Article #67
Process Teaching: What Four Blocks Is All About!
Cheryl M. Sigmon
Linda Kirszenbaum
Readers, this week's column was written at my request by colleague, Linda Kirszenbaum of Columbia, SC. Linda has been involved with 4-Blocks in my state since the time that I learned about 4-Blocks. I have the privilege now of working along with her as she is a consultant with ERG. You may have attended one of her seminars or may have met her in your school or district. Linda delivers wonderful training at all grades; however, her specialty areas are upper grades (with much experience at middle grades), curriculum development, and also writing. Below she stimulates our thinking about a most critical concept that we deal with as trainers in 4-Blocks. 4-Blocks instruction isn't about teaching content; it truly must be about teaching processes or else we haven't served our students well. You'll want to be sure that this concept isn't the missing link in your training or delivery! Thanks, Linda, for this wonderful article!

It's almost that time again -- when a brand new group of students will troop into your classroom and you will begin your task of shepherding them along on their individual paths to literacy. But right now it is still summer, and summer is a good time to re-group, regenerate excitement and re-focus our efforts.

Those of us who teach language arts have a unique responsibility in that we must help our students learn "How To" read and write effectively. It is important to remember that this "How To" teaching is very different from teaching what I call "Stuff" (like facts, bits of information, concepts, etc.) Helping students become good readers and writers requires different teaching techniques than those needed to teach math facts or the parts of an atom. Remembering this is not always easy. I recall that as a classroom teacher I was more concerned that my students would remember every minute detail of a selection or novel that we had read and studied in class rather than their being able to read increasingly more difficult text on their own with a deeper level of understanding.

This difference in teaching required for Processes (the "How To" subjects like reading and writing,) as opposed to Content (the "Stuff" subjects such as science, social studies, or math,) is an important one that may need a closer examination, so let's hone in on Process teaching a bit further.

Do you remember how you helped your child or a younger brother/sister, or relative learn to ride a bicycle? Did you teach them by sitting them down on the couch and lecturing to them about what they were to do, followed by presenting them with a worksheet to be sure they understood your every word? Of course not -- you did (as we all did,) -- you put them on the bike and ran along behind them holding them up. After awhile as you were running, you turned loose and watched them wobble, fall, get up and try again until they got the hang of it. We expected the falls and the many practice sessions. Each time they tried, they got a little better until finally they were able to ride on their own.

Learning to read and write is much the same process as learning to ride a bicycle. We can't expect our students to learn by talking to them about it and giving them worksheets; instead, we must "put them on the bike" every day and help them to get up when they fall. Each time they read a text successfully or complete a piece of writing, they learn valuable lessons that they will take with them to their next attempts.

These processes of reading and writing are not easy to master, and students in your classroom are at various stages in their process development. Some will attack new words in reading confidently and read with fluency while others are very tentative and read haltingly with little comprehension. A few students may write pages while there are those who are reluctant to put words on the page.

The beauty of 4-Blocks is that it accommodates each student at all levels of process development and allows each to grow at his/her own pace. In each block the majority of the time is spent on students purposefully engaged in the processes of reading and writing -- not listening about the rules of how they must be done. In 4-Blocks, students "Ride their Bikes" daily and not only become proficient but learn to value the processes of reading and writing as both useful and enjoyable.

So, as you begin to make plans for the new school year, consider the processes that you are teaching. Allow your students to take risks and make mistakes for this is how they learn, and be sure to celebrate when they succeed all along the way.

Enjoy the rest of a well-deserved vacation!

**Hope you'll read about the Balanced Literacy Conference--Block Style! coming up in September listed below. It's going to be a blast in one of my favorite cities in the US--Charleston, South Carolina! Wonderful concurrent sessions, round-table discussions and general sessions are planned along with a big Block Party on Saturday night with music and food! We would LOVE to have YOU join us! There'll be a strand for everyone--kindergarten, primary grades, upper grades, and for administrators and support personnel--something for each of those groups throughout the entire conference. Hope you'll go to and download the registration blank today! There's only room for a limited number of participants. Hurry!

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. They did not come from a train-the-trainer program. Their expertise with 4-Blocks evolved over many years of training, teaching and support. For their services, you can simply call 843-539-1213, fax 843-539-1214 or visit ERG's 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 seminar presentations:

Charleston, SC      September 22-23  ERG (Conference/Block Party-Southern Style!)
Kansas City, MO     October 25       SDR
Denver, CO          October 26       SDR
Cincinnati, OH      October 30       ERG (upper grades)
Dallas, TX          October 31       ERG (upper grades)
Lansing, MI         November 13      SDR
Springfield, IL     November 14      SDR
Silver Springs, MD  November 29      SDR
Hartford, CT        November 30      SDR

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:

Hope many of you will start making plans to join us in beautiful Charleston, SC, September 22-23 for a Four Blocks conference. Many experienced Four Blocks teachers and consultants will be on hand for sessions of all descriptions--technology and 4-Blocks, conferencing skills, grading/assessment, report cards, alignment with standards, helping low-achievers, etc. The Block Party on Saturday night of the conference will be one you won't want to miss! This one is going to be FUN (and, of course, educational!) with music and food. Sign up as soon as possible since registration will be limited! See for details.

Some great groups of folks in Ohio over the past several weeks at upper and lower grades! Glad to see the interest so high in that state! I also visited an absolutely beautiful area where I haven't ventured before---Petosky, Michigan. Wow! What a gorgeous drive from Traverse City to Petosky! I spent a wonderful day working on Guided Reading Block there. Last week was spent with some good teacher-friends in De Soto, MO. John Waite and Assn. Principal, Alex, really have kindled interest there! All of the teachers came in for summer inservice! Thanks to you all for being such great hosts for my visits and such wonderful advocates for Four Blocks!

Hope that you're all ready for school to get started! What a short summer! They get shorter and shorter, don't they? I wish you a wonderful school year! Your best yet with Four Blocks to help you!

4 Blocks Goodies