Classroom Practices For Supporting Upper Elementary Literacy Instruction in tcrsb



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Classroom Practices

For Supporting Upper Elementary Literacy Instruction

in TCRSB
This document works as a companion to, and follows from, the document Classroom Practices For Supporting Early Literacy Instruction in TCRSB (2010). That document describes young literacy learners progressing through a developmental process of emergent, early, transitional, and fluent stages. The goal of teachers of Grades Four to Six in Tri-County Regional School Board (TCRSB) is to develop with students the strategies, behaviours, attitudes, and knowledge that will see students progress from the transitional through the early fluent stage.
Learning to read and write, speak and listen, and think critically about and through these processes is complicated, important work. Students in the upper elementary grades still have much to learn about reading, writing, speaking and listening. At the centre of this process is the teacher: the most powerful agent of change in the classroom. Nothing else - not materials, approaches, or initiatives- no other factor has the potential for positive impact on student learning as time spent with a knowledgeable, caring teacher. Teachers make the crucial decisions about what each student needs to become a successful literacy learner (Trehearne, pp. 3-6).
Teachers of Grades Four to Six in TCRSB follow the direction of the Nova Scotia Department of Education as described in the Atlantic Canada English Language Arts Curriculum (4-6) and its companion documents, Teaching In Action (4-6) and Active Young Readers (4-6). Students in these grades are continuing to learn to read and write but also beginning to read and write to learn. Instruction must provide a comprehensive, balanced literacy program that includes daily reading and writing workshops, explicit word study, and opportunities to speak and listen. In keeping with provincial guidelines, this can be accomplished through the minimum 90 minutes per day of English language arts instruction as outlined in the Time to Learn Strategy. Teaching In Action: Grades 4-6 proposes the following:


While recognizing the scheduling challenges and realities of some schools, this list suggests weekly literacy experiences for students:

  • 4-5 hours engaged in authentic reading experiences, including poetry, fiction, and non-fiction

  • 2-3 meetings for small-group instruction

  • 4-5 hours writing – personal choice and in other content areas

  • 2-3 sessions of language/word study embedded within reading or writing workshops



The Atlantic Canada English Language Arts Curriculum (4-6) is divided into ten General Curriculum Outcomes (GCOs) which are further delineated by a number of Specific Curriculum Outcomes (SCOs). These outcomes are separated into three strands covering the major components of literacy learning:

Reading and Viewing

Speaking and Listening

Writing and Other Ways of Representing
While these require instruction and assessment unique to each, it is equally important to understand that they are interrelated and can most effectively be developed interdependently. The same fundamental cognitive strategies serve all three. Students learn about reading by writing, and learn about writing by reading, and development of both reading and writing is facilitated and supported by talk. Teachers must make every effort to maintain a balance among the literacy strands so that students can take advantage of this interdependence.



Learning deepens when students engage in reading, talking, and writing about texts across many different instructional contexts. Each mode of communication provides a new way to process the ideas learned from oral and written texts and from each other.

(Fountas and Pinnell 2007, p. 2)





The Workshop Model as a Framework for Instruction
Teachers of Grades Four to Six in TCRSB are encouraged to adopt a workshop model as an instructional framework for teaching a balanced literacy program. Following this framework, classes are generally conducted through focused lessons (mini lessons) followed by active practise and reflection. Teachers use this Gradual Release of Responsibility, in which they model, monitor and modify literacy skills and strategies.
(The workshop model) fosters the individualized instruction that we implement in order to meet a wide range of academic and linguistic needs. It enables us to expose our (students) to content through interactive experiences, with guided practice, during whole-group lessons. Then they have opportunities to apply their learning in small-group settings. (Johnson and Keier, p. 49)
Craft and manufacturing workshops are places where apprentice practitioners (students) learn from a master practitioner (teacher). The apprentices develop skills, strategies, and ultimately expertise, only after specific modelling of these skills and strategies by the master. Complex tasks are broken down and carefully examined in their component parts. Whole group instructions are provided in brief sessions, just enough for the apprentices to get to work on the next stage of the task. Apprentices then have the opportunity to practise skills and strategies, while receiving feedback from peers and assessment and feedback from the master. The majority of the time in the workshop is spent making the things to be produced, not listening to the master. The apprentices usually have some choice about what they will make, though occasionally specific forms are called for. The ultimate goal is always to make an authentic object for an authentic purpose, not merely practise a series of skills in isolation. Apprentices are expected to complete a project only when the master is confident they are ready. The master craftsperson does not say, “Make a pot,” and simply turn them loose on the wheel.
In the English language arts classroom the workshop centres on making sense of, and creating, texts of various kinds. Purposeful talk supports the reading and writing throughout. The workshop framework described above unfolds in the same way. Brief, focused lessons provide students with enough information to get on with the next stage of the reading or writing task. Students work individually or in groups, receiving descriptive feedback from peers and the teacher. They usually have some choice about the texts they are going to work with but are at times asked to read or write a text of the teacher’s choosing. Just as in the craft workshop, students are not expected to create a finished product, such as a reading response or a piece of writing, before the teacher has instructed and assessed its component parts. While instruction in specific skills and strategies is essential, the ultimate goal of the reading workshop is to make meaning from text and the ultimate goal of the writing workshop is to create text, not merely practice isolated skills and strategies such as completing worksheets. Students must first be explicitly instructed about how to do so, and only expected to complete a task when the teacher is confident they are ready. The teacher does not say, “Write a story,” or “Read this passage and answer these questions,” and simply turn them loose on the page.

Nuts and Bolts of the Workshop
In order for reading and writing workshop to run effectively, students must be able to work independently or in small groups for significant periods of time without direct instruction from the teacher. All students can learn to do this. It will take some time to teach the specific routines of your workshop classroom, and these will have to be re-taught a number of times. Even when students have worked within a workshop framework before, each teacher must make clear the expectations and routines of his or her own classroom. This will be much of the focus of the first few months of instruction and will need to be continually revisited. Once students are able to work within this framework, the ability to provide exactly the right instruction and assessment at exactly the right time for each student will more than make up for the time spent learning the routines. At a minimum, students need to be taught to be independent and efficient with the following:

  • where and how to access materials, such as Just-right texts and writing supplies

  • how to transition from one task to the next

  • how to signal that they need assistance in a way that allows the teacher to continue working with others until (s)he is free

  • what to do while waiting for assistance

  • how to work appropriately in small groups

Fortunately, there is no single prescriptive model that must be followed for this. Teachers will decide what specifics work best for their own needs, and for the needs of each unique group of students. They will likely add additional structures and routines to suit their and their students’ needs as the year progresses.

Reading Workshop at a Glance

The goal of reading workshop is to provide students with daily opportunities to make meaning from text.





GUIDING QUESTIONS: What will help students connect this day to the previous? How will the teacher share specifics of what and why students are learning today? What do students need from the teacher to work with more depth and more stamina than they would alone?

→ This is a brief period of explicit instruction, generally to the whole class, to provide a focus for learning, such as:



    • teacher conducts a Read-aloud of text

    • teacher models a specific reading strategy through Think-aloud

    • teacher models reading for a particular element of the form and genre of text being studied

    • outline of specific goals for the Time to Practise portion of the lesson

    • review of earlier material or concepts



  • Time to Practise

GUIDING QUESTIONS: What will students read and talk about to develop as readers? What concrete evidence will the teacher gather as proof of student learning? What do students need to keep them learning?

→ The bulk of the Reading Workshop provides a significant amount of time for students to practise reading skills and strategies, often in individual or small group guided reading sessions, such as:



    • reading, and responding in writing and discussion, to individual student-choice text

    • reading, and responding in writing and discussion, to text in small groups

    • reading, and responding in writing and discussion, to whole class text (NOTE: teachers are discouraged from studying more than one major text with the whole class [e.g. a novel] in a year)

      • The teacher continually monitors student learning through conferences, observations, and small-group instruction.




  • Time to Reflect and Share

GUIDING QUESTIONS: What did students accomplish? How did students develop as readers? What do students need next?

→ This is a period in which students interact in support of their learning, most often in a whole class setting but at times in small groups, such as:



    • student conducts a Read-aloud of a favourite or thought-provoking portion of text

    • consolidating learning or posing questions to guide next steps through tools such as exit slips

    • offering and receiving descriptive feedback from peers and teacher

    • reflecting on progress in relation to specific learning goals for the day or long-term learning goals



Writing Workshop at a Glance

The goal of writing workshop is to provide students with daily opportunities to make meaning with text.




  • Time to Teach

GUIDING QUESTIONS: What will help students connect this day to the previous? How will the teacher share specifics of what and why students are learning today? What do students need from the teacher to work with more depth and more stamina than they would alone?

→ This is a brief period of explicit instruction, generally to the whole class, to provide a focus for learning, such as:



    • teacher models his or her own writing while revealing insights through Think-aloud

    • teacher leads students in a shared writing experience while revealing and eliciting insights through Think-aloud

    • examining and discussing mentor text to consider form or genre, or elements of writer’s craft




  • Time to Practise

GUIDING QUESTIONS: What will students write and talk about to develop as writers? What concrete evidence will the teacher gather as proof of student learning? What do students need to keep them learning?

→ The bulk of the Writing Workshop provides a significant amount of time for students to practise writing skills and strategies, often supported through individual writing conferences, such as:



    • planning, drafting, revising, and editing student choice writing

    • planning, drafting, revising, and editing prompted writing

      • The teacher continually monitors student learning through conferences, observations, and small-group instruction.




  • Time to Reflect and Share

GUIDING QUESTIONS: What did students accomplish? How did students develop as writers? What do students need next?

→ This is a period in which students interact in support of their learning, most often in a whole class setting but at times in small groups, such as:



    • student conducts a Read-aloud of a piece of writing he or she has composed

    • consolidating learning or posing questions to guide next steps through tools such as exit slips

    • offering and receiving descriptive feedback from peers and teacher

    • reflecting on progress in relation to specific learning goals for the day or long-term learning goals


Speaking and Listening in the Balanced Literacy Classroom
James Britton says, “Reading and writing float on a sea of talk.” Students use talk to formulate and develop their thoughts, ideas, and feelings through whole-class and small group discussion. To be successful in these, they must be instructed and assessed in the skills and norms that make this type of informal speaking and listening effective. Additionally, students are expected to engage in more formal speaking and listening activities. To be successful in these, they must be instructed and assessed in the skills and norms of developing and giving a presentation or performance for an audience, and in the skills and norms of being a respectful and careful listener to presentations and performances.


  • Time to Teach

GUIDING QUESTIONS: What will help students connect this day to the previous? How will the teacher share specifics of what and why students are learning today? What do students need from the teacher to work with more depth and more stamina than they would alone?

→ This is a brief period of explicit instruction, generally to the whole class, to provide a focus for learning, such as:



    • teacher models effective small group discussion practices

    • teacher models effective whole class discussion practices

    • examining and discussing a mentor text, such as an audio clip of a skilled orator




  • Time to Practise

GUIDING QUESTIONS: What will students talk about to develop as speakers and listeners? What concrete evidence will the teacher gather as proof of student learning? What do students need to keep them learning?

→ This is a significant amount of time for students to practise speaking and listening skills and strategies, such as:



    • monitored daily small group and whole class discussions

    • planning, practising, and presenting formal speaking events such as an informative presentation or a performance

    • demonstrating active and respectful listening skills




GUIDING QUESTIONS: What did students accomplish? How did students develop as speakers and listeners? What do students need next?

→ This is a period in which students interact in support of their learning, most often in a whole class setting but at times in small groups, such as:



    • student tries out a portion of a presentation or performance for a small group

    • consolidating learning or posing questions to guide next steps through tools such as exit slips

    • offering and receiving descriptive feedback from peers and teacher

    • reflecting on progress in relation to specific learning goals for the day or long-term learning

It is important to note that this Gradual Release of Responsibility in the workshop framework does not always follow a Time to Teach, Time to Practise, Time to Share lock-step progression for every lesson. There will be times when it is most appropriate to begin with having a student share some work for feedback, or share his or her thinking about an ongoing task, at the beginning of a lesson (Time to Share). There will be times when students are deeply engaged in an ongoing task from a previous lesson, and it’s best to have them immediately get to work on it (Time to Practise). And there will be times when it’s necessary to bring a group or the whole class together for some focused instruction through modeling or sharing in the middle of a lesson (Time to Teach).


Below is a sample that shows how this Gradual Release of Responsibility can unfold in an organic fashion that meets the needs of students as they arise. The sample plan below is based on an uninterrupted 60 minute English language arts lesson each day. Note that the Time to Learn Strategy requires 90 minutes per day of English language arts instruction in grades 4-6. This 60 minute sample plan is offered in recognition of the reality that many grades 4-6 schedules do not provide 90 minute blocks of uninterrupted time daily. The additional 30 minutes per day would be used for word study and grammar and usage study in context, additional Time to Practise independent and small group work for students, additional Time to Share, and occasionally Time to Teach.

As long as I was doing the talking, they were polite and seemed engaged. But as soon as I released the whole group to work… (they) got off task. It was tempting to pull the whole group back together, knowing that I could manage their behaviour better if I did. However, I reminded myself that whoever was doing the work was the one getting smarter.

Tovani, Cris (2011). So What Do They Really Know? Portland: Stenhouse.




SNAPSHOT OF A CLASSROOM AS WORKSHOP
Sample Organizational Approach: Short Story Genre Study


Time to Teach

10-15 minutes



Time to Practise

25-30 minutes



Time to Share and Reflect

10-15minutes



Teacher uses Think-aloud strategy with a brief narrative mentor text, focusing on one element of narrative fiction such as establishment of setting, or introduction of main character


Students choose and read various short stories during Independent Reading Time, either individually or in groups.
Teacher uses reading conferences to informally assess individual students’ reading development and/or understanding of narrative element targeted during the Think-aloud.

Using a Think-Pair-Share,

students write then talk about personal reactions to the stories they read, and discuss the story element that was the focus of instruction.


Teacher assesses informal speaking and listening strategies by observing group interactions, hands out and collects exit slip.


Differentiated Instruction

Assessment

How did it go?

  • Choose mentor texts with broad appeal to the class that are easily understood by all and clearly demonstrate the target element

  • Provide a collection of short stories representing a range of reading development stages

  • Provide discussion prompts (what to say next)




  • Exit slips demonstrate students’ understanding of the targeted element of narrative fiction

  • Make jot notes or use a checklist re: effectiveness of students’ choices of stories to assess SCO 4.1

  • Speaking and Listening observational checklist to assess GCO 1




I noticed that students were not demonstrating meaningful talk.

Next steps: focus on strategies for effective discussion next class.
I noticed that students need more instruction about elements of narrative fiction, and more practise identifying them.

Next steps: later in the week, regroup students based on exit slip results.




Time to Teach

10-15 minutes



Time to Practise

30 minutes



Time to Share

15-20 minutes



Teacher conducts a focused lesson on one or two strategies for effective small group discussion.

OR

Co-constructs assessment criteria for effective small group discussion with the class (e.g. Looks Like/Sounds Like T-chart).




Students continue reading short stories during independent reading.
Teacher meets with students who were identified from exit slips as struggling to identify narrative elements. They work in a guided reading group setting.

Using a Think-Pair-Share, students write then talk about personal reactions to the stories they read, and discuss the story element that was the focus of instruction.
Teacher observes group interactions, and collects students’ self-assessment developed from co-constructed assessment criteria (if used).

Differentiated Instruction

Assessment

How did it go?

  • Provide a graphic organizer with discussion prompts

  • Provide a collection of short stories representing a range of reading development stages

  • Meet with guided reading group




  • Speaking and Listening observational checklist to assess GCO 1

  • Discussion self-assessment (if used)

I noticed that all students can identify the targeted element of narrative text.
Next steps: students will apply this understanding to their writing.



Time to Share

15 minutes



Time to Teach

10 minutes



Time to Practise

35 minutes



In whole class setting, students share the various ways authors introduce the short stories they have been reading during independent reading.


Teacher uses Think-aloud strategy with the mentor text used last day, focusing on effectiveness of the lead in establishing setting or character.

Students do a quickwrite in their Writer’s Notebook experimenting with writing leads, and then work on writing short stories during Independent Writing Time.
Teacher uses writing conferences to assess individual students’ writing development and/or ability to write leads. (Focus of the day’s lesson)

Possible conference questions:



  • Why did you choose this particular lead?

  • How does the lead hook the reader?

  • What does your audience learn about the setting or main character from this lead?

Teacher gathers a sampling of Writer’s Notebooks at the end of class.




Differentiated Instruction

Assessment

How did it go?

  • Confer with students needing additional support or enrichment




  • Teacher’s conference notes or checklist records evidence of SCOs 9.3 and 10.1

  • Collect selected Writer’s Notebooks for evidence of SCOs 8.3 and 9.2

I noticed in conferences and selected Writers’ Notebooks that the majority of students are struggling to write effective leads (e.g., “It all began when...”, “This is a story about...”).
Next steps: revisit this lesson focus tomorrow in a different format.



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