Literacy at Blue School

Language is a powerful tool used to convey ideas, curiosities, images, emotions, knowledge and understanding. From the moment that children join Blue School, there is the assumption that they are capable of highly literate behavior, whether it is the critique of an article that presents bias, or writing a captivating poem about a newborn sibling, we make sure that all children have access to literacy skills and strategies so they might communicate their inner lives and interpret their worldly views.

Literacy is the umbrella term we use for reading, writing, speaking and listening-all those activities that are practiced daily in all Blue School classrooms. Children are immersed in and explicitly exposed to a range of literature, expanding into multiple genres as the children grow older. Writing occurs for myriad reasons, all meant to authentically reach a real audience. Speaking and listening uncover individual and group thinking, aimed for the ongoing pursuit of a democratic community that works diligently to make sure that the smallest voice is heard.

In Blue School classrooms, to provoke higher order thinking and crack open the intellectual dilemmas encountered in language, practice is simultaneously systematic and flexible. Our youngest readers begin to join the literacy club through instruction that recognizes complete understanding of text: grapho-phonetic, semantic and syntactic. Instruction in all these areas creates what is known as “balanced literacy.” Helping children understand that reading and writing require an integration of many skills and strategies is ongoing.

The most important message that we give children about language, and specifically reading as they progress through the grades is that text has meaning and that meaning is created by a transactional interchange between the reader and the text. That in turn puts great responsibility on our young readers to make sure they comprehend what they are reading, and utilize the strategies that have been taught to them when they encounter confusion.

For deep meaning, and for reading and writing to merge in the classroom, these are several best practices that we ask teachers to integrate daily into their work with children:

  • Focus on meaning. Close reading searches for meaning from the text, so our main instructional goal is comprehension.

  • Throughout the day, frequent quality read aloud sessions to insure that children hear challenging language and are able to discuss, analyze and interpret.

  • Provide large chunks of time for children to read independently because research tells us that the more children read, the better readers they become.

  • Make sure that even beginning readers have opportunities to interact with text through listening to stories, shared reading, making language experience books together, composing stories through play, and reading and writing predictable books.

  • Teach phonics in authentically explicit ways to show children that cracking the code is a skill to apply to text as one seeks meaning.

  • Show children that the we, the adults, honor reading and are avid readers.

  • Give children time to discuss their reading lives.

  • Provide writing experiences for all ages that offer exposure and the practice of creating different genres, topics, forms.

  • Engage children in prewriting activities.

  • Instruct children on planning, revising, and editing writing pieces.

  • Have children write collaboratively.

  • Provide models for writing.

  • Use writing for learning content.

  • Provide many opportunities to celebrate published pieces with a real audience.

Our literacy practice, rooted in authentic assessment, allows for teachers to make ongoing observations of children’s learning behavior and then use this knowledge to inform the next teaching measure. Informal reading and writing conferences with children unlock information that show us how children are thinking and learning. We also use more standardized evaluations and formal documents that measure growth. At least twice a year, teachers use the Fountas and Pinnell assessment tool to inform them of a child’s reading level, as well as noting both the decoding and comprehension skills that are in place. Specific reading and writing behaviors are frequently noted on our Frameworks continuum for both reading and writing. The continua give teachers a perspective on the how and if a child is progressing in these two areas of literacy. Our goal is to make sure that every child is making progress, regardless of where they started. Just as children reflect on their learning, so do teachers reflect on their own practice as it applies to the children’s growth.

We believe that in order for children to take charge of their lives and grow more resilient and independent, they must possess excellent communication skills. As children grow older and begin to grapple with real world issues, we want them to articulate personal understanding and move beyond the typical knowledge-based recall. Early exposure to literature, and frequent writing, speaking and listening activities are harbingers for the activists, adventurers, thinkers and fixers of the future. Language can be powerful and beautiful with all kinds of nuances in between. Imagination, contemplation and empathy are often the by product of those who live a life filled with literature, language and ideas.

Daily practices used within balanced literacy approach:

Assessment – All observations of learning behavior that is gathered by the teachers through, conversation, written artifacts, unit tests, standardized tests and baseline data collection.

Guided Reading – Small group reading instruction based on need. The teacher will take a group of 3 or 4 children together to practice a skill or strategy that has not reached a level of independence. The groups are fluid and not entirely based on reading levels. This practice is used with all age groups.

Read Aloud – Offers the opportunity for children to hear rich literature read aloud that they may not be able to access independently yet. Teachers model their thinking as they stop to construct meaning, exhibit presentational reading skills and lead discussions that bring forth interpretation, recall and literary criticism.

Shared Reading – Through the use of an enlarged text, teachers explore reading strategies and ways into a text. With younger children, a teacher will use the same big book or charted poem for a week to explore phonics, integration of reading strategies and textual conventions. With older children, a shared text might look at ways to figure out the meaning of a word, the patterns in language and usage and identify themes. Shared reading at all levels affords teachers the opportunity to develop classroom cultures that use textual evidence to substantiate commentary.

Word Study – Time is given to look at how language is structured on the most basic level. Children use the terms: base word, prefix, suffix. The origin of words as they have evolved from other languages is studied. With younger children they explore rimes and onsets that create most familiar words, e.g. s ing, w ing, br ing.

Vocabulary Study – The meaning of words is at the heart of our understanding about language learning. Children develop the skills necessary to uncover meaning of individual words through their reading, content studies and classroom discourse. A variety of supports are learned from looking at the surrounding information in text to find meaning, from identifying and defining the base word, to learning how to effectively use a dictionary, both hard copy and electronic.

Reading Workshop/Writing Workshop – The inquiry process at work. The workshop begins with the teacher delivering a short lesson (mini-lesson) based on what the majority of the class needs to focus on currently. After the lesson the children have the opportunity to practice the skill or strategy that has been introduced. During the workshop, the teachers work with children in small groups, individually and children also break into collaborative learning groups and practice independently. These configurations are based on the need to differentiate instruction to meet all children’s needs. At the end of the workshop, children and teachers gather to reflect on their learning, which could be a discussion about either the content or process.