good intentions, perhaps we've used running records or similar methods of gathering information about a child's fluency level. We've sat beside a child and have coded each error, correction, omission, and insertion. Kids are often painfully aware that their oral reading is being scrutinized. Could it be that this practice of marking each utterance and our attention to word-calling is translated by some kids as, "Hey! I must be very careful to say every word carefully and correctly. That's what my teacher thinks is most important." We must be careful not to over-emphasize precision and correctness in oral reading.

Another common practice associated with running records is over-administering this diagnostic, evaluative tool. Some teachers attempt to complete running records as often as each week. Kids just don't change that often in their fluency level or in their application of reading strategies. These teachers are working way too hard and, most likely, for little if any benefit. Don't get me wrong, though. Running records are great and can provide much useful documentation for students' growth and for planning more effective lessons for individuals and for the whole class.

Over-emphasis and over-administration of running records certainly aren't the only reason why kids learn to call words and not to comprehend text. Some kids actually don't understand that their minds need to be engaged as the call the words. They don't know that they must actually be thinking! Sounds so simple! They haven't grasped the intricacies of reading--the metacognitive processes. Many students don't know that they must bring something to the text; they think that they are to gather everything from the print itself. They don't understand how inferences are made, how context clues are gathered, how syntax helps the reader derive meaning, and how many other relationships are formed between the reader and the text. Once students come to realize that all of these processes are occurring simultaneously as they call the words, then making it all happen isn't easy either!

Just discussing what may have happened to these students won't help them develop as readers rather than merely as proficient word-callers. We definitely have to find a solution. What can be done for these students so that they won't be stuck in the word-calling stage? Here are several of the ways that we address this in 4-Blocks:

First, we devote at least a quarter of our 4-Blocks time daily to comprehension. We emphasize to kids that understanding the text is what reading really is all about. Each day we teach a comprehension skill or strategy to kids during the pre-reading segment and then we allow them time to practice and apply what we've taught them. They definitely learn how to engage in text rather than merely call words. Hopefully teachers are guided in their classrooms by up-to-date curriculum guides, offering the comprehension skills and strategies that are important to teach kids at their grade level. (A great publication for teachers that will tell the valuable comprehension skills and strategies, activities for teaching comprehension and diagnostic information related to comprehension is the book Teaching Comprehension, A Handbook of Strategies by Jerry Johns and Susan Davis Lenski.)

Second, besides teaching kids decoding skills in the Words Block, we have activities that will teach kids how to process text. A good example of this would be Guess the Covered Word. Several sentences (or a paragraph) are shared in which one word in each sentence is covered. This should be a word about which kids can gather some contextual meaning. The students make reasonable guesses about what they think the word is. Then, the teacher reveals the onset of the word (every letter before the first vowel). Although some of the words make sense in the context of the sentence, they may not start with that onset of letters, and so those guesses are eliminated and more guesses are made. Once more guesses are made, the whole word is revealed. With this simple activity, students come to realize that this is a process that they should use as they read-"When you come to a word you don't know, ask yourself what makes sense in this sentence. Then look at the first chunk of the word and get your mouth ready for this sound. Then look at the whole word." They'll come to realize that a reader has constant choices to make as he reads and that he must be thinking the whole time.

The Writing Block is another time that students are putting all of their knowledge about reading together. Here they find that they can't put down a string of words disconnected from meaning. They learn about many important connections between their ideas and the words that represent those ideas.

In Self-Selected Reading, students will listen as the teacher models that connection again during the read-aloud, read purely for the enjoyment of the students. It's all about meaning! Then, the students will simulate what the teacher has done for them by choosing their own books for enjoyment. Whether they can actually read all of the words in the beginning is not critical. They can look at pictures and begin to gather meaning and can gradually add their knowledge of words to do the same.

So, let's not panic when we notice that our students can call the words but don't have a clue what they've read. Let's teach in 4-Blocks so that students will clearly understand what reading is all about--meaning.

Training Opportunities:

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. For their services, you can simply call 843-549-2684 and speak with Cathy Bell or visit her website at 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.
Carmel, INOctober 25ERG (1 day primary advanced)
Batavia, NYOctober 27ERG (1 day primary advanced)
Portland, ORNovember 2SDR
Seattle, WANovember 3SDR
Collinsville, ILNovember 9ERG (upper grades, 4-6)
Boston, MANovember 14SDR
Cherry Hill, NJNovember 15SDR
San Francisco, CANovember 28     SDR
Sacramento, CANovember 29SDR
Louisville, KYDecember 5SDR
Atlanta , GADecember 6SDR
Orlando, FLFebruary 13SDR
Lexington, KYMarch 6SDR
Minneapolis, MNMarch 7SDR
Albuquerque, NM     March 27SDR
Phoenix, AZMarch 28SDR
Houston, TXApril 3SDR
San Antonio, TXApril 4SDR
Chicago, ILApril 24SDR
Detroit, MIApril 25SDR
Anaheim, CAMay 9SDR
Ontario, CAMay 10SDR

For ERG workshops, call 843-549-2684 or go to

For SDR workshops, call 800-678-8908.

Hope to see you at a workshop soon!


The draft of the upper grades 4-Blocks book has gone to the publisher at last! I'll keep you posted on projected date of release. We still have revisions and editing to do-just like the kids who publish in our 4-Blocks classrooms!

I had the pleasure of visiting a school in Huntington, IN, under the principalship of Jim Hollar. Great things are happening there with 4-Blocks-upper and lower grades. It was wonderful to see the "fruits" of our labors from the Indiana statewide training as these teachers were implementing in their classrooms. I even had the opportunity to meet with a group of parents one evening to talk with them about the model. What fun! Thanks to Jim for a great visit!

After a wonderful birthday celebration for my husband and me at Kiawah Island for a weekend with friends and family (got to spend time with my grand-daughter!), I traveled on to Gainesville, GA for 4 days of training with upper and lower grades. This Hall County district likes to do things the right way. We had a great time together at the Community College. On my numerous visits, I've learned many things about their local sites and culture (i.e., the chicken statue in the middle of town, the entrepreneurial enterprise of poop-scooping! Ha!). Thanks to Martha, Ann and a fabulous group of "good-hair" curriculum coordinators for their hospitality and professionalism!

I'm off to Ohio to work with two school systems tomorrow and then right on to Germany to spread 4-Blocks in that country! I'll send postcards! Have a great week!


Cheryl Sigmon is a regular contributor to Teachers.Net.