Article #8
Timing Is Everything!
Cheryl M. Sigmon

Several questions this week on the mailring have dealt with issues of pacing in the classroom. Let's take a look at how important timing is to the success of a 4-Blocks classroom.

Almost every teacher, especially those first getting started with the model, find that purchasing an inexpensive kitchen timer is a great way to help keep themselves and the class on track with all the components of the model. Every teacher must look at the total time available for the blocks, remembering that each block will require a minimum of thirty minutes. A total of two hours leaves absolutely no "wiggle room" for transition from block to block and restricts those blocks that beg for just a little more time. Two and a quarter to two and a half hours are ideal. There's so much to be done in each of the blocks that even this ideal time will be a brisk pace. The briskness, however, is desirable as it will keep the kids actively engaged in their learning.

Guided Reading Block is usually one which begs a little more time. Most teachers find that around 40 minutes allows them to cover each of the three segments adequately. If they don't have the extra time, actual reading time or the concluding time is cut short, sacrificing the impact of the comprehension lesson. There are so many necessary elements of a good pre-reading lesson that must be included daily for which time must be included. The bulk of this lesson should be spent on actual reading, but the direct instruction, pre-reading, and post-reading are all critical. Again, teachers must practice their delivery of the necessary elements of each segment. Pre-planning and practice are critical in getting it all done!

The Self-Selected Reading Block can usually be held to the minimum time of 30 minutes, although an additional 5 minutes can make a difference. The greatest difficulty during this block is pacing the conferences that teachers hold with "the day of the week students" (usually 4 or 5 students each day of the week). If the introductory read-aloud is 5 minutes and the sharing time is 5 minutes, then 20 minutes remain for students to read and for the teacher to conference. Some quick math reveals that 3-4 minutes (a little transition time student to student is needed) is all the time that can be spent per student. Teachers must be diligent in practicing and refining their conference skills. In the beginning of the school year, teachers usually just have the students read a couple of sentences/paragraphs/pages, depending upon the literacy level of the child and the amount of text on a page, and they engage the student in some casual conversation about the book. "Are you enjoying this book?" "What's the book about?" "Do you like reading books about (topic)?" are the usual kinds of questions included in a book chat. After the teacher has a good idea about the fluency level of a student, having the student read aloud might change to having discussions about the book. Once literacy elements have been taught during Guided Reading, those terms such as plot, setting, character become part of the discussion. The key, however, is to keep the tone of the conference comfortable. But, given the time restraints, the teacher must have a plan for what is to be accomplished. Some teachers have a conference form that guides them and keeps them focused. A sample form will appears at the end of this column. The teacher makes a concerted effort not to make this individual time appear to be an assessment which might inhibit students' tendency to interact with the teacher.

The Writing Block, just as the Reading Block, is another that pushes the time limits a bit. This block can be completed in thirty minutes, but once kids have developed their writing skills the 20 minutes or less is extremely restrictive. If the schedule is at all flexible, ten additional minutes can make all the difference in this block. Usually, if time is not available, teachers have been short-changing the sharing time at the end of the block. That should not be an option. Children's writing pieces dramatically improve when they have a real audience for what they have written. Once the first child sits in the author's chair with a published book, they ignite a spark within that class. After that, they will all want to publish and share.

The Word Block is one for which thirty minutes has been adequate once teachers and students become accustomed to the routine and to how the activities operate. If this block is extended beyond the thirty minutes there is danger that some kids will lose interest--usually those children who are the higher achievers. Teachers often report feeling that they are leaving many kids behind during this block with activities that are so briskly paced. However, experience has shown that the activities have a greater impact for more children if they remain fast paced. This block, just as the other three, will not necessarily be the "strong suit" of each child. What they don't pick up during this time, they are likely to get through another of the approaches included in this model. That's the real beauty of it all!

Let's use a chart to review the time allotments that have been sketched out thus far:

Minimum Time
Recommended Time
for Maximum Impact
Guided Reading 
30 minutes
40 minutes
Self-Selected Reading
30 minutes
35 minutes
30 minutes
40 minutes
30 minutes
30 minutes

For those of you who are new to the model, even the 40 minute recommendations probably seem like an impossible challenge. It does take practice and planning, but it will happen! For those of you who can not find the extra 20- 30 minutes to extend the blocks, don't despair! The 4-Blocks can be done successfully within the 2 hour block. The planning and practice, though, will be very critical.

Additionally, let's remember to apply our common sense: When the timer rings at the end of the allotted time, that doesn't mean we "robotically" throw down our books and move to the next block. We take it as a signal to find quick closure--but we do bring the lesson to closure. Then, we tell ourselves that if we weren't through when the timer sounded that we need to practice until our timing is closer. Just take it as a challenge! If you just can't seem to work out the timing, ask a fellow teacher to come in and give you some feedback about where you might be able to trim a few minutes. Together you're likely to find a solution.

The following link will take you to a sample of a quick and easy conference form that can be used during the Self-Selected Reading Conference. This does not have to be used but may give you an idea of how simple the data gathering can be and how such a form could help a teacher stay more focused and conserve the limited time. This information should be used by teachers to plan more effective whole group, small group, and individual instruction.

Self-Selected Reading Conference Record

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