30 May Literacy Block Break Down
How do I best structure my literacy block to optimize learning and growth? Most administrators and teachers ask themselves this question as they create their schedules.
There is LOADS of research out there on this topic and, as to be expected, different camps of thought around what educators believe to be optimal. As an educator with some years of personal experience in the kindergarten classroom, I’ve decided to weigh in.
All schools have different expectations when it comes to your daily schedule. In most public schools, your entire schedule is already broken up for you and you simply have to follow the schedule you are given. But at some private schools or at a place where teachers are given more of a say, you may have more freedom to arrange your schedule. Educators definitely need to check in with their administration to see what the expectations are before trying to organize their schedule.
History behind teaching children to read
Before I get into what I believe to be the optimal breakdown of the literacy block, I want to first share some history behind the different philosophies of teaching reading and some of the pitfall for either extremes.
After having taught in both public and private schools, I soon discovered that there were stark differences with teaching children how to read. One emphasis was placed mostly on phonics instruction and if a child could decode a word, then – BAM! They can read! Deep comprehension of the text wasn’t really the focus.
However, the other extreme was a strong emphasis on “whole language” where meaning making and predict words through context clues, along with word memorization was encouraged. An adapted version of this model became known as the “Three Cueing System” where readers problem solve and monitor their reading by asking themself “Does that make sense?” or, “What would sound right here?” or, “Does that look right?”
*Definition of whole language : a method of teaching reading and writing that emphasizes learning whole words and phrases by encountering them in meaningful contexts rather than by phonics exercises.
Back in the day, there was a big controversy over the best way to teach children how to read – the “whole language” camp versus the phonics camp. Eventually a compromise was reached and was settled with a combined approach which became known as the “Balanced Literacy” model. This model incorporates “whole language” in addition to explicit phonics instruction, specifically in the earlier grade levels.
Within this model, an educator is still discouraged from telling a child to “sound it out” when solving unknown words. Rather they are encouraged to first have a child search for meaning, then think about how the sentence would sound, and last, incorporate the visual aspect which would be the letters-sound correspondence.
My Perspective on teaching reading
Though phonics is explicitly taught in the balanced literacy model, it is not the main emphasis or, in my opinion, emphasized enough when helping children decode unknown words. I understand why this model emphasizes ‘searching for meaning’ to help with the decoding process, however, I have found that context clues are not always enough when trying to solve unknown words.
I found that when I gave my students the phonics tools to decode unknown words ALONG WITH the tools of using context clues and meaning making, they became much more successful at decoding the words in combination with a stronger comprehension of the text.
On the flip-side, if phonics is the only tool a child uses to decode unknown words, this children will often learn to only “word call” when reading. This is where they are able to decode all the words accurately but they do not comprehending anything they just read.
The point of reading is to comprehend and make meaning. If that doesn’t happen, reading has lost its point. If a child can perfectly decode a passage but has no clue what they just read, then they are not really reading. We want children to walk away from reading understanding and critically processing the text they just read. This is the goal.
My Approach on teaching reading
I too like the combined approach of the Balanced Literacy model, however, in most cases I do not feel that phonics instruction is emphasized enough. The Balanced Literacy approach focuses about 80% on whole language and 20% on phonics. On the opposite side of the pendulum, phonics driven curriculums focus about 80% on phonics and 20% on meaning making and deeper comprehension (or less).
I prefer a MORE “balanced” approach with about 50% emphasis on ‘whole language’ and 50% emphasis on explicit phonics instruction. Using this model, I saw EXPLOSIVE growth in ALL of my students. It was amazing and exciting to see.
Compared to the Balance Literacy model, my phonics instruction goes MUCH further than their typical phonics curriculum would normally go. This give my students more tools to decode unknown words and as a side benefit, improves their spelling and writing capabilities. My students’ reading (and writing) SOARED and I was so excited to see that! YAY!
My Literacy block breakdown
Every day I incorporate the following in my 90 minutes literacy block:
- Interactive Read-Aloud (15 minutes)
- Shared Reading or Mini-Lesson (15 minutes)
- Centers Rotations & Small Group Instruction (35 minutes- 2 rotation of 15 minutes + transition time) *Fridays are independent reading and buddy reading while the teacher assesses or works individually with students.
- Explicit Phonics instruction – Drill & practice (25 minutes)
In a quick summary, for our Read-Alouds we go deeper into comprehension and critical thinking, focusing on meaning making during reading and practicing various comprehension strategies. During our Shared Reading time we focus on ‘whole language,’ reading fluency, and sight word memorization in context. Our Mini-Lessons focus on a variety of reading behaviors and skills. Centers Rotations focus mostly on practicing phonics skills till they are automatic recall. Small group instruction emphasis is half phonics and half whole language reading. And last, we have a chunk of time dedicated to explicit phonics instruction where we drill and practice our phonics rules.
I hope this input helps you evaluate your literacy block’s effectiveness and encourages you to possibly try something new.
“Doing little things with great love.”