Reading and Writing...It's as Easy as Pie!
In our first grade classroom, the "recipe" we use for reading and writing is known as a balanced literacy approach. Because first-graders are developing their literacy skills at different rates, this approach allows the teacher to develop instruction that meets the various needs of the students.
READING: AN ESSENTIAL INGREDIENT
We read ALL of the time in first grade, and each day children have the opportunity to choose books from the many titles in our classroom. In addition, several times a week we have BEAR time (Be Excited About Reading). During the silent reading portion of BEAR time, each child can choose books to read on his/her own independent reading level. Each student has a reading folder, which contains bookmarks, a list of books read, a take-home bookbag and books that the student can read him/herself. The books that are contained in the reading folder are chosen by both teacher and child, and every attempt is made to match the reading ability of the student with the level of the text. In our classroom, we have HUNDREDS of titles available, from predictable books to decodable books to easy readers to chapter books! The books are housed in areas all around our classroom. .
When BEAR time begins, a timer is set to indicate "quiet reading time." Early in the year, the timer is set for 5-10 minutes; by year's end, the period can be as long as 30 minutes. During this time, children read quietly and can choose new books to read when ready. The teacher and a parent volunteer are available to help children with unknown words and/or assist them in choosing a new book.
When the quiet reading period is over, children are given several jobs to complete independently, and then are permitted to choose from the various literacy center choices available in the classroom. During this period, the "heart" of the balanced literacy approach takes place. The teacher meets with several groups of children who are working at approximately the same reading level. With these groups, the teacher will have a guided reading lesson, introducing a new book as well as skills and strategies to promote reading. During this guided reading group, the children are "guided" through the story and then are permitted to read the story in a "whisper voice" so that the teacher can listen in. Dated anecdotal records are also kept, indicating the level of books read, ability of the child, and areas focused on during the lesson. Before each conference ends, the children place the book in their reading folder or take-home book bag to practice at home. Rereading the text helps the child gain in fluency. In addition to the child's book, the bookbag contains a form for the parent to fill out after reading with the child, with a space for comments. In this way, parents can be kept informed of their child's reading progress.
There are other times when the teacher will meet with individual students rather than groups to perform assessment. The child will read from a book of his or the teacher's choosing, and the teacher will make anecdotal records regarding the individual's reading ability and strategies used.
While the teacher is meeting with the readers, the remainder of the class is completing jobs and moving to literacy centers as indicated on the Workjob board. The parent volunteer is available to help the children move through the centers.
Another key component to our first grade language arts program is the writer's workshop. At least once per week, the children will be working on various forms of creative writing. Early in the year we focus on the retelling of stories in sequence, and the concepts of full sentences and beginning, middle and endings. As the year progresses, we work on other types of writing as well, including non-fiction and letter writing. Writer's workshop usually begins with the reading of a story which ties into the writing topic. Following this is often a mini-lesson on the mechanics of writing, and skills such as punctuation are addressed. Before the actual writing takes place, the teacher and students may develop a "word bank" for the particular writing assignment. The teacher writes down suggestions from students as to words that they think they may need to write the story. In addition, the children have the word wall to use in their writing, which is a collection of basic sight vocabulary.
As the children are writing, the teacher circulates among the students, giving individual assistance. It is also important to note as well that phonetic spelling, also known as inventive spelling, is still widely used in first grade, and therefore quite acceptable. Samples of writing are collected throughout the year, and shared with parents during conferences.
Home Sweet Homework
Homework! It always seems that little brother or sister can't wait for homework, while big brother or sister wishes it would just disappear! Luckily, for most first-graders, this is the first year that they've had homework on a regular basis, and are usually quite excited by it! Homework in first grade is primarily about developing responsibility in our children. They are responsible to bring home the assignment, complete it with a parent's guidance, and then return it. These skills will help to serve the child well later in his/her school life!
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?First graders should spend no more than 15 minutes each evening on homework. If your child is consistently spending more time than this, or if a particular assignment takes considerably longer, please let me know. If your child is tired and unable to continue, please do not force it; he/she can finish the following day. While our goal is to instill responsibility and increase attention span, we all have days when we're not at our best!
A RECIPE FOR SUCCESS -- PARENT INVOLVEMENT
Much of the assigned homework in first grade is designed to be done with family members. There are games, interviews, questions, etc. that may accompany a homework assignment. Even independent tasks, however, need parental involvement. Always check your child's work, and sign and date it. Unless otherwise specified, homework is due the following school day. Parents often wonder, "Should I correct my child's mistakes? How will the teacher know he/she is having a problem?" My advice is, yes, point out the mistakes to your child in a gentle way, and use that opportunity to reteach and clarify the skill. If you would like me to know about a particular problem area, always jot a note, and I'll respond as soon as possible.