Article #39
What's A Sub To Do?
Cheryl M. Sigmon

"O, goodness! I'm overwhelmed enough with getting the 4-Blocks Model up and going this year. Now I'm beginning to wonder how in the world I'll ever explain this model to a sub who might have to fill in for me! Help!" This frantic call came from a teacher just getting started with 4-Blocks this year, but the same comment has come up lately in several workshops. A great topic for us to discuss this week!

Solution #1:My first response is to tell those of you who are worried about the sub issue that life is just too short and you've worked way to hard on this model to let this concern be an obstacle or even a slight agitation to you. Even though this is the greatest framework for teaching that many of us have ever tried, it truly won't hurt your students one bit to return occasionally to a more traditional method of instruction. Obviously, it isn't easy to write quick and simple 4-Blocks lesson plans for a sub, especially when you're trying your best to figure out all the nuances yourself. And, handing over The Teacher's Guide to the Four Blocks might be a bit daunting as a sub enters the classroom! So, early in the year as you and your students are learning the routines, don't attempt to have 4-Blocks running when you must leave a substitute in the classroom. Leave the traditional plan you've always left and that the substitutes expect to see.

Solution #2:Once you get the model up and running smoothly, the children in your class will miss the model, even if just for a day when you must be away. There may be another solution, though you'll surely have to be the judge of whether it's feasible for your classroom. Find capable, responsible students who excel in each of the blocks--not necessarily your highest achievers, but children who understand the procedures well. Appoint one student to be the sub-helper for each of the blocks, or maybe even a team of two students for each of the blocks. The team would come in handy in case one of the students should also be absent on the same day you are absent. Take some extra time with these students to explain their roles should you ever be absent.

Their roles are to offer assistance to the sub in the particular block that you've assigned them. Tell them it's only the procedures that the sub might need help with--not teaching the class themselves or coming up with the activities. Tell them that you will leave a plan for the sub, outlining what is to be done. You might want to have a "drill" one day for them to demonstrate exactly what they are to do. Some suggestions of the assistance they might be called to offer are:

Guided Reading

  • find the texts that are to be used.
  • answer questions of the sub about whatever reading format you've selected.
  • set the timer for the sub for this block.
Self-Selected Reading
  • show the sub where the read-aloud book is kept.
  • be sure that the right book baskets go out to the tables.
  • choose 2-3 names from the basket of students to share that day.
  • set the timer for the sub for this block.
Words Block
  • disseminate any materials that need to be given to students for the activity you have selected.
  • pass out sheets for Wordo (to review old Word Wall words) and lead the class in a game in lieu of working with the new Word Wall words.
  • set the timer for the sub for this block.
Writing Block
  • pass out any materials that need to be given to students.
  • choose the names of 2-3 students to share at the conclusion.
  • set the timer for this block.
Now, you might plan a folder of generic 4-Blocks lessons for the substitute. You might consider placing the following in the folder:

Guided Reading Block:

  • a brief outline of the 3 segments of this block
  • a selection appropriate for your class (could be a poem with multiple copies, or a set of Weekly Readers, or the page numbers of a basal selection that you've reserved for these days)
  • the method by which the selection is to be read that day (partners, playschool, whole group, etc.)
  • the exact pages students should read in one day
  • a purpose that you've set for their reading
  • a graphic organizer that is easy as pre and post reading activity (KWL or web)
  • student's name who will assist during this block
Note: No need to make the pre and post lesson too complicated. Concentrate on having the kids practice reading--the "during" reading part of the block.

Self-Selected Reading Block:

  • a brief outline of this block
  • an appropriate read-aloud for the sub to begin the block
  • the method for how baskets should be delivered to each table
  • the method by which sharing will be done
  • student's name who will assist during this block
Note: No need to have the sub attempt to conference with students. Just invite the sub to read along or to monitor the room, encouraging the kids.

Writing Block:

  • a brief outline of this block
  • a letter from you to the class that the sub can share with the class on an overhead transparency, rather than having to chance that the sub will feel comfortable enough to model writing for the students. (The letter could state how you miss them but know that they are following the rules and helping the sub! If you're sick, your letter might say, "I'm really not feeling well, so I hope you'll help the sub find all of the errors I've probably made in writing this.")
  • the method by which students will share at the end of the block.
  • student's name who will assist during this block.
Note: There is no need to have the sub conference with kids during this block. The sub might be told to monitor the class and encourage the kids to write.

Words Block:

  • a brief outline of this block.
  • a standard activity such as Wordo or Be a Mind Reader for practicing the Word Wall words.
  • a standard activity such as Guess the Covered Word for the second segment of this block. You might have a transparency typed in the folder with the strategic words already covered.
  • student's name who will assist during this block.
Note: Keep the activities simple for the sub during this block!

Consider constructing a notebook with a simple outline of what occurs during the blocks on sub days. Also, have a summary of some of the 4-Blocks activities in the notebook, pages and/or activities numbered so that you can reference them in your pages. For example, Segment 2 of Words Block, Guess the Covered Word (see page 6, activity 18). Some teachers I've worked with have put summaries of all of the frequently used 4-Blocks activities on index-sized colorful cards. With a hole-puncher, they punched holes in the upper left corner of each card, and then bound them together with a ring (about 1-1/2"). This was a quick and easy reference source for teachers who are new with 4-Blocks and for substitute teachers.

Solution #3:In the event that you have a pool of substitute teachers who regularly serve your school (assuming that the whole school has adopted the model), there may be another alternative. You might plan a short training program for them to teach them the routines of the model. Perhaps a standard plan could be developed that all subs could be trained to use. It's good, too, for them to know why we do what we do during 4-Blocks, since it might otherwise look like too much fun and not enough teaching and learning!

I hope that this allays your fears about those days when you must be away from your students. You have so many more things to concentrate on these days!

4 Blocks Goodies