Article #38
Voices From the Classroom
Part 1
Cheryl M. Sigmon

In getting our year started, especially for those of you who are brand new to 4-Blocks, I think it's important to hear directly from those who are experiencing the model. What's a good way to start? What can we expect? What are some good ideas that we all can try? Here are three teachers and a principal who have been willing to share with us. These are their excerpts from the mailring. Hope you'll enjoy them!


Let's hear from first grade teacher GailSara as she gets her year started. Sounds like she's really been planning this summer!
GailSara says,
This is what I plan to do the first day in my first grade class.

SSR Block

Begin setting up procedures. Discuss different ways of "reading." Have each child select 2 books from the book baskets that I have set up according to themes (school, about me, color books, ABC books, number books, birthdays, me and my friends, Donald Crews) Model and then set a timer for 5 minutes. Model sharing at end of first session.

Writing Block

Begin setting up procedures. Discuss ways of writing- words, pictures, scribbles, "driting." Model writing name and date and 2-3 sentences personal story. Distribute writing books. We start with unlined paper. Have three children volunteer to share at end of session.

Working With Words Block

Introduce name activity using my own name. Display name on sentence strip. Make another sentence strip with my name in front of class and cut it into letters. Have a child come up and arrange the letters in a pocket chart to spell my name. Have children chant:

Teacher: My teacher is (clap clap)
Children: My teacher is (clap clap)
Teacher: Ms. _________ (clap clap)
Children: (repeat)
Teacher: (spells first 3 letters) (clap clap)
Children: (repeat)
Teacher: (spells next 2 letters) (clap clap)
Children: (repeat)
Teacher: (spells last letters (clap clap)
Children: (repeat)

Explain that in the future we will be selecting 3 children each day to learn their names. We will write a short story about the three children after interviewing them. Model the procedure using myself as the "guinea pig." Also explain that the selected children will get to select a book of their choice for the teacher to read to the class.

Guided Reading

I will share the following poem with the class:

First Day
Shiny, sharpened pencils,
Desks all in a row.
It's the first day of school and
I don't want to go.
A very different teacher,
With a strange sounding name.
I want my last year's teacher-
Things will never be the same!
I remember all the things we learned,
And all the things we made.
The truth is,
if you want to know,
I'm really afraid.
We will have a short discussion about our feelings on the first day of school. We will then read the poem "New" which I have written on a chart with graphic cues. New
New school
New teacher
New friends
New books
I feel new too.
Do you?
This will be the first poem we put in our poetry notebooks. (I call them Poetry Pages.) We will do repeated choral readings of this poem. We will discuss all the 'new' things...our class, our clothes, our notebooks, our pencils, etc.

The children will then engage in an activity to draw a picture and finish the sentence;
I have a new ___________.

In addition I plan to read the following books to the class:
Froggy Goes to School, Blue Bug Goes to School, Who's Behind the Door at My School? Mouse Views.
These books will then be added to our school book basket.

Our Math activity will be free exploration of buttons and a discussion of what they expect to learn in math in first grade.

That's it!

(Note: Wow! We can tell from this just how much planning goes into a successful lesson. No one ever said 4-Blocks was easy, but I can promise you that it gets easier to put these lessons together with more practice. -Cheryl)


Let's hear from first grade teacher, Becky, from Alabama. We shouldn't expect everything to go smoothly from the beginning as Becky has discovered!

Becky says,

I am new to four blocks this year. I studied all summer, bought the books, watched the video. I don't recall anything telling me how to begin implementing the blocks (diving right in or one step at a time.) Because I am new at this I guess I am just wanting a little feed back on smoothly, like soon I'm going to run into something terrible because it is all going so well! (Sort of a pessimistic attitude huh? Yikes!)

Anyway, I have implemented one block at a time. One per week. We now have guided reading and working with words up and running beautifully - I think :0). Last week I began something that resembles SSR however, I am discovering that the children are simply grabbing book after book, not really looking at all the pictures, and certainly not attempting any words. I have discussed how to choose a book, the 3 types of reading. I guess my question is, is it normal for things to seem like we are just going through the motions (as in SSR) at first. I have not been able to conference during SSR time because I am busy walking around explaining (over and over) that you should take the time to look at the whole book, look for words you know, etc. I assumed that would be the case at first. At what point in time does this evolve into the children truly reading (whatever type that may be) the entire book. I guess this has been the hardest block for me so far to implement, the other two just seemed to fall naturally into place. If it is just a matter of getting the children into a routine, I guess I may be on track. If it is something I am doing wrong, leaving out, etc. I need to know. Any feedback would be appreciated. ----Becky

(Note: Becky is on the right on track. When our kids come to us they really don't know what reading is all about and their attention spans are a wee bit short--understatement!. Their attention will grow as their love of reading grows. That takes a lot of modeling, read-alouds, and sharing. I would suggest starting with maybe only 5 minutes of time where you make this sound like the greatest reward, "Boys and girls, today you're going to get to read for 5 whole minutes (or 10) anything that you want to read out of the basket that comes to your table!" Then after 5 minutes isn't enough, go to 10 and then to 15 and then to 20. Also, don't start your conferences on day one. Model what you want kids to do and also go around the room and encourage kids as they read with comments like, "Oh, you picked one of my very favorite books today! I hope you'll love this book like I do!" Just hang in there! Your kids will learn to appreciate this time. And, believe it or not, you will, too! ---Cheryl)


One of my very favorite principals, Patty Schaffer, who's down in Charleston, shares this great way to get the year started utilizing the student procedures/rules book.

Patty says,

Another thing we did again this year in getting the school year started on the right foot was reproduce our student procedures book, "Chart Your Course for Good Discipline" for every child. We use it for the content of all reading lessons for the opening week. It is great. It has graphics and short sentences, even a bathroom "Tongue Twister." "Quick, Clean, Quiet!" Teachers amaze me every year. They did great writing lessons modeling skills using the procedures as the topic, webs and sequencing events in guided reading, read alouds about school, ARTHUR GOES TO SCHOOL, DAVID books, etc. It has been happening school wide. Pretty powerful stuff! ---Patty

(Note: Isn't that a wonderful way to bring "real world" reading into the class? Let's think of lots of ways to let kids know that reading has application for them. -Cheryl)


Here's a note from California teacher, Pat Lundeen, who has some good advice for all of us about getting started. I particularly like her observations about the noise level in the classroom.

Pat says,

I tend to be an integrator, so when I implemented 4-blocks I just "did it." I'm sure I didn't do everything correctly at the beginning. (I learned it all from books mostly) I have continued to learn and implement until this year. I was able to start from the beginning. We started on Aug 23 so we are still working on procedures but so far so good.

I guess what I am trying to say is to get started and not to worry too much about technique right now. You will get better, more organized and more adept at the time management as the weeks go by. If you are nervous about all four of the blocks, split them up a bit. I do my writing block in the afternoon. It integrates what we have done during the morning. I use mini-lesson ideas I got from the mailring.

Guided reading can be a pain if you are tied in to a heavy duty basal series. But you can do that too! Just beg, borrow, or "steal" books at various levels which fit into the theme of the basal selection. You can "teach" the story to the whole class, then assign partner reading to get started.

It does get noisy. I learned not to let it bother me as long as they were being productive. Relax and enjoy!

4-Blocks is a great model and I have seen so much progress. As a side note, I have been teaching for 25 years and this model meets the needs of my students better than any I have seen. ----Pat

(Note: I love these testimonies from veteran teachers who have been re-energized by 4-Blocks! By the way, it is okay to use a basal for the core of your Guided Reading Block. You will want to supplement it with other good materials, and, as Pat indicates, you won't want to be guided by the basal. We need to be more selective since it's not so important that we cover every piece. Also, you'll want to be sure you're aligning your instruction with state and local standards and curriculum. Basals don't do that for you. --Cheryl)

I hope you've enjoyed hearing from these educators. There's something to be learned from each of them. Thanks to each of them for allowing their ideas to be shared.

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