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Volume 1 Number 7

Ride along with the Hole in the Wall Gang this month and discover the special camp founded by Paul Newman nestled away in the quiet hills of Connecticut.
Effective Teaching by Harry Wong
Promoting Learning by Marv Marshall
The Trouble With... by Alfie Kohn
4 Blocks by Cheryl Sigmon
Schoolhouse Views by Beth Bruno
To Refer or Not to Refer
Tell A Number Trick
BCL Classroom Environments
Links Worth The Click
Morning Meetings
FLingers Block Party
Bridging the Digital Divide
Science Teacher Initiative
Poetry Contest for Canadian Youth
Developing a Positive Home-School Relationship
Classroom Rules Can Be Sweet
Teaching the Visually Impaired
BJ Treks Outback
Teacher To Ski Antarctica
New at Teachers.Net
Letters to the Editor
Poll: Favorite Quotes
Archives: Self Publishing
New in the Lesson Bank
Upcoming Ed Conferences
Humor from the Classroom
Help Wanted - Teaching Jobs
Live Events Calendar
Gazette Back Issues
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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 Teacher’s 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!

Bookmark the 4 Blocks Center.

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Teachers Guide To Building Blocks

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Implementing the 4-Blocks Literacy Model
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Classrooms That Work : They Can All Read and Write
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Sifting and Sorting Through the 4-Blocks Literacy Model
by Cheryl M. Sigmon

What Will I Do With All Those Leveled Books?

So you went to a workshop last year--before you ever heard of 4-Blocks--and the presenter told you that you should be leveling your books. In an effort to do whatever will bring your students success, you learned how to level books according to gradient rubrics, often dividing books into nine or so levels per grade level. You talked your administrator into purchasing tons of new books--all came in levels, some in neat little plastic crates. So, by the end of last year, you had your books in crates, all color-coded with little sticky dots indicating the levels.

And then you heard about 4-Blocks! Your best teacher-friend in another school experimented last year and had phenomenal success. On the internet, you began to hear teachers chatting about 4-Blocks. So, off you went to a seminar to hear more!

It all sounded so wonderful--a framework for teaching that would help you manage your classroom with ease, that would help address the individual needs of your students, and, what's more, something that made GOOD SENSE FOR A CHANGE!!!

You could hardly wait to get back home from the seminar to start reading more about 4-Blocks and to start getting organized. "BUT WAIT!!! OH, MY GOSH!" you say to yourself. "WHAT IN THE WORLD WILL I DO ABOUT ALL THOSE LEVELED BOOKS??" You can't tell your administrator that you really don't need leveled books. He just funded them for you! And you've invested so much time in organizing the new books, labeling them with little sticky dots, and you even taught other teachers how to level books. How would you ever be able to save face if you suddenly began preaching that you shouldn't level books?

Okay. Do you beg forgiveness? Mea culpa! Mea culpa! Do you wear a red letter "L" on your chest for the rest of the school year? Do you offer to package the new books and return them to the publishers?

Relax! Take a deep breath, and rest assured that we'll find a solution to your predicament. Let's talk a little bit about what to do if you've been caught in this dilemma.

First of all, it's basically true that you don't need to level books in a 4-Blocks classroom. That doesn't mean that there's no benefit to having the materials you've amassed and to having the knowledge of how to level. Here are some of the benefits:

If you know how to level books (á la Pinnell/Fountas or any other leveling method), then you're aware of the distinctions book to book that would make text appropriate for a particular student. That's what leveling is all about--matching kids to text appropriately. You've developed expertise to know the characteristics of text that make it hard or easy for students. That's a good thing. When a student comes to you during Self-Selected Reading Block with a book that he's struggling with, you'll know why he's struggling, and you'll work to help him make more appropriate book choices. If a student has developed a habit over a couple of weeks of bringing books to the conference that are way too easy, you'll recognize that and know how to help him make a book selection that's more of a challenge. We do have to keep in mind that students will be allowed on occasion to pick books that are too easy or too hard. After all, this block is called SELF-selected, not TEACHER-selected reading. However, because students won't always have the opportunity to read at their own levels during Guided Reading Block, it's critical that they have some regular exposure to material that is at their own levels. Often 4-Blocks teachers report feeling insecure in their own ability to guide students appropriately. But, you have that expertise! You will guide each student confidently.

It's true that you won't want to keep the books as you've previously organized them. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, having students assigned to read from particular crates of books or requiring them to reach only for books with red dots on them clearly labels kids. You might as well put them back into ability groups! At the very heart of 4-Blocks is the philosophy that we CAN teach kids to read without labeling them. Labels not only draw academic lines between kids (with gaps that grow wider and wider), but labels also draw social and emotional lines between kids. That just doesn't happen in a 4-Blocks classroom. If you've got distinguishing labels on books, fine. Just don't require that kids read those books exclusively.

Put your investment of the time it took you to organize those materials to your advantage. Take a few of the books from the different levels, and put a range of levels in each of the book baskets that will go out to the tables during Self-Selected Reading Block. Now you'll be assured that you've got a range of books that will match the range of abilities in each of your cooperative settings. All of your tables or groups should be composed of high, average, and low achieving students. So, you'll want to have books that meet those needs. Your leveled crates help you have the perfect range of books!

Next, your experience in leveling materials comes to the rescue during Guided Reading Block. So many teachers say that they have to rely solely on a basal text to find their grade-level days of reading because, again, they're insecure in knowing how to find material that is considered grade-level. In some schools and some classrooms, the grade-level reading isn't truly grade-level, where students are mostly higher or lower performing than is considered grade-level. What to use if you can't be guided by a basal? Many teachers are at a loss. Likewise, they are at a loss for what to choose for the easier days of reading. Many would love to know how to pick materials with confidence without always being tied to a basal or any publisher or catalog to tell them the level of the material. But, again, you have that expertise! You can look at any materials and any group of students and know how to find the perfect (or almost perfect!) match!

If several teachers in a school have leveled sets of books, they might agree to combine the small sets so that there are larger collections for the Guided Reading Block. For example, if Teacher A has 6 copies of a title, Teacher B has 6 copies (same title), Teacher C has 6 copies (same title), and Teacher D has a 6-pack set (again, same title), then these teachers can trade their small sets and create a class set of 24 books. If they have several of these 6-pack sets on several titles, they regroup them, and then they rotate the use of the class set, so that everyone still gets to teach each title.

So, you won't have to stand on a cafeteria table for two weeks wearing the red-letter "L" on your chest in disgrace. Having labeled books has served you well, and knowing how to level books has, additionally, served you and your students well. Now let's start re-organizing those books as the school year begins!

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 at least one 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. Email me or call 843-549-2684 if we can be of assistance in offering you 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
Portland, ORNovember 2SDR
Seattle, WANovember 3SDR
Collinsville, ILNovember 9ERG (upper grades)
BostonNovember 14SDR
Cherry Hill, NJNovember 15SDR
San FranciscoNovember 28SDR
SacramentoNovember 29SDR
LouisvilleDecember 5SDR
AtlantaDecember 6SDR


*I will be adding a few fall training days soon! Stay tuned!

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!

Personal: Sorry the articles have been a bit sparse lately! I've been very busy working on the upper grades 4-Blocks book that is due to the publisher in a few days. I've gotten lots of suggestions from readers to be included in the book. I surely appreciate hearing from you all.

I just had the pleasure of working with a wonderful group in Portsmouth, OH. Two of the "Dixie Chicks"--the two Sylvias--went with me. We got them started with upper grades, lower grades and Building Blocks all in one fell swoop! They're an excited bunch of teachers and are rarin' to get the year started! Thanks to Lorie Lowe and the Portsmouth City Schools for hosting us.

Enjoyed meeting many of you at the conference in Winston-Salem. This Southern belle had a hard time saying everything I wanted to in two one-hour sessions! Had to grease my lips to get ‘em to move faster! Good folks were there, and we had fun.

Right now I'm outside Taxcoma, Washington to work with a district this week. This is such beautiful territory! I'm looking forward to the week with Diana Dix and her colleagues.

I hope that if your school year has already begun that you've gotten off to a great start. If you're trying 4-Blocks for the first time, I know it'll be an exciting year--your best ever! And, if you're continuing with 4-Blocks, it just keeps getting better and better!


Cheryl Sigmon is a regular contributor to Teachers.Net.