The children in the 3-6 literature class are welcomed into an environment immersed in literature study on a daily basis. During Literacy study, these students are exposed to a variety of genres; their reading is balanced and varied. Reading and writing study builds bridges of understanding between children as we share new ideas and personal impressions of each story we explore. Reading also informs each child’s perspective as a writer.
Discovering new worlds
In the 3-6 literature study classroom writers practice the art of telling a story, through language, that expresses memories, dreams, curiosities, fears, favorites, family, etc. in quick-writes that become the spark for writing pieces. Students and teacher regularly share writing, providing both celebration of personal achievement and examples for others. Writing strategies and best practices are taught through mini-lessons, while instruction in spelling, grammar, and conventions is differentiated as students observe their writing for common errors in each of these areas. They attend editing conferences where they receive direct instruction to correct grammatical confusions and complete independent word study where they attempt to commit conventional spellings to memory. Separate lists for spelling and grammar/conventions are frequently referenced to ensure that students correct these errors in future writing experiences.
In reading workshop 3-6 students learn who they are as readers. They continuously search for interesting and enjoyable books and feel free to abandon those that don’t meet their high standards. Our literacy community regularly shares favorite books, authors, and series during “book talks” to create buzz for other students looking for their next good book. Guided reading with leveled books provides direct instruction to students who are building fluency and comprehension. Read alouds provide whole class opportunities for the modeling of comprehension strategies and the introduction of the language of literature and nonfiction. While reading, the teacher thinks aloud and asks questions, making the intellectual processes of a proficient reader explicit. Additionally, students develop as readers, building fluency and their knowledge of story and nonfiction, through nightly reading requirements, and demonstrate their understanding in reading responses a few times throughout the week.
Additionally, 3-6 students and teachers regularly engage in “focus units” where books are chosen around a central topic (whether it be a theme, author, or a particular element of literature) and are studied in a whole class environment. It is here that a common language is developed and students begin to discuss literature on a deeper level. As students gain confidence and aptitude in discussing literature, they are given the opportunity to carry out this kind of discourse in small group settings. Finally, once independence is gained, students are invited to join independent literature study groups where they read and discuss titles together.
The students will:
Students began the year by unpacking books for our library. As a class, they decided how these books would be organized in our library cart. They labeled the books individually, categorized them, and created signs that will serve to catalog the West 2 library.
We also explored the idea of living together differently in a community in our first Focus Unit. Themes of individuality, inclusion, compassion, empathy, and choices that impact others surfaced in our discussions as we read various titles that touched on the subject of community. Finally, we compiled a chart to record ideas that arose along the way.
Reading homework was established. Students read 20 minutes four nights per week and write a short reading response 3 nights per week, which they share with a fellow student in class the following day. In an effort to ease into book discussions students were asked to think of text around 3 central topics: Impressions, Connections, Wonderings. Students use these topics to guide thinking both in class discussions as well as to guide their nightly reading responses.
West 2 finished our first read aloud, Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. Many interesting discussions arose about the division that is created among people when they see each other according to differences in race, ethnicity, or language, and that community projects, such as the garden featured in this novel, have the power to break down these lines and allow people to see beyond their differences to how they are connected as human beings. An interest was shown among students in mapping out where the characters in the story originated from, and so we marked each character’s place of origin on our world map. This, in turn, led students to begin questioning why people immigrate to other countries. We learned that some students in our own class are second-generation Americans and can trace their family’s journey to America.
Reading is comfortable
West 2 is currently embarking on a global studies driven project to learn about US immigration, specifically the time period in which our country admitted millions of newly arriving immigrants through Ellis Island in the late 19th/early 20th century.
Through a simulated story in the outdoors, they felt the immigrants experience during that historical period as they read the story and enacted the journey of a Russian Jewish family fleeing discrimination and persecution in pursuit of the freedom they hoped to find in America. Students have also begun gathering his or her own family’s stories of migration and immigration, and are in the process of presenting those stories to the class through the artifacts and information they have gathered. Students will wrap up their research in this area by writing a short essay that highlights one special artifact and shares the story it has to tell about his or her family’s cultural or familial heritage.
West 2 has also been investigating the guiding question: “Why were large groups of people from all over the world pushed out of their countries from the mid 19th century to early 20th century, prompting many to seek America as a place of refuge?” In this effort, students have been practicing the work of historians as they have used primary sources to piece together the stories of past lives and events. To introduce the topic, students participated in the “primary source scavenger hunt” in the outdoor program where they searched the park to gather a collection of historical documents. Once the documents were found, they were given the magnifying lens to explore the sources and try to identify the story told through the documents. Their work revealed The Irish Potato Famine and The Great Famine of China as two such events that pushed people out of their countries in mass, prompting their move to America.
With this background information in place and our curiosity sparked, we have begun to incorporate fiction and nonfiction resources via an Immigration Focus Unit to deepen understanding of the issue and to build comprehension strategies in the process.
In Writing Workshop, we began the year listening to the stories that arise in that quiet space when we are alone with our thoughts and memories. Students practiced building writing stamina through quick-writes where they attempted to write continuously for 10 minutes about whatever comes to mind. This focused writing period was followed by the opportunity to engage in social writing projects where some students enjoyed collaborating with others. Every writing workshop was wrapped up with “circle” where students shared their writing with the whole group.
Mentor texts were then introduced to begin shifting the focus of writing to telling personal stories, and students have begun learning strategies that will help them to generate personal narrative writing topics.
We have also begun building our word study program. Students were assessed to determine his or her developmental spelling levels. Using this information, the teacher has designed an individualized course of study that builds on the current skills and understanding that each student has in this area. We have currently set up our word study folders and have begun learning the routines of this program.
Students have created a quick story sketch, imagining the interior and exterior features of the main character, establishing a problem and setting, and finally beginning to build plot lines via a story mountain. Emphasis will be placed on creating a plot that builds tension as the problem climbs to the climax, and writing “deep” rather than “wide”. In other words, students are encouraged to increase their word counts by focusing on more fully developing a handful of key scenes.
Students continue to work on their NaNoWriMo stories, many of them ask to take their iPads home so that they can continue writing in the evening. We have been talking a great deal about “writing deep” rather than “wide.” Each scene should build, making the problem worse as it reaches the top of the story mountain and explodes during the climax. Therefore, each scene is carefully planned during conferencing with the teacher as each student discusses the necessity of the next scene and how it contributes to the original goal or problem of the piece.
We wrapped up our second Focus Unit. This unit on Immigration began by exploring why people left their countries/places of origin. Many titles were historical fiction and so we often compared historical events to those that were told in the story. Students discovered that war often caused families to be uprooted from their homes and forced them to move to countries or places where they would be safe. However, while some families chose to move to places like America where they hoped to find freedom and a better life, others moved to tent camps established across a friendly, neighboring border where they waited for the War to be over so that they could return home.
The book One Green Apple brought the idea to modern day as a young Muslim girl struggles to feel accepted in her new American home. The final book, The Bracelet, shared the story of Japanese-American Internment Camps during WWII. This book guided students to question whether America has always stood by its values to provide a safe place for all people. Throughout the study, students looked for connections between books and their Global Studies learning. They became very adept at recognizing symbols and determining their meaning and importance to the story.
We have also recently begun a class-wide Book Study featuring the title Inside Out & Back Again. The novel is told in verse. As a class, we have looked at significant poems together and have compared the structure of poems and prose.
Trees can teach too
Each week students read a selected section of the book and write entries in their reading journal, one is an Impression, Connection, and Wondering, and in the second they identify their favorite poem, stanza, or line and discuss why they liked it. On Friday morning, Book Study day, they meet in small groups and use their entries to discuss that week’s reading. As a class we have begun plotting the events on a Story Mountain, thereby connecting their work in writing to their work in reading. By making this connection students not only firm up their understanding of the plot line, but they also begin to recognize the connection between reading and writing, and start to learn that many of the tools and strategies that they use in one area can be applied to the other.
We finished reading Inside Out & Back Again just before Winter Break. Students met in their small groups to organize the events from the last reading assignment in chronological order. As a class, we agreed upon the final order of scenes. As students questioned each other’s choices, some students independently referenced their books to locate the scene and verify its placement in the correct order of events. While adding the final scenes to the Story Mountain, students were able to identify and place the climax. Additionally, as there was still scenes leftover, the teacher used the opportunity to introduce the final element of story structure, resolution. Students were surprised at how many steps it took to get up the mountain and how few it took to get down. We discussed applications to their own writing. As writers, they would spend most of their time in building their story to a climax and most often use only a few scenes to resolve it.
In the New Year, West 2 students have been establishing normal homework routines, reading a book of their choice inside class and while at home. They have switched reading partners and are starting to build rapport as they hold their first book discussions. As they meet three times each week, the teacher documents these discussions looking for the next step in further developing the students’ abilities to think about and discuss literature on a deeper level. Also, students have been reading for the teacher to determine comprehension and fluency levels in order to determine “just right” and “instructional” level books that will be used to form guided reading groups in the upcoming months.
In writing, students have been working hard to complete their NaNoWriMo stories. Using their story mountains as a guide, students have been practicing building their stories’ problems to a climax and resolving them in the end. Finally, due dates for the final draft of Short Stories (NaNoWriMo) has been set. Students will have a complete first draft of their story finished by January 22. Final drafts will be due in February. We are planning an Author’s Tea to hold a reading and invite parents to celebrate their children’s literary accomplishments.
We have now begun the process of revision in earnest. Students were introduced to the idea that when a piece of writing is not good enough and doesn’t meet the high standards of the writer, it is often discarded or put aside; however when a draft is really good, the writer begins the careful work of revision by viewing their writing with the eyes of a reader. Students were given 3 lenses with which to look at their writing.
See it- Can the reader see it? Does the writing put characters in the setting and move them about? Do the characters see the setting with their own eyes?
The teacher pre-selected a scene from each student’s short story that needed to be further developed. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, writers will work with 2 other students to determine which areas (see it, hear it, do it) need to be improved in their scene. They will then act out that scene with their group and decide where writing needs to be added or modified to bring that scene alive for the reader. They will then go back into their own stories and attempt to make the remainder of revisions independently.
Big changes are happening in reading in the lower school. In an effort to better meet the varying needs of our students, teachers of the lower team will bring students in Pre-K through 5th grade together twice a week for reading workshop. We feel this new model will allow lower school teachers to work in conjunction with one another and better meet the needs of all students.
Each element of the reading workshop (Focus Units, Book Studies, Guided Reading, Word Study, Sight Words, Independent/Buddy Reading/listening to audiobook) will be introduced consecutively with the goal of creating a workshop model where students will work in a varying configurations: independently, with a partner, or in a small cooperative groups. These learning situations may be student-directed, teacher facilitated, or teacher-directed.
At the end of January, teachers introduced 6 different Focus Units. Each student chose 2 in which to participate. These include 4 author studies -Eric Carle, Mo Willems, (both Pre-K to grade 2 only) Patricia Pollacco and Dr. Seuss; 1 theme study- family; 1 genre study- poetry. The units are designed to allow students to make connections between multiple texts, use the language of literature, and employ comprehension strategies in a teacher facilitated, learning environment.
We met as a group and discussed the new reading workshop environment. Students then attended a short introduction to each unit. The books were again made available during the following workshop. Students who wished to take a second look could do so before making a commitment. During that same workshop, teachers introduced the word study portion of the reading workshop where students met in their groups and began the next sort.
During the month of February, the Lower School has settled into the new Reading Workshop Routine. A couple of W2 students have joined Sandy for the Dr. Seuss Focus Unit where they are reading selected Dr. Seuss texts and focusing on how Seuss’s language and the structure of his stories create his unique style.
According to Sandy, “During our first Focus Group, the students in the Dr. Seuss Focus Group read the story The Sneetches. While listening to the story the students were each given some Post-its and asked to write or draw any connections, reflections, or questions they had about the story. Once the story was over they were asked to turn and talk to their partner about the thoughts they had written on their Post-its.
Many of the students commented on the unfairness of the Star Belly Sneetches and the trickery of Sylvester McMonkey McBean. After discussing their thoughts with each other they were encouraged to share their comments with the group. Through the group discussion, students identified the problem and the solution presented in the story.
Reading with friends
They also came away with the understanding that Dr. Seuss could have created a metaphor relating to any number of people or groups who judge others based on what they look like rather than who or what they are on the inside. The students all agreed that judging people by who they are on the inside seems to be the fair and right way to treat one another. The students saw Sylvester McMonkey McBean as both, someone who helped make the problem worse and who was the catalyst that caused the change in the Sneeches thinking.
The second book we read was Yertle the Turtle. After an initial reading of the story, the students dramatized the story as the teacher read it aloud again. The students were eager to portray the different character traits using intonation and expression. After the performance, the students discussed their thoughts about the story. The discussion was deep and the students clearly understood Dr. Seuss was implying that it isn’t right to rule over others and be inconsiderate of them and their suffering. Once our conversation was over, the students asked to perform The Sneetches, which the teacher happily obliged.
We read The Lorax next and again the students engaged in the same group of activities as the previous books. The group, besides discussing the impact of The Once-ler chopping down all of the Truffula Trees, also discussed the relevance of Dr. Seuss’s decision to hide the Once-ler’s face. They also made the observation that in the books we have read there are two main characters. The students finished the Focus Unit by reading The Butter Battle Book.
However, the majority of West 2 students have been in open workshop where they choose at least two activities each period: reading independently or with a buddy, working with their Word Study and Sight words with Emma, or meeting in reading strategy groups with Christi where we have been reading nonfiction texts. In these strategy groups students have been using the “just right” books they selected earlier to practice using nonfiction text features table of contents, index, glossary- to locate information; heading and subheadings, photos and captions, charts, diagrams, etc.- to synthesize and strengthen their understanding of the material. Additionally, we have discussed how to determine the most important ideas in a nonfiction text. Finally, Maniac Magee Book Study will begin when we return from Spring Break.
In home base, we just finished book projects for our last read aloud, Tombquest by Michael Northrop. There were a variety of projects completed, including a talk show (in which the host interviewed the 2 main characters), wanted posters for 2 of the villains, a comic strip of the main events of the story, a new scene for the book, a diorama of one of the book’s settings, and a board game inspired by the events of the story. We have now begun our new read aloud, City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau. During the first chapter, students began spontaneously acting out the story as it was read aloud, which has proven to be engaging for the whole class and has the added bonus of helping all students better imagine the story.
In Writing, we have been working on revising our short stories from NaNoWriMo. Students have been looking at each scene individually and have been making choices as to whether there is an adequate amount of character dialogue, action, and setting. Recently, students turned in their stories with their best revisions. The teacher held final revision conferences, and then students made final changes to the content before beginning the final phase, editing.
Editing strategies were introduced through a series of mini-lessons during the latter part of March and April. Students began the editing process by looking at their paragraphing. During a paragraphing small group lesson, students identified how the subject matter changed with each new paragraph from a book excerpt. The students learned that paragraphing for fictional stories is often a writer’s choice. Writers group their words on a page so that readers can better understand them. They break paragraphs to give readers room to breathe, to highlight individual events, or to draw attention to important words or phrases. Students then returned to their stories to make choices about their own paragraphing.
Next students were introduced to punctuation and paragraphing dialogue. Students studied dialogue in authentic literature. They participated in dialogue activities based on excerpts taken from the class read aloud, City of Ember. First students worked with a dialogue excerpt from the book. The words and punctuation from this excerpt were written on color-coded sentence strips and punctuation cards. Groups were asked to arrange the cards and strips so that the excerpt was correctly paragraphed and punctuated. They then learned and applied standard editing marks to correctly punctuate and paragraph another dialogue excerpt from City of Ember. Finally, students in literature study attempted to apply this practice in their own writing.
The next stage of editing work turned students’ attention toward sentence structure. After observing common student errors in sentence structure including, run-on sentences and comma splices, the teacher worked with students to identify and correct these errors in group activities before attempting to correct them in their own writing. The final editing task leads students to turn their attention to spelling. Prior to final editing conferences, the teacher identified spelling errors and then conducted individual mini-lessons to draw students’ attention to these errors. With their short stories completed students have begun designing the covers for their stories in preparation for the bookbinding project in May.
Meanwhile, during read aloud, students continued to bring the City of Ember to life by enacting each scene as it was read aloud. Students have enjoyed creating the City of Ember Stage. The interest in performing has helped them to visualize the events from the story and to imagine what the setting looks like; this is an important element of the story and has been continually discussed throughout the story.
Reading together is fun
In Reading Workshop, many West 2 students have been participating in the Maniac Magee book study. The group began by setting a goal of reading 10 pages 5 nights a week in order to finish the book within a 4 week period. Students have met with their partners to discuss individual impressions, connections, and wonders during reading response share, 3 days each week.
Additionally, they have met as book study group twice a week to discuss the previous weeks reading as a whole. During book study meetings students have practiced identifying significant events, character actions, and/or specific examples of text that suggest important themes. Throughout the course of study, students have identified themes of racism, judgment, loneliness, family, friendship, and a need for love and belonging. They have had many rich discussions along these lines as they have navigated sensitive topics and considered differing opinions. It has been an enriching experience for all, as each student has brought their own personal beliefs and individual backgrounds to literary discussions of these complex social issues.
W2 students who chose not to join the Maniac literature study group have been continuing their word study work and have joined reading strategy groups that targeted research skills. In these groups, students have searched nonfiction texts to find and document answers to the questions that were originally posed in global studies and science work-time groups.
Literature Study Resources
Living Together Differently Focus Unit Titles
Safe Place Agreement
Hooray for Diffendoofer Day by Dr. Seuss, Lane Smith, Jack Prelutsky
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester
Dominic by William Steig
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman
One Green Apple by Eve Bunting
Gleam and Glow by Eve Bunting
How Many Days to America? A Thanksgiving Story by Eve Bunting
Marianthe’s Story Spoken Memories/Painted Words by Aliki
The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland
The Bracelet by Yoshiko Ushido
Immigrant Kids by Russell Freedman
Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Albert Marrin
Feed the Children First: Irish Memories of the Great Hunger by Mary E. Lyons
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman
Wringer by Jerry Spinelli
Tombquest: The Book of the Dead by Michael Northrop
City of Ember– Jeanne DuPrau
Yertle the Turtle
Horton Hatches an Egg
The Butter Battle Book
TEACHER: Christi Sandbach
Voyagers’ Community School
215 Broad Street
Eatontown, NJ 07724
Proud to be MSA Accredited