Article #28
What Are We Learning About Teaching and Learning?
Cheryl M. Sigmon

As many of us started with our training and implementation of 4-Blocks, we began to realize that we were thinking differently about many things. This week Iíll share how 4-Blocks has caused me and others with whom I have spoken to see things in a different way.

Professional Growth

The old type of professional growth consisted of going to a conference or to a one or two day workshop. That amount of exposure was supposed to make a dramatic impact on my classroom, although, I must admit, that it rarely ever did. I gathered good ideas and I did try them. But, dramatic changes did not occur. Some of the ideas may have revitalized me and may have sparked some enthusiasm in my students, but little real impact was made.

What I believe now is that permanent change in instruction takes place over time. The staff development must occur in increments---on-going and sustained. Teachers need time to process what they are hearing, to sort through their own belief system, and to understand the philosophy and premise of what is foreign to them.

There is still a place for one day workshops and for professional conferences. The purposes best served through that format are: 1) networking with other professionals; and 2) awareness of what is new and different. This is not where one goes for depth, for real insight, or for training.

Besides the traditional staff development planned at the school or district level, we have begun to broaden our definition of professional development. We have begun to more fully utilize the time we have to plan with our grade-level colleagues and to meet with other members of the faculty. Planning periods, as well as before and after school meetings, enrich our knowledge and increase our facultyís cohesiveness. We are finally talking and sharing about what we know and what we want to know. At long last, we are not hidden away in our own rooms, myopic and mono-dimensional.

Active Class Participation and Studentsí Roles and Responsibilities

At one time in the past, many of us thought that active class participation meant that the children would have a chance to answer questions that the teacher asked---with the permission of the teacher, of course! No longer does that define active participation. Now I believe that active participation means that the teacher will give the students responsibility for their learning. As a teacher, I wonít dole out writing prompts; I wonít hand over the 10 or 20 vocabulary words that I think are important; I wonít choose all of the printed material for my students. My students will learn to think for themselves, will develop their own interests in writing topics and in reading materials, and they will even pick out words to learn that they think might be useful to them.

My students will no longer sit in neat rows, quietly waiting to be called upon before ever getting to share their own great ideas. Now they will sit in cooperative groups of 4-6 kids, and I will provide ample opportunity for them to talk and share their ideas with each other. I will also provide ample opportunity for them to talk and share with me---the only adult that many will ever interact with about books, writing and other literacy issues. The formats that I choose during various blocks offer additional opportunities for interaction and for students to support each other.

I no longer remain frustrated about how to engage all of my students from low to high achievers. I recognize their learning styles and address each one throughout the day. My activities allow for the global learner and the analytic learner (for those of you versed in Learning Styles) through auditory, visual, kinesthetic and tactile approaches. They all have the opportunity to learn in the way that best suits them. And, again, they will have the maximum amount of freedom and independence through the choices that I provide for them. I no longer feel that my role is "sage on the stage." I am quite satisfied to be the "guide on the side," knowing, too, that I am far more effective.

Administratorís Role

I have learned through my journey with 4-Blocks that some schools across our country have no real instructional leadership. So much paperwork, so much politics, and so many duties have been heaped upon our principals and assistant principals that little true support exists for instructional and curricular support. By far the strongest models that I have seen around the country are in schools with administrators who have prioritized their schedules and responsibilities to provide more guidance and assistance to the teaching staff.

When the question is posed to teachers and/or administrators, "Whoís most directly responsible for supporting the curriculum and instruction in this school?" there should be a quick and definitive answer. If the response starts with, "Well, I guess that would beÖ," then something is wrong! Itís not too late, however, to rectify the situation. There is always the opportunity to reshuffle, reorganize, and regroup.

Administrators should be helping the faculty to set goals and expectations. Their presence should be known. They should be seen in halls and in classrooms. "An administrator on his feet is worth two in their seats!" Very true! They need to be offering pats on the backs for the efforts of staff members, and should be coaching all faculty members for refinement of their delivery. They canít do this if they donít know what to expect in the classroom. This means that administrators must find the time to attend staff development training. Teachers often form opinions about what an administrator values by whether or not the administrator attends the training required of the teachers---and not only that they show up, but that they STAY for the training.

After training, the administrator must assume some role in ensuring that implementation is appropriate and supported. Sometimes this means finding financial resources, sometimes offering moral support, and always by charting the course.

Classroom Management

Much of the success of 4-Blocks, I believe, is due largely to the fact that its management maximizes time on task for teachers and for students. We have all begun to realize that there are precious few minutes, hours, and days that we are given to teach children what they need to be successful. Meaningless seatwork (Oops! Did I mean meaningful?), rote learning, workbooks and worksheets are all out of the window, replaced by activities that are multi-level, appropriate and meaningful for children. Not surprising, we have now discovered that kids are behaving so, so much better than they once did. Statistics on discipline referrals in many schools around the country show a dramatic decline after implementation of the model. Teachers have found themselves saying, "My group this year is so much better than any group Iíve ever had!" Coincidence? I donít think so!

Special Needs Students

Many of us have come to realize that kids with special needs do not always have to be isolated or segregated for their needs to be met. This does not refer just to the special education categories, but also to the gifted and talented and ESL students. 4-Blocks is a "real world" model---all children learning to nurture each other, communicate with each, appreciate each other. In 4-Blocks they know that everyone in the classroom has a strength and a weakness, and that when they work together it makes us a stronger community. Thank goodness this "melting pot" philosophy is at the heart of 4-Blocks!

These are but a few of the paradigm shifts that have occurred in my thinking about my profession. How has your thinking changed? Have you found yourself evolving as a professional? Where many of us have complained that our profession is fickle, always changing with the ever-swinging pendulum, I believe that we really shouldnít be in this profession unless we are willing to be guided by a changing society and by current research and experimentation in the classroom. I hope always to be willing to change with the times, always searching for whatís best for those precious children who have been entrusted to me.

4 Blocks Goodies