Article #13
It's How We Teach, Not What We Teach!
Cheryl M. Sigmon

All around the country, states are writing and implementing content and achievement standards in an attempt to define what is expected of both teachers and students in the process of teaching and learning. In the area of language arts, standards range from the specific (i.e., count the number of phonemes in a monosyllabic word; explain the author's purpose; identify sensory words and their effect on the reader) to the general (i.e., read and demonstrate comprehension of a variety of literary forms; use the writing process; use information resources to research a topic). Sometimes they also range from the absurd to the useful, but that won't be our discussion for this column!

The introduction of new standards to districts, schools, and classrooms causes teachers and administrators to look closely at their lesson planning to be sure that their instruction is aligned with the standards. Additionally, the curriculum must be prioritized so that time is spent on those objectives that have the greatest impact on learning and achievement.

All that being said, the topic for this week surrounds the interfacing of 4-Blocks with new curriculum standards. An urgent question was raised this week by a mailring member who fears that his administrator will order that 4-Blocks be abandoned because it may not be consistent with the state's standards. This topic is not unique to the particular state from which this mailring member hails. It is an issue that may affect many states, many schools, and many teachers. Let's learn more about defending our right to teach what we know and believe works for all children.

First and foremost, educators must understand that 4-Blocks is NOT a curriculum. It is an instructional delivery system. It is not WHAT we teach, but it is HOW we teach. 4-Blocks is the CONTEXT and not the CONTENT of what is taught. Plain and simple! This distinction alone should allay the fears of those who may have been contemplating abandoning the model. 4-Blocks provides a structure for a classroom teacher that assures a balanced approach to literacy instruction each and every day. A bonus that comes along with the model is a management system that is also inherent in its design that has a dramatic impact on behavior because of the active engagement, the time on task, and the smooth transitions from activity to activity. So, knowing what 4-Blocks is and isn't, is the first line of defense in addressing the question of whether the model and the standards are congruent.

The philosophy of 4-Blocks may have some bearing on whether or not a particular standard or a set of standards fit appropriately within the context of the model. However, most curriculum standards will be an appropriate match. Answering a few basic questions about your particular standards document might help you to make that determination:

  • Do your standards encourage "real" opportunities for students to read and write?
  • Do your standards promote active engagement in learning, a constructivist model of teaching and learning?
  • Do your standards encourage students to read and write a broad range of literary forms and formats? Genres?
  • Do your standards acknowledge a variety of decoding strategies that may be applied in the reading process?
  • Do your standards advocate skills and strategies that will enable students to strengthen their reading and writing skills?
  • Does your document allow teachers the freedom to integrate the language arts of speaking, listening, reading, and writing?
Now, if the answers to all or most of the questions above are "yes," the next step should be to plug the standards into the most appropriate block in the model. Consider placing the standard with the block where it's most likely to be taught and not just practiced. Here's a sample of how that might look, using a partial list of standards from the South Carolina Curriculum Standards for English Language Arts as an example (only because that is the document with which I am most familiar):

T = Standard receives direct instruction in this block.

P = Standard is practiced and applied by students in this block.

STANDARD- The student will... GR WR WORD SSR
Use phonetic strategies when reading & writing. P P T P
Use knowledge of consonants & cons. blends. P P T P
Use knowledge of common vowel patterns. P P T P
Use meaning clues when reading. T, P P T, P P
Use pictures and diagrams to gather meaning. T, P T, P   P
Use info. in story to read words. T, P P T, P P
Use titles and headings to gather meaning. T, P T, P   P
Use lang. structure when reading -prefix, suffix P P T, P P
Use knowledge of sentence structure. P T, P T, P P
Read fiction, non-fic., poetry using strategies T, P P T, P P
Set a purpose for reading. T, P     P
Reread and self-correct when necessary T, P P   P
Expand listening vocabulary. T, P T, P T, P T, P
Follow oral directions with 3-4 steps. T, P T, P T, P  
Use correct spelling for frequently used words. P T, P T, P  
Revise writing for clarity and logical order. T, P T, P    
Relate previous experience to the topic. T, P T, P   P

Continue through the standards and give thought to where each is logically taught through direct instruction and, also, where the students will have ample opportunity to practice using the skill or strategy that has been taught. Although only a fraction of the SC standards are represented above, all can be assigned to a block, and, in fact, most standards will receive direct instruction in more than one block and will be practiced/applied in more than one block.

Now, after it is determined where each standard is most appropriately taught, the teacher must make a concerted effort to plug the standards into the daily lesson plans. Time must be allowed for all standards to receive direct instruction as well as time allowed for practice and application. Additionally, there is a caveat: the spiraling nature of language arts requires that it be taught and then taught again using increasingly more sophisticated text. The old kind of mastery learning approach where a teacher could teach a skill, check it off the list and move on never to return to that skill will not be effective in this content area. The spiraling must be considered in planning.

So, hopefully this will help some of you defend 4-Blocks with whatever set of standards guide you and helps you get started plugging the standards into your daily lesson plan. 4-Blocks has proven to be an effective instructional model. The other necessary ingredient for success is a strong curriculum that tells you what is important for students to know and be able to do at a certain grade level. What to teach and how to teach must work in concert for success. You should find that 4-Blocks can be the "how" for most curriculum standards.

4 Blocks Goodies