Article #62
Speaking the Same Language: Blocktalk
Cheryl M. Sigmon

Is it a foreign language or a global language? Are we handicapped or challenged? Do we have teaching aides, paraprofessionals, or assistants in our classes? Are students ESL or limited English proficient? Do we teach objectives or standards? The education profession is infamous for the language it speaks and for the tendency to change our vocabulary to fit immediate political demands or to match the most current research trends.

One memory I have (math-related, rather than language arts for a change!) is that of "borrowing" and "carrying" as I learned to add and subtract. In fact, even today as I balance my checkbook, I find myself mentally saying "borrow from the 9" and "carry the 2." Kids today wouldn't have the slightest idea what those terms mean with their "new math" terminology! Surely my way of explaining the process would be foreign to the kids' frame of reference.

Sometimes the different terms we use for the same things can become an obstacle to our communication. Sometimes, even though it's not a real hindrance, speaking a different language and using different terms doesn't encourage cohesiveness.

One of the great benefits of adopting a framework like 4-Blocks within a school is the fact that teachers, administrators, students---and parents, too---begin to talk the same language---use the same terms. This is greatly beneficial in many different situations throughout the day, the week, the month and the year.

Sometimes talking the same lingo is critical. If an administrator understands the term "guided reading" to mean a small group working with the teacher in ability groups, then finding the whole class doing a choral reading of the same text in a 4-Blocks classroom won't fit that schema. If an administrator doesn't understand what a "high frequency Word Wall is," then she might think the words on that wall are far too easy and lack the challenge appropriate to the needs of the students. Administrators might be appalled at the noise level in a 4-Blocks classroom during our "snapping, clapping, and stomping" of the high frequency words unless he understands that we're engaging kids rhythmically to tap their different learning styles during this time.

For teachers and students to understand the terms used in 4-Blocks helps greatly with smooth transitions from block to block and activity to activity. "It's time for our read-aloud" immediately signals students to gather on the carpet around the rocking chair. "We're reading with partners today" lets kids know that they need to check the chart to see with whom they'll be sharing their books today. "Let's look for the spelling pattern" translates as "Which words have the same letters from the first vowel to the end?" The lingo provides smooth transitions and efficient management.

In the beginning of the school year, teachers and administrators begin to educate parents about the terms and the philosophies communicated by those terms in 4-Blocks. Parents might be given a brochure (like the one in the Appendix of The Teachers Guide to the Four-Blocks) explaining what the blocks are and basically how they operate. Parents need to be prepared for what they'll see when they look into the classroom. They need to understand that when their children talk about all the games and activities they "play" all day---Wordo, Guess the Covered Word, clapping and snapping words, playschool groups, etc.--- that we are educating their children---not really playing (although we don't have to tell the kids that they're learning!).

When teachers begin to plan together towards the same objectives, when they meet as a grade level to solve problems, when they use a portion of the monthly faculty meeting to sharing a new 4-Blocks approach or activity---then talking the same language helps to communicate clearly. If everyone generally has the same objectives, then teachers realize that there is no sense in recreating the wheel---they learn to share ideas. As with many other activities, teachers who are using Making Words get together and create envelopes of those activities to include in boxes for easy access to many teachers. Teachers using the same grade-level pieces in Guided Reading talk about how they'll create or draw on students' prior knowledge to connect them to the text and they'll plan their alignment for a more effective lesson.

Even administrators from school to school may have conversations about where their schools are with implementation in terms of each block and the support they need to offer their teachers. They discuss budgetary issues in terms of the multiple copies of books their teachers will need, the book baskets they must stock, the professional books and the training their teachers will need for successful implementation.

When a school adopts 4-Blocks, the terms they'll use will also reflect a philosophy about teaching and learning. There's absolutely nothing like the cohesiveness that is generated in a good 4-Blocks school. Teachers and administrators know that they have collective beliefs. They know that students can learn without being labeled, and they are careful not to negate those efforts by labeling in other ways. Consequently, administrators know how they must support teachers through planning for heterogeneous grouping of classes. Administrators know that they must minimize the number of pullouts during 4-Blocks so that they don't further place those students at a disadvantage. All faculty members know that learning should be engaging and that "healthy noise" is encouraged---they don't frown on the cacophony of snapping, clapping and cheering that sometimes spills out into the hallways. Kids learn that usually everyone excels during one of the blocks and that they will sometimes help their neighbor and sometimes their neighbor will help them in this close-knit community of learners. Also, the environment of the classrooms and school reflects what that school values---language, literacy, and reading. Everyone pitches in to be sure that the environment reflects the beliefs. There is research to support that one of the major elements that impacts the achievement in a school is the cohesiveness of the faculty.

Encourage the Blocktalk in your school. Encourage it among faculty members, between faculty and administrators, between faculty and parents, and among the students as well. Speaking the same language breaks barriers, and that's what we're all about. And so, let's speak it....Word Wall, playschool groups, cheering the words, model writing, conference time, teacher read-aloud, sharing books, ... It's a fairly easy language to learn, and we'll all be better for learning it!

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. Let me know if it works for you!

Notice For Grant Writing: If you're writing grants and need assistance with implementation in your schools and districts, I'm willing to write letters of intent/commitment to support your training and implementation. I've furnished quite a few of these lately. I certainly want you to get good training and I'll be sure that you do! Just email or call if you need a letter. I know that most of your grants are due soon.

Training Opportunities:

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.

My scheduled presentations:

Location		Date			Sponsor
Indianapolis, IN	March 14-15		ERG (Grades 4-6 Intro.-new book included!)
	(This Indy seminar is full. Check ERG's site for additional seminars for upper grades.)
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
For SDR workshops, call 800-678-8908.

Hope to see you at a workshop soon!

Personal Journal:

I've logged lots of miles since my last article and have met lots of people. Eve Hayes, Sylvia Ford and I went to New Jersey to work in schools around McGuire AFB. Getting from Philadelphia to that location in NJ was quite a challenge! We're not used to that kind of traffic and confusion in SC! Thanks, Suzanne Phillips and others, for your hospitality. We'll be back again next week with two more blocks-my how time flies!....After so much snow up North lately, I enjoyed sunny Orlando where many of you came to the seminar and were I worked with some new folks at Southwood Elementary School on the day after the seminar. Sue Frechette was a gracious hostess. I had a good time with each grade level of teachers that I met with....After our SC reading conference at Hilton Head (it was fabulous!), I went on to Toledo, OH to work with teachers in the Washington Local Schools. A great group there! Thanks to the teacher who led me to the airport-otherwise, I would not have made it!....I got to premiere the new upper grades book in Dayton, OH at an ERG seminar. The workshop seems to have been well received. I'm still waiting on feedback from the book once upper grades teachers have a chance to read it! I worked for another day with primary teachers on the basics of 4-Blocks. DeLinda Youngblood, her sister from Dayton, and Linda Kirszenbaum were wonderful to help with the seminar. Ohio is getting fired up about 4-Blocks!

Right now I'm on my way back from a week in Atlanta (Georgia Reading Conference), Lexington, KY, and Minneapolis, MN. In Minneapolis, we always laugh about WWW standing for Word Wall Word rather than World Wide Wrestling (the gov. is, of course, Jesse "the Body"!). There was snow along the way on this trip, so I'll be happy to get back in a warmer climate. Would you believe I didn't bring a coat to Minneapolis?!

Such great folks along the way! I'm always impressed by the commitment people are making to children as I work with them. I learn so much from all of you! Thanks for all you do! See you along the way!

4 Blocks Goodies