Literacy at PS 130
PS 130 teachers use a balanced literacy framework for teaching reading and writing. This is a research-based approach in which students are exposed to authentic literature texts in various ways, throughout the day and across the week. Through the use of a combination of whole-class and small-group lessons, and one-on-one conferences, teachers are able to differentiate instruction for students so that children are being taught exactly what they need, when they need it. The different ways of teaching outlined below allow for a ‘gradual release of responsibility’: teachers model for students (‘I do’), work right alongside students (‘We do’), and then slowly pull back as students try the work on for size while the teacher pays close attention to what help the child needs, going forward (‘You do’).
- Shared reading: Students gather around an enlarged text. The teacher reads the text with the students, modeling decoding and/or comprehension strategies; the teacher also poses new challenges for students to try out with her support. A text might be revisited several times for various teaching purposes.
- Guided reading: Students who need to be taught similar reading strategies meet with the teacher in a small group to read a text that is just a little more challenging than they might be able to fully comprehend on their own. In that setting, the teacher is able to use the text to teach them the new strategies they need, moving them toward independently reading a text of this level.
- Interactive Read Aloud: A teacher reads aloud to students a text that is too difficult for most students to read on their own. The purposes here are many! Students are exposed to a rich text and are engaged in a class conversation about characters, themes, or settings they might not ordinarily encounter in their independent reading lives. The teacher is also able to model, or think-aloud, the kind of thinking proficient readers do. This text might also serve as a touchstone to refer back to throughout the year.
- Whole-class Reading Workshop Lessons: A teacher uses a text (a poem, picture book, article, excerpt from a chapter book) to model a specific decoding or comprehension skill.
- Independent Reading: Research tells us that when children read lots of books that are just right for them, they grow best as readers. Just right books are those that are easy enough for a child to decode and comprehend so that they are enjoyable and allow the child to make meaning independently and with confidence, yet present just enough challenge so as not to be too easy. During this time, a teacher may meet (or “confer”) with student readers to provide one-on-one support and teaching.
- Interactive Writing: A teacher will author a short, purposeful piece of writing (“Kindergarteners, let’s make a sign for the block structures we’ve made!”) that students are not yet ready to write easily on their own. In doing this, the teacher models effective writing strategies while pushing students to try on some new strategies, with the teacher supporting them right on the spot. This might happen as a whole-class activity, or in a small group. Similar to shared writing, here the teacher is handing off some of the responsibility to the students; the teacher and the students may trade the pen back and forth, co-authoring the writing. This work can happen in small groups or as a whole class.
- Shared Writing: A teacher will lead students in crafting a piece of writing in which students generate the content, and the teacher provides direct instruction or guidance as the piece develops. Here, the teacher is modeling how to process and write students’ ideas in an organized, clear way. This work can happen in small groups or as a whole class.
- Whole-Class Writing Workshop Mini-Lessons: The teacher teaches a specific writing strategy using her own writing, a student’s piece of writing, or by guiding students to study the way an author has written a familiar piece of text.
- Independent Writing: Students work on applying the strategies they have learned to create a piece of writing that has a specific audience and purpose. The teacher will meet with students individually or in small groups to provide targeted support and feedback as they work.
- Word Study: Spelling is an important part of literacy instruction at PS 130, as it helps students feel confident as writers and helps them recognize words as they read. Teaching students how words work, rather than having them simply memorize how words are spelled without understanding the patterns that govern the English language, is at the heart of how we approach spelling. Word study instruction is a part of literacy instruction, grades K-5. Kindergarten through grade two students also use the Fundations curriculum to support their study of how words work. Grades 3-5 investigate specific topics to learn for themselves how certain parts of our language work. So, for example, third graders study plurals and what all those S’s at the ends of words really mean!
Literacy Within Integrated Units of Study
Research also tells us that students learn best when they are reading and writing for authentic, meaningful purposes, and so we strive to integrate literacy instruction into our inquiry-based social studies and science units. An example of how this looks at our school: During a four month-long study of birds, students ask questions and read all kinds of information about birds; they observe and study birds on multiple birding trips; they interview an expert birder from the Audubon society; students sketch and label birds and their body parts; they create projects in various art media to depict birds’ habitats; students conduct experiments to learn about various beaks. At the same time, students study how authors present lots of information in an organized way, and then use the techniques they’ve learned from trusted authors to present the information they want to share about birds. Students collaborate to write a large-scale class book about birds, which is shared with the school community and then lives in the classroom for students to read and reread. In this way, they are learning, writing and reading in ways that are engaging, purposeful and connected to their lives.