A question came to me recently from a principal who was considering a proposal made by the third grade teachers in her school about restructuring their 4-Blocks schedules. The proposal was that each teacher would plan and deliver one of the blocks and that the teachers would move from class to class teaching their one block or would have the students move from class to class. This was to be a modified departmentalized schedule. The principal asked for my opinion---which, as always, I was willing to give (never miss an opportunity to give my two-cents worth about 4-Blocks!). I thought my response might be worth sharing as an article for schools considering different configurations of team teaching.
I must say that I don't think departmentalizing the blocks is at all ideal. The best scenario is definitely one teacher teaching all the blocks. 4-Blocks is so much more effective and beneficial to children when a teacher helps students make content and curricular connections. If we're studying the solar system in science, then we might read the science chapter during Guided Reading Block. This kind of text is difficult for students and should be considered the "real" reading that students have to do. Teachers need to teach students more about the structure and organization of expository text along with the strategies that we use in all of our reading as they are applied to this difficult text.
Then, during our Self-Selected Reading Block, we might use our read-aloud time to share fiction and non-fiction about the solar system. We might start this several weeks before our instructional unit to provide some background knowledge and common vocabulary prior to teaching more difficult concepts. Also, we might read about the solar system during our instructional unit to deepen students' knowledge about the subject. Our vocabulary will come from the text as well and will be taught primarily during Guided Reading but reinforced during science block and during other times throughout the day.
There will also be a connection to our Working with Words Block from our science theme. The mystery word in Making Words might be Saturn, universe, or constellations. We might read Earth Songs, a picture book of poetry, and identify the rhyming words for Rounding Up the Rhymes. We might brainstorm some words with the same rime patterns as our key words and use our list for Reading and Writing Rhymes.
In Writing Block, the teacher might model how to write a report about one of the planets. Or, the teacher might write poetry or facts about the solar system from what has been studied. The students will likely follow the lead of the teacher in writing, too, about what has been studied in science or what has been explored during the science center time.
So, without a great deal of planning and coordination among four teachers, the opportunities for such rich connections might be lost. And, these connections are so important. They are what make learning fun and more meaningful for students.
Another critical defense of keeping all four blocks with the same teacher involves the constant informal evaluation of students that is accomplished by the teacher. The evaluation and assessment process is constant throughout instruction and the information is used for more effectively planning mini-lessons for the whole class and lessons that individually address the needs of each student. During Self-Selected Reading Block, teachers conference with each student over the course of the week, constantly gathering information---what does a student do when he comes to a word he doesn't know, which skills does he apply, what genres appear to be the most popular among students, or what topics interest this student. If students read aloud during their individual conferences and demonstrate that they have no strategies for tackling unknown words, then a teacher is likely to use that information to plan appropriate activities for the Words Block---maybe more Guess the Covered Word activities to be sure that students think through common strategies.
During Guided Reading, teachers watch and listen as students are in the act of reading with each other, as students complete the purpose for their lesson, and during the closure activity to see how well they understood their assignment (the purpose set for the lesson). All of this information is used to plan a more effective follow-up or to signal that it's okay to move to a different mini-lesson.
Evaluation of students' responses during the Writing Block and of their compositions helps teachers plans more effective lessons for that same block and for the other blocks as well. If students are unable to organize informational text, the teacher may use more graphic organizers during Guided Reading Block to help students see the organizational patterns used by the published informational text. The teacher will also watch students' compositions carefully to know which high-frequency words are being misspelled and should be included during the Words Block and which rime patterns might be most helpful to students.
So, if one teacher is providing the constant, on-going evaluation, that teacher is more likely to see the student holistically---how they perform in each subject area throughout the day. We know that it's unlikely that students will perform equally well in all subject areas. One teacher gets to see it all and then puts the pieces of the puzzle together so that the needs can be met appropriately.
Another defense is the body of research that clearly says that one teacher best serves primary students. It's hard enough sometimes for students to feel comfortable learning the routines for one teacher much less two, three, or four teachers. Every teacher has different routines, different expectations, and different personalities (just as students do!). We want students to reach a level of comfort with the teacher as early as possible in the school year and to retain that comfort level. So much earlier to do with one teacher!
The next best scenario to having just one teacher for all the blocks---if for some reasons it's absolutely necessary---is to have 2 teachers teaching the model. I think that the Words Block and the Writing Block have to be kept together. If you're working on a Word Wall and on patterns in Words Block, the application must be made in the Writing Block. The words must be available on the wall during Writing Block and the teacher needs to stress the connections. I think that the same person, too, best teaches the SSR Block and the Guided Reading Block because it's during the SSR time that we expect kids to apply the comprehension skills and strategies they've learned in Guided Reading Block.
For schools considering "drawing and quartering" the model, I hope that you'll look closely at the reasons for wanting to do that. Yes, I know that planning one block takes far less time and effort and that with all that teachers are required to do saving time may be appealing. However, I hope that you'll consider the trade-off---that your instruction may not be as effective and that your results may not be as desirable. All of us want the best results we can possibly get from ALL of our kids. And, if taking more time and effort are what it'll take to make that happen, I think most teachers will opt to do just that.
ANNOUNCEMENT: My newest book, Modifying Four-Blocks at the Upper Grades (2001, Carson-Dellosa) is now out! I'm glad to have the writing of this one behind me, and I hope it'll be helpful to teachers at grades 4-8 and, perhaps, those at 3rd grade who have more advanced students.
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 www.ergsc.com. 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.
My scheduled presentations:
|Dayton, OH||March 1||ERG (for Grades 4-6 Intro.)|
|Dayton, OH||March 2||ERG (for Grades 1-3 Intro.)|
|Atlanta, GA||March 5||GA IRA Conference, 8a.m. General Session|
|Lexington, KY||March 6||SDR|
|Minneapolis, MN||March 7||SDR|
|Indianapolis, IN||March 14-15||ERG (Grades 4-6 Intro.)|
|Albuquerque, NM||March 27||SDR|
|Phoenix, AZ||March 28||SDR|
|Houston, TX||April 3||SDR|
|San Antonio, TX||April 4||SDR|
|Chicago, IL||April 24||SDR|
|Detroit, MI||April 25||SDR|
|Anaheim, CA||May 9||SDR|
|Ontario, CA||May 10||SDR|
|Indianapolis, IN||June 20-21||ERG (Grades 1-3 Intro.)|
|Dayton, OH||August 2||ERG (Grades 1-3 Intro.)|
|Dayton, OH||August 3||ERG (Grades 1-3 Beyond the Basics)|
|Dayton, OH||August 9||ERG (Grades 4-6 Intro.)|
|Dayton, OH||August 10||ERG (Grades 4-6 Beyond the Basics)|
|Charleston, SC||September 22-23||ERG (Conference/Block Party- Details TBA!)|
|**More summer workshops will be posted soon.|
For ERG workshops on 4-Blocks and Building Blocks, call 843-549-2684 or go to www.ergsc.com.
For SDR workshops, call 800-678-8908.
Hope to see you at a workshop soon!
Hello to a great group in De Soto, MO, where I trained for two days! John Waite was a wonderful host for that visit. Teachers were all eager to learn about the model. They even arranged a little snow for me during my visit---something this Southern girl doesn't see often! And, yes, I did make it to the airport in time for my flight!
On to Indiana---where I am at least an honorary Hoosier after the time I've spent there with 4-Blocks! I started in Marion, IN, with Carol Secctor and the great teachers in her area. A special group of friends from my first cycle of Indiana statewide training were a part of that visit---John, Leeann, Leah, Michele, Karen, and Mike, their principal. What stories they told on themselves at dinner on Friday night---karaoke singing, glamour photos, and fun things to do after hours! What a group! (Sorry you told all those stories in front of the person who has to approve your future trips! Too bad!) John, I enjoyed reading that great short story you wrote. Thanks for sharing it with me. We made the newspaper while I was there---some good press for the 4-Blocks initiative in that area!
Then I traveled on to Michigan City to work with folks from Mullen and Neimann schools. This is where I had the pleasure of attending my very first Block Party! It was great! They had a huge sheet cake made with the design from the cover of The Teacher's Guide replicated on the top and balloons with the blocks all around the tables. We had a blast celebrating what these great teachers had accomplished and sharing with folks who were brand new to the model. Again, the media was on hand, and we found a nice article with pictures in the next morning's paper (This was when I realized from my photo that I really did need to go home and rest!). Good news about education for a change! Thanks to friends, Marsha Tappan from Neimann, and Linda Stanford from Mullen, for a fabulous visit! I got lots of pictures to add to my repertoire. My classroom observations in these schools revealed great things happening for children and for teachers, too!