Article #15
New Year's Resolutions for 4-Blocks Teachers
Cheryl M. Sigmon

One really great thing about teaching is the fact that there are so many opportunities for new, fresh starts. No matter how badly things may have gone first semester, second semester brings a chance to "erase the slate" and start over. In fact, no matter how badly the whole year might go, the next school year is a whole new game!

Well, here we are looking at 1999. Many of you may have begun to implement 4-Blocks first semester, or, perhaps, you just used the first semester to read about the model and contemplate its possibilities in your classroom. This week's article offers a few resolutions for those of you who are in the early stages of implementation and who need to start refining your efforts.

  1. I will get all four blocks up and going so that there won't be gaps in the curriculum provided for my children.
  2. Many teachers decide to implement one block at the time, but sometimes get too busy to get all four implemented until late in the year. They must be aware that something is lacking for many children until all blocks are in operation. If Self-Selected Reading Block is left off, the higher and lower achieving children are likely not getting enough materials on their own instructional and independent reading levels. If Writing Block is missing, students are not having ample opportunities to apply and practice their phonetic understanding, nor are they learning to compose. If Guided Reading Block is absent from the implementation, then students are not being taught critical comprehension skills and strategies, and simply "calling words" without understanding isn't valuable at all! Last but not least, if Words Block is missing, kids are missing the basic word-level concepts that are foundations to their literacy development. So, it would be best to get all four blocks implemented as quickly as possible.

  3. I will take time to align my instruction with my curriculum.
  4. Whatever standards or curriculum are expected to be taught and learned can appropriately be plugged into the blocks. Teachers should be sure to consider the breadth and depth of what must be covered in the school year. The activities such as Making Words and Rounding Up the Rhymes and the mini-lessons in Guided Reading and Writing should all be based on what the curriculum dictates and on the needs of the children.

  5. I will work on the organizational aspects of each block to maximize the instructional time and the benefits for my students.
  6. For example... In Guided Reading, the teacher must pre-determine the level of support the class will need to negotiate the text. When reading other than whole class is done (which is often), the teacher will have students in partners, play school or small groups. Many teachers use wall charts to tell and to remind students where and with whom they will read that day. Once this management tool is in place, students go straight to their groupings after the introduction to the lesson and spend maximum time in the block actually reading.

    In Self-Selected Reading, the teacher must have the books easily accessible for all children. No wandering is allowing during this block, because, inevitably, the child who needs the most time interacting with books will avoid books all together. Book crates are usually available at the tables or else a group member is appointed to bring the assigned crate to the table for the group. After the teacher read-aloud, it should take no more than a couple of minutes before all children are quietly and attentively reading. Organization must even be considered for how students can quickly and quietly return to their tables after the read-aloud Also, the teacher must have a system for conferencing with a certain number of children each day without disrupting the students who are reading and without wasting any of the precious few minutes available for working one-on-one. Many teachers use the "students of the day" system for that. The kids are equally divided between the five days of the week and are told whether they are "Monday," "Tuesday," etc. Their particular day of the week comes in handy for a number of purposes, one being the assignment of conferences with the teacher during SSR Block.

    In Writing Block, the teacher must have a system for organizing the students' pieces of writing--spiral notebook, 3-ring binders with dividers, pocket folders, or other options. How many good pieces must be written before the student works individually with the teacher to publish one composition? How will works in progress be kept separate from finished pieces? How will the teacher and student keep up with which pieces have been reviewed before moving on to the next several pieces to be written and reviewed? The teacher must organize for which students will have a conference each day. Will students sign up for a conference or will the students of the day have conferences? Many decisions have to be made about organizing this block.

    Smooth operating in the Words Block necessitates a great deal of planning and organizing. How will letters be passed out for the Making Words activity? How can the regular Word Wall activities--chanting, writing, cross-checking, tracing--be more efficiently conducted with materials readily available? All of the activities in this block require a system for disseminating materials, transitioning activity to activity, and moving briskly enough to keep all students engaged.

  7. I will help all of my students grow and learn to their potential this year.
  8. Research supports that children can be academically successful in spite of lack of literacy support at home if they have consistently strong classroom support. The 4-Blocks Model in concert with a strong curriculum can enable teachers to provide optimal classroom learning experiences for each and every child. The model is designed to meet the individual needs of students with regard to their learning modalities, their current achievement levels, their personalities, and their prior experiences. Changing or enhancing the path of a child is an awesome challenge, but that's what teaching is all about. Teachers wholeheartedly accept the challenge and work tirelessly to see that it comes to fruition.

  9. I will continue to grow professionally by reading and studying about the model.
So many decisions must be made by a 4-Blocks teacher each and every day. The best decisions will be made when based on a clear understanding of the philosophy of the model and of what drives each of the blocks. One truly wonderful ramification of whole school implementation of 4-Blocks is that teachers and administrators become unified in their beliefs about teaching and learning. They begin to grow together through study groups and planning sessions. They may gather during planning periods or faculty meetings or before or after school to pursue a variety of topics (i.e., What are the components of a good Guided Reading lesson? What are good mini-lessons to use during Guided Reading and Writing Blocks? What words are appropriate for the Word Wall at a particular grade level?), to study a book such as Classrooms That Work, or to plan lessons or activities together (i.e., constructing a bank of Making Words lessons, creating sentence strips that can be shared to use with certain big books, or putting together Brand Name Phonics packets).

Additionally, the teachers and administrators in many 4-Blocks schools trust and value each other through coaching sessions where feedback is provided to strengthen instruction. A teacher may say to another teacher or to a trained principal, "My kids just aren't attentive during the Making Words lesson. Would you be willing to come in and observe one of my lessons and see if you can make some suggestions to make my lesson more effective?"

When a strong support network is in place in a school and everyone is working towards the same goals, the resulting climate is conducive to teaching and learning, not to mention a more pleasant place to work.

These are but five of the many resolutions a 4-Blocks teachers might make in the new year to strengthen and improve teaching and learning. You probably have your own resolutions pertaining to your classroom and teaching. Look at the beginning of 1999 as the perfect time to make any changes and improvements that you feel might be necessary or to refine what you've begun in an effort to be an even better teacher!

4 Blocks Goodies