Communication arts in the elementary school setting uses a balanced approach to teaching literacy. Skills and strategies acquired through a balanced literacy approach are applied meaningfully and purposefully in all content areas. A balanced approach to literacy requires a responsive teacher who knows how to structure literacy interactions that move children to higher levels of understanding. The components of a balanced approach are not fixed and separate but flexible and easily adapted as children develop into transitional and fluent readers and writers.
We engage students in meaningful learning through reading and writing workshop. The workshop model affords students adequate time to make meaning of and transfer new learning. Students pursue a personal direction based on an understanding of their talents and interests. Learning is differentiated as students become increasingly self-directed.
Book Clubs: Book clubs are a structure in which students read the same text independently and use talking as a means to deepen their understanding of the texts. The clubs are student-directed as students respond to each others’ ideas, questions, and perspectives. Book clubs provide the opportunity for students to linger over bigger issues, themes, and ideas across multiple texts. The teacher’s role is to facilitate the students’ conversations.
Conference: A conference is one-on-one time that the teacher spends with each student generally lasting 3-5 minutes. The structure of the conference allows the teacher to quickly assess the current needs of the student and to choose one teaching point that will allow him/her to grow as a reader or a writer. The teacher quickly demonstrates/shares the skill and supports the student’s attempt to apply the skill to their own reading/writing. The teaching points are meant to be transferable to any book or writing piece. The anecdotal conference notes kept by the teacher are used to inform future conferences, document student growth, and to build on students’ repertoire of strategies/skills.
Guided Reading: Guided reading is a context in which a teacher supports each readers’ development of effective strategies for processing texts at increasingly challenging levels of difficulty. The teacher works with a small group of children who read at similar levels. Student grouping is flexible and based on specific learner needs as determined by assessments such as running records and/or anecdotal notes. (Fountas and Pinnell, Guided Reading)
Inquiry: “Inquiry” is defined as “a seeking for truth, information or knowledge – seeking information by questioning.” This is a student-centered active learning approach focusing on questioning, critical thinking, and problem solving. Inquiry begins with gathering information and data through engaging the human senses. An example would be students looking at a collection of poems and noticing similarities and differences in an effort to define what craft writers use when writing poetry. Another example would be students reading and thinking about how authors use setting to enhance conflict within a narrative text. Students develop theories and then test the theories by looking at more examples.
Interactive Read Aloud: The purpose of the interactive read aloud is to help children interact with the text, with the teacher, and with each other. These interactions provide support for the kind of work that children do when they are thinking about their books independently during independent reading, and for the kinds of talking children do when they meet with a partner or with a book club. (J. Serravallo, Teaching Reading in Small Groups)
Interactive Writing: Interactive writing is an instructional context in which a teacher shares a pen ~ literally and figuratively ~ with a group of children as they collaboratively compose and construct a written message. This structure allows teachers/students to write for authentic purposes, use conversation to support the writing process, learn the conventions of written language, and make letter-sound connections. (McCarrier, Fountas and Pinnell, Interactive Writing)
Mini-lesson: A short, focused lesson in which the teacher gives specific information, instructions or models a particular topic, strategy, or skill. The instruction is focused on one topic at a time. Mini-lessons are meant for immediate use by students during their independent reading or writing time. Mini-lessons are short (7 –15 minutes) and usually involve the teacher modeling, followed by the students having an opportunity to practice the skill/strategy in the meeting area before working independently in differentiated text/writing.
Modeled Writing: In this type of writing, the teacher vocalizes her thoughts as she composes text, inviting the children to contribute at selected points. The primary goal is to demonstrate the importance of composing a meaningful, coherent message for a particular audience and a specific purpose. In this activity, the teacher is the primary scribe. Writing aloud provides children with shared opportunities to learn how to construct and organize ideas for particular purposes and how to solve words on the spot.
Reading Partnerships: Reading partnerships allow students time for talk to rehearse and revise their ideas about books, practice behaviors with a peer that they practice when reading alone, and develop communities around common text. (J. Serravallo, Teaching Reading in Small Groups)
Shared Reading: The teacher reads with the children, and the children actively contribute to the reading with the teacher’s guidance. Children become familiar with the story as it is repeatedly read over several days. The teacher uses the familiar context of the shared book as a tool for directing the children’s attention to new language and reading skills. The text should provide a supportive context that helps young children learn about the reading process. A variety of materials can be used for shared reading: big books, poems on charts, enlarged texts, nursery rhyme charts, favorite songs, finger plays, stories written during interactive or writing aloud activities. The texts used during shared reading are accessible to everyone.
Strategy Groups: Strategy groups are a structure in which students practice in their independent texts. The structure includes a connection to prior learning, explicit teaching, active engagement and a link to students’ reading. Strategy groups are flexible, short-term, and are based on specific learner needs as determined by assessments such as running records, anecdotal notes, student work samples and/or formative assessments. (J. Serravallo, Teaching Reading in Small Groups)