Thursday, September 21, 2017

Daily Time for Writing

As promised, I am back with a post dedicated to writing. I chose to separate writing from my previous posts on Balanced Literacy because in my district, we have the advantage of having a separate 40 minute writing period.  Very much like reading instruction, writing instruction requires modeling and explicit instruction via focused mini lessons.

So What Really Goes on During Writing?

1. Read Aloud/Mentor Text
Writing instruction can begin with a read aloud. Many writing teachers have favorite mentor texts that demonstrate good, effective writing.  Typically, teachers in elementary schools use one mentor text per week.

2. The Focus Mini Lesson
The read aloud is followed by a focused mini lesson that explicitly teaches a writing skill or strategy.  This is where choosing a good mentor text comes in handy. During the mini lesson, teachers can focus on shared writing and modeling the focus of the lesson.  If you'd like to read about the components of a mini lesson, please click here Balanced Literacy: The Mini Lesson. Below is a video showing a mini lesson which you may find helpful.

3. Independent Writing 
After the mini lesson, students need to be provided with independent time to write. Usually, this can be a written response to a prompt or a free writing piece.

4. Conferencing
While students are independently writing, some may be ready to conference with their teachers. During this time the teacher reads through the piece or the student may choose to read their piece aloud to the teacher. The writing teacher will then find something to compliment the piece with. There should always be something positive to say. After, the teacher can ask questions to help clarify anything that needed to be clarified.  Finally, the teacher should make suggestions on the writing and send the students back to revise and edit.

5. Sharing
One of the best parts of writing is sharing time.  Students love to share their written thoughts. Should this occur daily? YES! Students don't need to have a completed piece to share. Maybe they want to share a drawing, a sentence, or a paragraph they just absolutely LOVE! Encourage sharing in your writing classes.

Hopefully this break down of the writing period will give you some clarity.

* For more ideas on what to do during your writing periods, look for articles and books written by these writing gurus: Lucy Calkins, Ralph Fletcher, Joann Portalupi, Ruth Culham

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Balanced Literacy: A Look at Guided Reading

Guided reading is the meat and potatoes of the literacy block.  This is the time in which the teacher gets to meet with small groups of students and provide them with the support they need to increase comprehension and strengthen their reading skills. Through guided reading, teachers differentiate, assess, support, and provide opportunities to develop deep understanding of text.

In a typical literacy classroom, teachers will group their students into guided reading groups. Although students are grouped based on their reading levels, teachers have the ability to change groups and provide instruction based on skills and strategies as well. After groups are formed, teachers will then create lessons that will support each groups' particular needs. Groups are assessed frequently in order to move them toward reading on grade level and increased comprehension.

How Frequently Does the Teacher Meet with Groups?

Guided reading instruction should be done four to five times per week.  Lower level groups need more support and instruction. As a result, teachers should aim to meet with lower level groups at least three to four times per week. On level groups need less support and should be seen two to three times per week. Your above grade level students have the ability to comprehend and respond to grade level text; but, just like the rest of your students, they too need guidance and support. Students above grade level should be provided with guided reading instruction at least twice per week.

Below are two videos that may help you understand the structure of guided reading in an elementary classroom:

Guided Reading in Kindergarten

Guided Reading in Fourth Grade

Guided reading is an important part of the literacy block. Students who are provided with leveled support can make great gains on their literacy journey.  

So, What is Balanced Literacy Anyway?

As you find yourself in the middle of the second week of regular instruction, you may begin to wonder if you're doing things according to district policies, and whether or not you are incorporating the components of Balanced Literacy into your reading block. If this is you, look no further!

So, What is Balanced Literacy Anyway?

Balanced Literacy is a teaching method that incorporates the gradual release of responsibility of reading instruction. This approach takes into account both reading and writing instruction as they go hand in hand. For now, I'll focus on the components of the 80 Minute Reading Block.

The 80 Minute Reading Block:

An 80 Minute Reading Block is essential to the success of Balanced Literacy in the elementary classroom. The block begins with teacher instruction, modeling, and sharing/discussions of reading strategies based on the text.  It is followed by guided practice, and eventually leads to independent practice all accomplished within the 80 minute block.

Read Aloud/Shared Reading:
The read aloud is the portion of the literacy block where teachers provide the greatest level of support. During the read aloud, teachers are modeling reading strategies like fluency and using think alouds to model how to think through text and enhance their comprehension of text. 

Some teachers combine read alouds and shared readings. While this is totally fine to do, I'd like to point out that they are in fact different. During shared reading, students can see and follow the text. This can be achieved by projecting the text on a SmartBoard or SmartTV.  Additionally, some teachers allow for students to jump in and read along.

Mini Lesson:
The mini lesson is the time in which teachers introduce reading strategies and comprehension skills.  These skills are practiced throughout the week. Mini lessons can derive from standards, district curriculum, or driven by student inquiry.

Guided Reading:
This is the meat and potatoes of the reading block! It is during guided reading that teachers meet with different reading groups. These groups are formed based on their reading levels. This allows teachers to really focus in and instruct students on strategies that can help them excel and advance their levels of comprehension.

Independent Reading/Literacy Centers:
Independent Reading and Literacy Centers is the part of the reading block students look forward to the most! During center time, students have a daily choice to either work independently (independent reading) or collaboratively (literacy centers) on reading skills and strategies related to weekly skills or monthly themes. Center time is structured in a way where students have a choice on which activities to tackle.

Classrooms that use the Balanced Literacy model of instruction may look differently in terms of schedules; however, they all embrace the above components.

To learn more about the structure of Balanced Literacy classrooms, click here: Balanced Literacy and the 80 Minute Block