Clinical Journal - Numerous Literacy Observations in Elementary Schools

Clinical Journal - Literacy Observations

Ms. Parker / 1st Grade / Olde Providence Elementary / 8 + hours

In celebration of the 100th day of school, Ms. Parker wore a self-decorated sweatshirt, which she called the “Walking Word Wall.” She used colored paints to write 100 different words all over her shirt. Students enjoyed reading many high-frequency words, familiar words from her shirt.
Writer’s Workshop

Ms. Parker gave the class a writing assignment related to the 100th day of school. She asked the students to write about what they would do if they were given $100, and why they would choose to use the money that way. The teacher reviewed the “Writer’s Workshop Checklist” with the students before they began writing. The students were meant to keep the following elements in mind as they wrote:
Writer’s Workshop Checklist
C - Capital Letters
O - Overall Appearance
P - Punctuation (?, !, . , ‘ )
S - Sequence (Beginning, Middle, End)

Each child was given a phony $100 bill so they could try to imagine what it would be like to actually possess 100 dollars. To guide students in their writing, Ms. Parker wrote the following three words on the board: “Save,” “Spend,” & “Give.” They were told to choose one of the words to use when explaining how they would use the money. During this assignment, the students were completely engaged and excited at the idea of having $100 to spend. They all appeared to be deep in thought while working quietly.

After each student finished his/her writing assignment, he/she went to Ms. Parker for an informal, individualized student-teacher conference. Ms. Parker read what each child wrote, and they would discuss it with each other. If any student did not follow the guidelines from the Writer’s Workshop Checklist, Ms. Parker asked the student to correct it.

Students often used invented spelling in their writing. Invented spelling was considered to be acceptable, as long as it was not a word on the Word Wall. (The Word Wall was posted at eye-level, so that it is visible and accessible to the students. Students were encouraged and highly praised for approaching the Word Wall to look up a word’s spelling.)

The teacher gave a great deal of positive reinforcement to her students during these one-on-one conferences. For instance, Ms. Parker said, “Do you know how proud I am of you, Jack? You remembered to capitalize the first letters in your sentences! Good job!” She said to another student, “Wow, that was really smart of you to think of putting your money into a bank account!” She also told another student, “You are marvelous! Excellent work.” It was obvious from observing the students’ reactions that their teacher’s constructive criticism was nurturing. non-threatening, and useful.

Calendar / Carpet Time
Part of the morning schedule includes “Calendar” time. Ms. Parker’s students sit on the carpet in front of a giant bulletin board. This part of the day is very structured and routine. It occurs at the same time every morning, and the same concepts are reinforced every time. Ms. Parker (or her assistant, Ms. Aho) calls on volunteers to help with the following:

Calendar (The class says in harmony, “Today is Wednesday, March 10th, 2004.” “Yesterday’s date was…” “Tomorrow’s date will be…”)
Days of the Week
Weather Report & Graph
Lost Tooth Graph
Numbers and Place Values
Student of the Week (Student completes written journal over the weekend, answering questions regarding “favorite food,” “favorite books” “wishes/dreams,” etc. After student of the week discusses his/her answers to the class, classmates discuss what they have learned about their friend.)

Paideia (AKA: Literature Circles)
Students split into two groups for Paideia. (One group was facilitated by the teacher, while the other group was facilitated by the teacher’s assistant.) The teacher commented that “Paideia” is another term for “Literature Circles” or “Book Talks.” The meaning of the ancient Greek word “Paideia” (pie-day-uh) has changed throughout the centuries, so it is difficult to give a literal translation. Rather, Paideia reflects the conscious pursuit of educational goals by the classroom community. It conveys the concept of integrating three essential parts of a child's education: intellectual, artistic, and social.
Paideia is a chance for the students to think and reflect with each other about text(s) they have all read. The teacher’s role in Paideia is not to instruct the children or express her own ideas, but rather to encourage the group to share their own thoughts and opinions with each other. The teacher does this by asking thought-provoking questions for the group to ponder and talk about. Whichever student is holding the “talking hand” at that particular time has the “floor.” Students pass the “talking hand” back and forth to those students who wish to share ideas. One of the goals of Paideia is for every child to participate (see rule #5 below).

During this Paideia session, the texts to be analyzed were various Madeline books. The class had recently taken a field trip to see a play called Madeline’s Rescue, and students were asked to discuss how the play corresponded to the Madeline books the students had read. Before starting the discussion, the teacher and students spent about five minutes reviewing the list of rules.

Paideia Rules:
Listen carefully, and do not talk while someone is talking.
Students may agree or disagree, but they should tell why.
Put your hand down when someone is talking.
You may ask each other questions
You may pass, but will be asked to share your ideas later.

Ms. Parker incorporates phonics into her everyday instruction. Phonics is integrated into a total reading program. She realizes that phonics is only one piece of puzzle in producing good readers. Her phonics instruction is built on a foundation of phonemic awareness and knowledge of the way language works. Although part of Ms. Parker’s strategy includes a focus on spelling, when Ms. Parker teaches phonics, she focuses on reading print, rather than on strictly learning rules.

Referring to the Word Wall, which is visible at eye-level as children sit on the carpet, Ms. Parker asked students to identify words that have the “long ū” sound. As each student volunteered a word, the teacher wrote the words on the board. Then, the class said each word in unison. In addition, the teacher and students clapped while saying the words, to count the syllables in each word.

Any time the teacher wrote words on the board, she did it gradually. The purpose for writing words gradually is so that students can slowly sound out the words as she writes it. She used this strategy to encourage phonemic awareness. It helped students understand the relationships between letters and sounds, helping them with pronunciation. For example, when she wrote the words “refuse,” “amuse,” and “humor,” she did it in four steps:
r ă h
rē ăm hū
refu_e ămu_e hūm
refuse ămuse hūmor

Word Building Strategy (AKA: Making Words)

Ms. Parker led the class through a phonics strategy that she called “Word Building.” This strategy is quite similar to the phonics strategy Making Words that is described in Patricia Cunningham’s book, Phonics they Use. As each student sat at his/her desk, the teacher gave each of them instructions to write on their papers. While the students wrote words on their papers, Ms. Parker simultaneously wrote the words on the board for the whole class to see. The script was similar to the following:

Ms. Parker: The first word I want you to write on your paper is “bit.” How would I spell “bit”?
Students: “b-i-t.”
Ms. Parker: That’s right! Everyone write the word “bit” on your paper.
[Students all write “bit” on their paper, and teacher also writes “bit” on the board.]
Ms. Parker: Now, underneath “bit,” write the word “bite.” What letter did you add to “bit” to make “bite”?
Students: “e.”
Ms. Parker: Yes, we added a silent “e,” which makes the “i” in “bite” a long vowel. Now, write “biting.” How would I spell “biting”?
Student X: “b-i-t-t-i-n-g.”
[Ms. Parker writes the incorrect word “bitting” on the board.]
Ms. Parker: Everyone who agrees that this is the correct spelling of “biting,” show me a thumbs-up. (This is a quick way to evaluate students’ current level of understanding.) Let’s remember that double consonants (two “t’s”) indicates a short “i” sound. The word “biting” has a long “i” sound. How could we correct this?
Student Y: “b-i-t-i-n-g.”
Ms. Parker: Excellent! Now, write “bat” on your paper.
[Students and teacher write the word “bat.”]
Ms. Parker: Underneath the word “bat,” write “batting.” Who can spell “batting” for me?
Student Z: “b-a-t-t-i-n-g.”
Ms. Parker: How many of you agree with her that “batting” is spelled “b-a-t-t-i-n-g”? (Most students give a thumbs-up signal.) Very good! That is correct. Why would we not spell batting like “b-a-t-i-n-g”?
Student X: Because “batting” has a short vowel sound, so you would write two “t’s” instead of just one.
[The teacher continued to lead students through writing additional words, such as “beg,” “begging,” “walk,” and “walking.”]

With the exception of paper and pencils, no additional materials were needed (unlike the Making Words strategy from the Cunningham text). This activity allowed for all students to be actively involved. During this 15-minute, children explored different words, letter-sound relationships, and letter patterns. Word-building activities are challenging and enjoyable. They helps students discover relationships between letters and sounds, as well as understanding how to spell words. Ultimately, it helps improve students’ abilities to read and write.

Ms. Parker transitioned to Open Court, which is a type of basal reader the students read on a daily basis. Each student has his/her own book to look at as they read together. The teacher reminds students to follow along in the text with their “reading fingers.” Students took turns reading out loud (using the “popcorn” method, which is the opposite of “round robin reading”). There were some parts of the story (such as words in quotation marks) in which the entire class recited in unison.

One new Open Court story they read was about African wildlife. Ms. Parker asked questions before, during, and after reading to ensure their comprehension of the topic. If the story mentioned hyenas, Ms. Parker asked all the students to laugh like hyenas (which the students found to be hilarious). Also, she took advantage of many “teachable moments.” For instance, she mentioned how the phrase “laugh like hyenas” is an analogy, and the class discussed what analogies were. When appropriate in the story, she brought up the concept of synonyms and antonyms. Throughout the story, they worked on vocabulary development by discussing the more challenging vocabulary words (ie. “endangered” and “nuzzle”) These instances show that Ms. Parker does not necessarily always devote specific time to teaching grammar, phonics, and vocabulary, but rather she integrates these ideas as she teaches literature.

Ms. Parker led the children through a pre-reading activity to help students engage their curiosity before reading the text. She told them to look at the pictures and cover up the text. This was to encourage students to try to make predictions and ask questions about the text, by guessing what the story will be about based on the illustrations. The students seemed to really enjoy this activity because it allowed them to use their imagination, and then find out whether their predictions were accurate.

The following day, the students engaged in another Open Court lesson on “Cause and Effect.” Ms. Parker introduced this topic by demonstrating a cause (knocking a pencil) and the effect (the pencil falling onto the floor). This initiated a group discussion about different types of causes and effects. Throughout the Open Court story, the teacher paused to talk about different causes and effects shown in the text.

One of Ms. Parker’s greatest strength as a teacher is promoting literature across the curriculum as she teaches. Oftentimes, she weaves literacy concepts into meaningful and relevant instructional activities within the context of content area study. For instance, instead of simply saying “Please turn to page 22,” she chooses a more creative, approach involving mathematical place values. She writes the number “22” on the board, and then asks students how many “tens” and “ones” are in the number. After the students solve this problem, then she says to turn to page 22. Another example was when the class was working with money during Calendar time. She asked, “What long vowel is in the word ‘dime’?” This shows that Ms. Parker is integrating Language Arts into different subject areas, such as Math, by applying reading skills across the curriculum.

Ms. McCartan / 3rd Grade / Cox Mill Elementary / 1 Hour
The teacher began class by reading aloud one chapter of a book, as she sat in her rocking chair and students sat on the carpet. The students seemed to really enjoy this, and they all listened intently. Periodically, Ms. McCartan paused to ask questions to ensure students’ comprehension of the story.
Afterwards, she went over the new spelling words for the week: (The first column of the chart was already filled in, and then students were called on to fill in the last two columns.

Root Word Present (-ing) Past (-ed)
share sharing shared
cheer cheering cheered
dream dreaming dreamed

Ms. McCartan drilled the class on root words, suffixes, and prefixes. Unfortunately, the teacher implied that (-ing) was the only suffix to indicate present tense, without mentioning that another present tense suffix could be (-s), as in “shares.”

Afterwards, the teacher gave the students a “Pre-Spelling Test” in which they were able to practice the words in preparation for the Spelling Test on Friday.

Ms. McCartan’s students rotated the following Literacy Centers on a daily basis:

Word Study: Students practiced writing words in cursive.
Character Study: Using a dictionary to define new vocabulary words, students completed a worksheet about Martin Luther King, Jr.
Reading Comprehension: Working with the teacher in a small group to discuss a short story.
Literature Circles: The entire group is reading the same chapter-book, and each student records information about the book in his/her literature journal. Each student has a specific job to do during this center. Some of the jobs include Discussion Director, Word Finder, Connector, Passage Picker, and Illustrator. Laminated sheets were available that listed the job descriptions.

Ms. Beard / Kindergarten/1st Grade / Davidson Elementary / 1 hour

Reading & Writing Workshop

Ms. Beard uses quite a different, unconventional approach to teaching Literacy. Instead of strictly adhering to the scripted Open Court lesson plans, Ms. Beard has created a unique “Reading & Writing Workshop” that students engage in on a daily basis. Each student has his/her own portfolio, which he/she works on throughout the year. The portfolio is a compilation of the student’s work in reading and writing. The purpose of the portfolios is to reveal students’ strengths and weaknesses in literacy, as well as chart their progress.

There are five steps in Ms. Beard’s workshop: 1) Pick a book, 2) Read it, 3) Do a Book Project, 4) Reading Log, 5) Student-Teacher Conference. Once a student has a conference with the teacher, he/she picks a new book to read and starts the process over again. Students work independently and at their own pace to complete the assignments. A student will begin by picking out a book of his/her choice to read. After reading the book, the student chooses from seven special pre-assigned “book projects” to complete about the book he/she has read. Each student has his/her own Reading Workshop Logbook to keep track of which books they have read so far, as well as write a reflective journal entry and draw a picture about each book. Logbooks are also used to record whether a student liked/disliked each book and the reading level of the book (Easy / Just Right / Challenging).

The last step of the Reading & Writing Workshop cycle is to have a informal, one-on-one conference with the teacher. During this conference, the student talks with the teacher about the content and attitudes towards the book. The teacher also uses this conference time to assess the student’s fluency by having him/her read a passage aloud. The teacher evaluates the student through a portfolio assessment, to determine his/her literacy development.
A student’s ability level determines how quickly he/she will complete this Reading & Writing Workshop cycle. For example, a high-level literacy student may choose a more challenging chapter book to read, which may take several weeks to complete. In contrast, a lower-level literacy student might choose shorter, less difficult books and therefore complete the workshop cycle at a much faster rate. In this case, the teacher may have more conferences with the lower-level students.

Ms. Beard recognizes the natural links between reading and writing, or reading-writing connections. She is aware how reading and writing develop simultaneously and therefore should be nurtured together. Although this teacher admits that her approach is rather unusual by CMS standards, she claims that it is very effective in promoting motivated, confident, and enthusiastic readers and writers.