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Saturday, 23 March 2013

The Language Block

One of the most common questions I get asked by other teachers is "What does your Language block look like?"


I have a really difficult time answering this question; it is something that would really take days to describe.

I think the problem lies in the fact that we are so used to thinking in terms of our "timetable".  By definition, in our timetable we show each subject and strand as a discrete entity.  But that is not the reality at all, at least not in my class.  

For example, last week we were watching videos about the new pope, Pope Francis.  We watched and discussed a video on YouTube about how to become a pope, we watched a CNN video about Pope Francis' first public appearance, and we read a couple of related passages from the Bible together, John 1:41-42 and 21:15-17.  At the end of the period, one of my students said, "Was that Religion or Language?"  I answered, "Yes."

Admittedly, I have "Language" penciled into my timetable, along with "Social Studies" and "Science".  I have the Language block further delineated into "Reading", "Writing", and “Word Study".  But in reality, any mixture of those items is happening simultaneously. I have tried to create a timetable that accurately reflects what happens on a day to day basis in the classroom, but it isn't a true picture of what goes on during the day. 

For me, what is truly important is ensuring that I have a comprehensive Literacy program, and by "comprehensive" I mean all-inclusive. I make sure that my students are reading and writing something every day.  I also want to make sure that there is a balance of Modeled, Shared, and Guided Instruction along with oodles of time for Independent practice.  

How do I build it all in?

Well, I spend a great deal of time during the beginning of the school year teaching my students to be independent, self-directed learners.  I do a lot of explicit instruction on how to become exactly that, and then I help them to build their stamina gradually.  So my Language block looks vastly different in the fall than it does in the spring.  In the fall, I start with a modeled or shared reading lesson, then they read for about 10 - 15 minutes independently while I take students for guided small group instruction.  I provide some direct instruction on Writing, then they work on a writing piece for 15- 20 minutes independently; I intersperse direct instruction in Reading, Writing and Word Study daily with independent practice. I decide when it is time to switch activities.  

But that is not what my Language block looks like at all at this time of the year.

I'm at that happy place right now where my students can work for 60 minutes independently (and by "independently" they may be working by themselves or collaboratively with a partner), without being off-task or disruptive (with the exception of one or two students who need occasional reminders and re-direction). 



In order for this to be possible, the students have to have highly engaging tasks that they are motivated to do, and that serve authentic purposes.  My Language block truly becomes a Language Workshop.  I list all of the items I would like students to accomplish by the end of the week, much like a menu. Students then select from the menu what they would like to work on.  Sometimes they choose based on what they enjoy doing the most, other times they choose based on what is a priority, or what they are struggling with and need to spend more time on.  I prefer to start with a mini-lesson on Reading, Writing or Word Study, but lately, I have an EA at the beginning of my Language block, so I take advantage of the extra adult in the room, and we begin our Workshop right away.  That way, she can be that support person in the room for students while I take groups to the horseshoe table for small group instruction.  I save the last 15-20 minutes of the Language block for some direct whole-class instruction

Here are a list of activities my students currently have to work on:
  • Become familiar with word patterns in Word Wall Words by writing sentences and paragraphs using those words
  • Post to their blogs
  • Create or add to a Discussion Thread about the novel I am currently reading aloud to them
  • Revise their recounts
  • Swap their recount with another person in the classroom, and using Co-created Success Criteria, provide one another with descriptive feedback
  • revise their recount based on descriptive feedback given by a peer
  • Independent reading - focus on being metacognitive while reading
On Friday, I asked my students if they enjoyed working this way.  They gave me a resounding 'yes'.  When I asked why, they said:
·         Because except for the Word Study work, everything we have to do has a purpose
·         Nobody is fooling around and everyone knows what they have to do
·         The work is not too hard
·         The work is fun, especially when we get to use electronic devices
·         Nobody bugs anybody else when we work like this


Is my Language block ALWAYS like that?  No.  It depends on what we are working on.  When we are learning a new writing form, for example, I have students  in collaborative groups working with writing exemplars so that we can co-create success criteria for that writing form.  I find that whole process takes up 80 minutes. Next week, I'll explain what my Language block looks like when we are working on an Inquiry project, because that looks different again!  Stay tuned...


1 comment:

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