The beginning of school always means Open House and
letters home to parents as we attempt to lay the groundwork for our partnership
with parents for the coming year. We work hard to earn their confidence
since we know they have entrusted in us their precious children. Parents,
as we know, come in all shapes and sizes, all manners of disposition (we
hope to at least get a balance of good and poor dispositions!), and from
varied backgrounds. Our explanations must be planned for a multi-level
audience--much like we deal with in our classes. We must think long and
hard about how to inform them and educate them about what this year holds
As you begin your year with 4-Blocks, you can assume
that parents will be curious about many of the changes that will occur.
The following might offer guidance in how and what parents might want and
need to know:
Heralding the New Year
Consider a letter home from the principal in schools
where 4-Blocks is being implementing or from the teacher in classrooms
where the model is being piloted. Convey enthusiasm for this new approach!
That alone could be contagious. Reassure parents that this classroom framework
is based on research and has been proven successful and that their kids
aren't the "guinea pigs" for this research.
The tri-fold flyer included in the appendix of The
Teacher's Guide to Four Blocks might be used or might offer some ideas
for your own personalized design of a flyer. A brief explanation of each
block is included in layman's language.
Some schools promote the model by having a display
in the lobby. You might cover large boxes in bright colors, place them
one on top of the other, paste on pictures of what parents might expect
to see in the room during each block (this would be difficult if your school
hasn't already tried the model), and also a bit of description about the
block and the purpose served by that block. Also, be sure that the hallways
send a clear message about the emphasis on literacy and reading.
Allaying the Fears about Spelling
From the very first meeting with parents, assure
them that spelling will be an important part of your curriculum. They need
to know, however, that having kids learn HOW to spell versus learning WHAT
to spell is the approach that you feel will be most successful in reaching
your goals this year. During Open House, if time allows, demonstrate how
kids' knowledge of a word with a familiar rime pattern will enable them
to know many other words: "If your child knows the pattern est,
then he will know best, west, chest, nest, crest, test, vest, rest,
jest, pest, quest, and other words when he needs to spell them or when
he reads them." In the past we had kids memorizing words for a spelling
test each week. Our experience has taught us that kids didn't remember
these words beyond Friday's test and then didn't have strategies to help
them when they couldn't recall the spellings. We need to explain that now
we will work each and every day on different words for different reasons:
Oh! So many words for so many reasons!
high frequency words so that kids will develop automaticity
with them (as sight words),
pattern words so that kids will learn to apply their
knowledge of how these words help them in real reading and writing,
big words that have parts (prefixes, roots, and suffixes)
that will help kids figure out their meanings,
words that help kids learn how to apply their knowledge
of contest clues--"What makes sense here?"
words that teach kids how to get started by sounding
out beginning "chunks,"
words that sound alike but are spelled differently,
words that are spelled alike but have different meanings,
Another explanation is in order for the spelling
that occurs during the Writing Block. Parents need to know why we will
accept misspellings on kids' rough drafts. Yes, we do want kids to become
fluent writers, but there is another reason we don't spell for kids during
this time or worry about correctness with our emergent writers. We want
to give kids ample opportunity to apply their phonetic understanding. If
we spell for them, we only "show off" our phonetic skills--and it's not
supposed to be about us! Kids must think about the relationships between
what they hear, the sounds and symbols, what they wish to communicate,
and then must put it on paper. This is why writing is one of the four blocks--it
truly is reading from the inside out (Donald Graves' words, I believe).
We reassure parents that we will be helping kids
to carefully revise and edit final drafts, which are the special pieces
among the many that they will write, to publish. Those are pieces that
will be displayed, sent home, or shared in a special place in the library.
If time permits during Open House, try demonstrating
a quick round of Guess the Covered Word, using sentences about the beginning
of school and your partnership with parents.
Saving the Trees
During our introduction with parents, we should also
tell them that they may not see as many worksheets coming home as they
once saw. No cause for alarm! We must assure them that we are still teaching
most of those same skills and strategies but now in a much more engaging
way. The work kids will do is now more mentally demanding. We will give
kids worksheets when we feel they need just a bit more practice in a skill
we've taught them. Our teaching and learning in the classroom will be far
more actively engaging than in the days of skill and drill worksheets.
That does not mean that we're no longer teaching grammar, usage, punctuation,
parts of speech, cause and effect, etc. We are teaching those things, but
now are having kids actually apply what they've learned. If their application--or
lack of--reveals that they need some additional practice, that's when the
worksheets will be worthwhile. Some may be done in class and some may come
home. What is likely to come home are assignments that have kids reading
and writing--the real stuff!
If time permits during Open House, demonstrate some
of the activities that you'll be using this year as alternatives to worksheets--the
Beach Ball, a graphic organizer, a model writing lesson, sticky note reading.
Parents will surely get the point about engagement and learning!
To Be Continued Next Week - There's more we need
to share with parents!