Article #59
What's Up at the Upper Grades?
Cheryl M. Sigmon

Often I'm asked if 4-Blocks is "alive and well" at the upper grades. I'm pleased to say that the answer is a resounding "Yes!" Teachers at the upper grades who have had time now to experiment with 4-Blocks and have had time to test appropriate adaptations have met with great success. In fact, the successes have been significant enough that I have spent a great deal of time visiting classrooms, interviewing teachers, and recording what works at grades 4 - 8. The profiles gathered will be shared in a book, projected for publication on February 1, 2001---just a couple of months away! (Modifying Four Blocks for the Upper Grades will be published by Carson-Dellosa.)

Reports from upper grade teachers, time and time again, point to these common areas of success:

  • Students who are more engaged in learning more than ever before
  • Students who appear to enjoy learning more than ever before
  • Students who demonstrate increased comprehension of printed material
  • Students who are more strategic in their reading and writing
  • Teachers who appreciate the structure for their instructional delivery
  • Teachers who feel more secure that they are addressing diverse learning styles
  • Teachers who admit that they do less assigning of reading and writing and more direct instruction in those areas
Each of these areas is significant cause for celebration at the upper grades, where it typically becomes more difficult to reach children.

The greatest cause for concern at the upper grades is that teachers would feel that the upper grades framework would exactly mirror the lower grades framework. A similar catastrophe occurred at kindergarten where some schools across the country over generalized 4-Blocks and implemented the blocks at kindergarten in the same way that they are structured in the primary grades. Building Blocks is the developmentally appropriate framework for the kindergarten grades, much less rigidly structured, much more print and language concept-driven.

Even though in some ways kids at the upper grades just have longer arms and legs and have the same basic needs, we know that there are dissimilarities that necessitate adaptations. Curricular demands are different; students' perceptions have changed; the social dynamics are special. Therefore, instructional delivery must also change.

Over the next several months, I will attempt to alternate my articles between the upper and lower grades models to begin to clarify some of the similarities and some of the distinct differences.  Some of the topics to be discussed will be:

  • Alternatives To Book Baskets In Getting Books In Older Students' Hands During Self-Selected Reading Block
  • Variety In Methods For Sharing During SSR At The Upper Grades
  • Tackling Longer Text During Guided Reading Block
  • Supporting The Older Readers In Guided Reading Block
  • Great Gimmicks For Engaging Older Students During Guided Reading Block
  • The Shift In Emphasis For The Writing Block At Upper Grades
  • Two Types Of Conferences For Older Students During The Writing Block
  • Variety In Methods For Sharing During The Writing Block At Upper Grades
  • The Shift In Emphasis For The Words Block At Upper Grades
  • Using The Upper Grades Month By Month Book As A Template, Not A Recipe
  • The Sixth Goal For The Words Block-At The Top Of Bloom's Taxonomy
  • Eliminating Goals For The Words Block In Some Classes
  • Schedules That Reflect Students' Needs

I hope that this plan to alternate articles between upper and lower grades will be helpful to most of you. We certainly want the good results that have been achieved at the lower grades to extend into the upper grades. In fact, it seems that once students get into the habit of 4-Blocks, they enjoy continuing some of the familiar routines.

I'll look forward to seeing you here real soon!

My scheduled training:

Below are seminars (some 1 day and some 2 day ones) that I have coming up in the future. Please know that I have a small group of really excellent folks who work along with me, too. We do site-based work in schools and districts at your request. For their services, you can simply call 843-549-2684 and speak with Cathy Bell or visit her website at We offer various types of staff development: classroom demonstrations, on-site presentations, classroom observations and feedback, and exploring 4-Blocks in more depth, among other offerings.
Louisville, KYDecember 5SDR
Atlanta , GADecember 6SDR
Orlando, FLFebruary 13SDR
Dayton, OHMarch 1ERG (grades 4-6)
Dayton, OHMarch 2ERG (grades 1-3)
Lexington, KYMarch 6SDR
Minneapolis, MNMarch 7SDR
Indianapolis, IN*March 13-14ERG (tentative plans for upper grades)
Albuquerque, NMMarch 27SDR
Phoenix, AZMarch 28SDR
Houston, TXApril 3SDR
San Antonio, TXApril 4SDR
Chicago, ILApril 24SDR
Detroit, MIApril 25SDR
Anaheim, CAMay 9SDR
Ontario, CAMay 10SDR
*Still in the planning stages. Will keep you posted!

Watch for the summer schedule coming soon! More upper grades and more "beyond the basics" are surely on the way!
For ERG workshops, call 843-549-2684 or go to
For SDR workshops, call 800-678-8908.
Hope to see you at a workshop soon!


Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration with friends and family. My whole family was together as we celebrated T-Day and my granddaughter's first birthday, too! What a very special holiday it was, indeed!

I know that many of you have been working on grants for training and implementation of 4-Blocks as you've called and emailed for letters of intent to support. I wish you all success as I know that grant writing is tedious. But, I hope that the payoff is big!

Just after Thanksgiving, I made a quick trip to California to meet with some terrific groups in San Francisco and in Sacramento. What kind folks they were who were generous with their comments about the seminars and were good enough to share many of their new ideas with me! From California, I scooted home to put up my Christmas tree (it took us two attempts to get the lights operating this year!) and am now enroute to Louisville for a group there tomorrow. I'll catch a group in Atlanta on my way home, and then will settle in to enjoy the rest of the year with my family. I will continue to work on my articles for you, though. You'll be remembered throughout the holidays! I know how hectic and nerve-racking the last week or two before winter holidays can be in schools. Hang in there---rest and holiday fun is just around the corner!


4 Blocks Goodies