The children in the K-2 literacy classes are welcomed into an environment where they are immersed in literacy on a daily basis. During Literacy, these students are exposed to a variety of genres; their reading is balanced and varied. Reading and writing 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.
Our younger students, K-2, transition to reading instruction time each day. Reading instruction provides the children with their own independent group or teacher-directed work opportunities that are specific to each student’s ability and needs, as assessed by the teacher. These reading activities include building dictionary skills, using a glossary, index and table of contents, and a wide variety of grammar tasks. Students also retell stories, discuss content to build comprehension, complete nursery rhyme puzzles, illustrate stories, tell stories through acting, and create books inspired by books they have read. All of these activities provide students with differentiated learning experiences overseen by a teacher and are designed to move students to the next level in literacy development.
Students regularly engage in “focus units” as a class. During these units, books are chosen around a central topic, whether it be a theme, an author, or a particular element of literature. These books are studied in a whole class environment and it is here that a common language is developed as 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.
In the Lower Team, time for writing is scheduled every day. Each student has a personal Writer’s Journal as well as a writing folder and a personal dictionary or word list, that is used daily. In the K-2 classroom, the children learn to recognize beginning writing features such as spaces between words, capital letters, punctuation marks, writing from left to right and making a return sweep for the second line of writing. Students who have progressed are introduced to settings, character and plot development; sentence structure; topic sentences and main ideas; graphic organizers and sequential storytelling; focused writing; and language mechanics. Students are encouraged to follow their own ideas, create their own stories and listen to their inner voice as they write. At this young age, there are few rules imposed during writing time; this allows the students to be creative, enjoy writing and to focus on learning the mechanics of words. These students build a foundation for future writing.
The students will:
Fall Semester Students have been hard at work in South 1 learning the various routines that are part of our Literacy Program. The first 15 minutes of their day is devoted to Independent Reading Time. The students have each chosen a quiet spot in the classroom where they can settle down with 5 books of their choice from our classroom library, and read. Students are encouraged to choose books that they are interested in reading, whether by looking at the pictures or reading the individual words. This time is dedicated to allowing students to develop their own tastes and likes as a reader.
The student’s Writing Time is another routine that the group is falling into nicely. When Writing Time begins, the students first find the appropriate page in their Writer’s Notebook and date their page as a means of keeping track of their progress over time. Students are encouraged to write about any topic that is of interest to them. Since children at this stage rely heavily on visual graphic, the first half of their writing time is dedicated to drawing a picture in their notebook. When 10 minutes is left of writing time the students are told they must begin to write one or more sentences in their notebook to tell about their picture. Student’s use a variety of techniques to write. Some students use a personal dictionary to write their words, others use a combination of invented spelling, which relies heavily on their understanding of phonics and their developing knowledge of high frequency words, while others find the list of sentence starters the class developed during a mini-lesson, while others work with friends to write and spell. Once they have completed their work, the students show their writing to the classroom teacher, where individual conferences can occur to focus on sentence structure, such as spacing or capitalization, and discussions of ideas and possible future writing topics can also happen.
Our Reading Workshop is beginning to fall into a routine that the students are able to follow and work at independently. Before Workshop begins, the students are given a brief introduction to the different reading activities that are being offered during this time. Our Reading Groups have begun and every day one group sits on the carpet and reads leveled books to help them practice their developing reading skills. As they are reading aloud the teacher is asking them a variety of questions that are appropriate for their reading level. Questions that ask students to summarize, define certain words, infer meaning, identify characters, and identify parts of books are all topics that have been covered during this time. Once the students have read the book together, the group is given an assignment to work on individually that requires them to go back into the book and find information or reread the story.
While one group is working in the Reading Group, the rest of of the students are completing the activities throughout the room. We have been focusing on word families as a whole class and many of the activities reinforce this. One activity the students enjoy is using sliders to change the initial sound of a word while keeping the ending the same. As they slide the next letter in place they must read the new word, write it on their recording sheet and decide if the word they made is real or not.
We have also been looking at the poem, Who Has Seen the Wind. As a group we have read the poem many times. After our initial reading, the students had a long discussion about what the wind looks like and what the author meant when using the descriptive words in the poem. The students have been given their own copy of the poem and asked to illustrate the poem. They also were given a chart listing all the words on the poem and asked to highlight all the words they could read in the poem. They then made flashcards of the words that will be used for practice reading words out of context.
As a class we spend many parts of our day engaged in shared reading or writing. We have studied the poem 5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. From that poem, the students illustrated the individual sections of the poem and created two classroom books to read. The students also worked at their work tables with their work groups to create a new poem based on the same theme of the 5 little monkeys. Once each group created their own poem, the teacher typed up their words and each group illustrated the pages to be made into books. They were then placed in our classroom library for reading during Independent Reading Time.
Each student has a basket of books in the classroom that are “just right” for their reading level. During Workshop Time, students are encouraged to take out the basket of books and stretch their reading muscles. The books in the basket are based on the assessments done in the classroom to place students in the appropriate level. As the teacher reads individually with the students during Reading Time, suggestions and recommendations are made to the students to help them find the books that will foster their developing reading skills.
The students also have times where they participate in word study activities. By focusing on common spelling patterns such as initial sounds, word families, and suffixes, students are looking at similarities in words in order to figure out how to spell and read many words that follow the same pattern. As students sort the words, they must first say the word before deciding where to place the word in the categories. Once the students have sorted the word they have been given they must then write the word in their Word Study Notebook. Once the students have written the words in their notebook, they then go back to the list they wrote and reread the words. All of these activities help the students see the regularities in words.
Students are working hard at their Word Study. As they say, spell, and say the word they are sorting the students are focusing on different word patterns based on their reading abilities. The students initial task in a word sort is to identify the different spelling or sound patterns that are being concentrated on. As the students place the headers on the top of the rows they look and listen closely to what is the focus of their sort. Once each student has sorted their words, the teacher reviews their work before the students glue their lists in their word study notebooks as a means of documentation and future review. Some students are focusing on beginning sounds, others on medial vowels, while others are working on vowel patterns within words. Students also engage in blind sorts. A blind sort is when one student says a word and the second student identifies which spelling pattern the word follows.
Students are reading a variety of poems and reciting them together in class. This activity builds students’ developing reading skills as they recite the words and find them in the poem, providing the teacher an opportunity to introduce a variety of reading strategies.
Students have continued to focus on word families and finding the spelling patterns among the words. They, sort words, create lists of families, and identify rhymes, through a variety of games and activities. Some students are also looking at patterns of letters within words and are using the same techniques to learn these more advanced concepts.
Students have lists of words in an envelope called Envelope Words. These are words that the student couldn’t read when reading to the teacher in the morning. They are provided opportunities to go to these words and practice writing them in paint, on dry erase boards, letter stamps, letter sorts, etc. in order to become familiar with them.
During Project Weeks the students continued to engage in a Morning Meeting where they sang songs, read poems, and discussed the calendar and the passage of time. One activity that the students have been doing since the beginning of the year is a song called Willaby Walloby. In the song the words Willaby Walloby are paired in a rhyme with the students names and each student is sung to around the carpet. The class changes the W in the words to a different phonetic sound each day. The students love to hear their names rhyme with words such as Chillaby and Stollaby. They laugh and giggle hearing the funny sounding words. As they are enjoy themselves, they are learning about a great variety of blends and how they work in a large variety of words.
The class is now taking the this process a step further by creating lists of words starting with individual blends. Once the first list was generated, the students played a variety of movement and listening activities based on distinguishing the listed words from others not containing the target sound. As they listen and isolate the blends, the students are seeing different patterns in the letter combinations and differentiating between the similar sounding blends such as ch as in child and sh as in shell.
The students continue to engage in different activities during Reading Workshop Time, but the focus is more defined as we progress. Our Just Right Reading Time has increased since we returned from our break. The students are gaining a better understanding of the importance of being careful in the selection of their books and are being asked to take on a more proactive role in selecting the books appropriate for their basket.
The activities being offered during Reading Workshop Time are at times focused on specific skill and reading level so that all students are working within a group of similarly leveled classmates. This schedule allows for a variety of student choice and teacher directed work. The students continue to play a variety of games that focuses on the skill, sound, or concept they are working on so that Reading Workshop continues to be engaging and reaches a variety of learning styles.
Winter Semester 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 will 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 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. As the students enter into Reading Workshop, some students 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. However, the majority of 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 discussing how to determine the most important ideas in a nonfiction text.
During our first Focus Group the students in the Dr. Seuss Focus Group read the story The Sneeches. 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 student’s commented on the unfairness of the Star Belly Sneeches 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.
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 but in the end 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 Sneeches, 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.
Recently, in class, the students have begun writing a story during Writing Time from beginning to end following the Writing Process. Starting with brainstorming ideas, the students created a web which included the main topic of their story in the center of the web and then included ideas about setting, characters, and actions about the main topic. The students had read and discussed at length a large number of fairy tales and folktales from around the world and this foundation helped them to begin to combine all of their ideas and arrange them into a logical order from beginning to end. The students must consider what makes sense in the story, but they also need to think about how the characters will act so that it will be interesting to the reader. They are currently excited and engaged in their writing.
The students continue to work through their Word Sorts, focusing on spelling patterns in words. We have introduced a checklist for the students to keep in their Word Study folders as a way to help them remember what phase of the sort they are in. This checklist allows the students to be responsible for their work. As the students work through their sort, the teacher works among them to introduce new sorts, discuss progress and goals, help when necessary, and check in to ensure understanding.
We have recently added a new element to our Morning Meeting, which encourages much more participation from all the students in the class. At the beginning of the year, the teacher wrote the entire message while the student’s watched. This helped them to understand the function of print. In the next stage the teacher made several intentional errors in the texts, which the students were invited to find and correct. These errors might have been in spelling, punctuation, or grammar. Now, the message is entirely blank with only dashes and punctuation to indicate where sentences begin and end and the number of letters in the word. We play hangman, the teacher vs. the class. They must choose different letters to solve the puzzle. The students are, at this time, undefeated.
Spring Semester The students are continuing to use everything they have learned about letters, words and sentence structure throughout the year to solve the mystery of our Morning News. The message is now completely blank, with only lines to indicate the spaces for letters and words. Continuing to play hangman, the students call out letters as the teacher fills in the blanks. The students are excited as they work together as a team to beat the teacher with as few body parts as possible. They are thinking about vowels, and letters frequently used in words, as well as suffixes such as -ing and -ed. They are also using their knowledge of high frequency words to fill in many of the spaces.
The class is also continuing to work on their books. As students move through the rough draft phase, the teacher works with the students to type their stories so that each student will be able to proofread their manuscript and add further details for more interest. As each student sits with the teacher, they are asked questions to clarify their thinking and help them assess their story plot and characters for the next step in the writing process. They then use these clarifications to rewrite the story with the new details. Once the changes are typed for the student, they next illustrate their story for publication. As each student’s story is published, it is laminated so that it can be placed in the class library along with our other class-made books. The students in class often choose these original stories for Independent Reading.
The students sing songs during Morning Meeting and one morning they decided they wanted to perform “There was an Old Man Who Swallowed a Fly” for the community. Working together, the students added more verses to the song in order to include everyone from both South and West 1 classes. After that, the students chose their parts and then worked on creating their costumes for the show. They used a variety of materials to create animals such as a dinosaur, fly, and horse. The students performed the show for the rest of the school at a Community Meeting. The school community responded enthusiastically to the performance, and the students were proud of the work they had done.
After spending the first two sessions reading Fairy Tales and discussing story structure and key elements, the class has begun to read Charlotte’s Web. This classic tale of friendship and courage is a perfect story to read and discuss with the group to continue to build literacy understanding. As the group listens to the story, they draw in journals as a way to reflect and share what they are thinking about, questioning, and identifying as key moments in the story. Every few days they share what they have done with one another and they have a discussion about their thoughts. They are making interesting connections and asking amazing questions. They are using the skills developed through listening to a variety of short stories with complex story lines, to make connections among details in the book Charlotte’s Web. They are becoming literary connoisseurs.
Voyagers’ Community School 215 Broad Street Eatontown, NJ 07724
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