Our Board, like other ones around the province, embraces the comprehensive literacy model for Language instruction. The other day, I caught part of a Twitter conversation with Valerie Bennett and Lori St. Amand — two wonderful teachers in our Board — that really got me thinking. The discussion made me question if comprehensive literacy can only be delivered in one way, and the more that I think about it, the more that I’m convinced that this is not the case.
I believe that we embrace comprehensive literacy in our classroom, but in a very integrated approach. Our classroom has changed a lot since the year began. When I started teaching Grade 5, I worked to the bells. I scheduled each period as a new block of time, and we rotated activities every 40-50 minutes. It was like clockwork. Yes, I had modelled, shared, guided, and independent reading and writing, but I was still getting frustrated. There wasn’t enough time for students to delve deeply into our Science and Social Studies topics. The Arts was getting lost completely. Inquiries were lasting forever, and the students and I were both getting frustrated and bored. So I spoke to my PLN on Twitter and conversed with my vice principal, and we made a change.
We now no longer work to the bells. In fact, my students almost ignore the bells, unless they have to go to French, Music, or Phys-Ed. Our day is now divided into large blocks of time, and 160 minutes is devoted to comprehensive literacy combined with Science, Social Studies, and The Arts. Does it look like the traditional model? Maybe not. Here’s what it includes though:
- We often start the block with a shared reading text that corresponds to our current Science or Social Studies inquiry.
- This shared reading is followed up by a modelled, shared, and/or interactive writing activity that focuses on a specific skill. These activities are based on my daily formative assessment and address student needs. Often this activity includes a small group component as well as an independent writing component.
- Then students work independently, in partner groups, and in small groups (this often changes each day and throughout the Language block) on a reading and writing activity that aligns with our current inquiry. The Arts is often integrated into this activity. Word study becomes a part of this activity as well, but often based on Science and/or Social Studies vocabulary. There are many opportunities to work with words throughout the writing component of this program.
- During this time, I take guided reading and guided writing groups. These groups are often not levelled groups, but skill-based groups. Usually we’re working on developing a specific reading comprehension skill (in guided reading) or expanding ideas, reconsidering word choice, examining point of view, and/or editing work (in guided writing). I don’t always work with these groups at the guided reading table. Sometimes I take them at different table groups around the room. Sometimes I work with students based on the groups that they’re already in, and sometimes I pull students from various groups. Sometimes I use the materials that they’re using for research, and sometimes I pull other materials that still align with the general topic, but may be more closely linked to the skill that I want to develop.
- Three days a week, our Learning Resource Teacher also comes in during this time to work with groups of students. These are additional guided reading groups that tend to focus more on developing decoding skills.
- We then end our Literacy Block with modelled reading. Students develop their listening comprehension skills by recalling and reflecting on what’s read aloud during modelled reading. Sometimes we focus on a specific listening comprehension strategy (e.g., making connections), and sometimes we focus on a choice of strategies (e.g., summarizing, visualizing, or asking questions).
- Oral language is included as part of this entire literacy block. Students share ideas aloud, expand on the ideas of others, speak and listen for various purposes, and organize their ideas for oral discussions. Podcasts and videos are often used to record these conversations.
For our class, this becomes the hybrid comprehensive literacy/inquiry model that works well to address all student needs and have resulted in huge gains in student achievement throughout the year. What does comprehensive literacy look like in your classroom? How have you combined comprehensive literacy and inquiry and/or how would you suggest to combine it? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!