As we continue to plan for our partnership with parents, this week's column is a continuation of those issues that we can count on addressing at some point.
Are we still teaching grammar?
Yes! Assure those parents that grammar, usage, and mechanics are still being emphasized even though the skill and drill worksheets may not be coming home in the quantities that they once did. Those skills are now being taught in a context that--at long last! --makes sense to kids which is in their writing. In real writing kids understand how grammar, usage and mechanics can make a tremendous difference as far as meaning and as far as the power of writing. If time allows, demonstrate a quick model writing lesson where you apply a quick Editor's Checklist and where you directly and explicitly teach a skill or strategy. Assure the parents that, if and when their kids need extra practice in a skill, that's when a worksheet might be helpful. Otherwise, you expect kids to apply their new knowledge in their daily writing and that you look forward to the growth in writing that will occur this year.
Vocabulary and Spelling
Parents might appreciate knowing that you are addressing spelling and vocabulary this year. They also might appreciate knowing the difference between the two. Tell them that vocabulary is a reading comprehension skill--meaning is important. We work very hard on vocabulary every day during our Guided Reading time. We will not always be stressing the spellings of our vocabulary words, but we'll work to improve the vocabulary of their kids in their reading and in their speech. Spelling is considered a writing skill, and we'll spend a great deal of time on spelling and decoding during our Words Block. This is where we'll be learning a great deal about patterns of words, too.
Same Texts in Guided Reading
Okay--how brave are you? Do you really want to tackle this at Open House? I'll leave that up to you. We don't want to overwhelm parents about all that is new this year. We also know which parents will be most vocal about this change. We do want to give this new format for Guided Reading a chance before there's an uprising among our parents. So, you decide whether you want to tackle this early on!
If you decide to fully inform your parents about why all the kids this year will be reading the same texts during this block, be sure to include these points:
For those of you who decide not to tackle this particular issue at the beginning of school, you'll never be able to avoid the issue indefinitely. At some point, parents will be contacting you, asking why Johnny isn't in the top reading group. Be ready to defend your practice--with diplomacy and conviction!
The skills and strategies are what we're teaching, not so much the story itself.
Our goal is to find material for this block that all of our children can read--given the right amount of support.
There is another block of time where kids will be encouraged to read at their own levels.
We will have an opportunity to conference with kids individually about their reading during the SSR Block. We will be sure to nurture our kids individually.
Guided Reading is only one of the four approaches that we're using to teach their kids to be better readers.
Statistics are revealing that the greatest benefits from 4-Blocks are for the highest achieving children.
The highest achieving kids are not being used as tutors during the Guided Reading Block. They are learning a great deal about skills and strategies that they will apply to their reading during SSR Block and during all other "real" reading.
If it's any consolation, I hear far more often from teachers telling me the positive comments from their parents about the new approach during Guided Reading than I do any negative comments. Parents recognize early on how far more engaged their kids are in learning and how much more motivated they are about reading. (I wonder if anyone has kept any statistics in 4-Blocks schools about attendance. Has it improved since implementation of the model?)
Too Much Fun?
Informing parents about the many engaging activities this year is a good idea. In some classrooms, parents have contacted teachers with concerns that perhaps instruction isn't occurring. "My child says he's playing games all day!" might be the kind of comment made. Assure parents that all of the activities are purposefully planned and are educational. You hope that this will more actively engage their children and that they (the parents and children) will all be happier has a result.
An Appeal to Parents
Don't forget to take the opportunity to elicit parents' help in building your collect of books and writing materials. Hint that you'd much rather have a new book inscribed with their child's name than two dozen cupcakes at birthday time--a lasting memory for our classrooms and not for our hips! If your publishing center lacks adequate supplies of paper, crayons, colored pencils, staplers, etc., tell them how delighted you would be to accept donations throughout the year.
Also, at any time that they can volunteer, there are many tasks available during 4-Blocks time. This way they can get a firsthand look at the model. Issuing a sincere invitation for parents to visit, could be a wise (not to mention brave!) step on your part. Remember that many of your parents didn't have good classroom experiences and are intimidated by merely walking through the school doors. Jobs for volunteer parents could be a range of tasks: constructing Making Words packets, working in the publishing center on final drafts with kids,
Perhaps a wonderful day to have a parent visit would be the day in the primary grades that their child will be the king/queen/student of the day/super star (whatever your name for this activity might be). That's the day in the beginning of the year that the whole class will be cheering that child's name, graphing the name, matching the letters of the name in the pocket chart, interviewing the child, writing the interview, and drawing portraits of the child. It's cause for a real celebration! You can notify parents ahead about the date that their child will be the superstar. If a parent is unable to come, you might suggest to them that a grandparent or special friend come for a short while that morning since some kids may feel left out if they don't have someone there when most kids have a special guest on their day. Perhaps someone in the school (principal, secretary, librarian, cafeteria lady, custodian, another teacher on her planning period, etc.) could step in just in case no one is able to be there from the child's home. Some special bonds can be established that way.
Same Good Stuff!
We know that 4-Blocks may be viewed by parents as being even more different than it really is. For many of our classrooms, we have found that 4-Blocks is almost exactly what we were already doing--just packaged now in a different structure. For others, 4-Blocks may even be a radical change. I would be most surprised if it were completely new to anyone. Sometimes we can decrease the anxiety of parents by just telling them that, although the day looks a bit different, the same good practices will be continuing in our classrooms--just more efficiently and effectively because of this new framework.
I hope that these suggestions will help you to establish a good line of communication with the most important partners you can have this year--the parents of your kids. Good luck at the first Open House! Let's get the year off to a great start!