I have been part of the Alberta Education "Literacy for All" pilot project this year. This project included being a part of province-wide community of practice of educators who were exploring literacy instruction for students with significant disabilities. We were told at our wrap up that the project will now become "Literacy for All: Going Deeper" and continue in to a second year. The focus of the second year will be linked the books "The Daily 5" and "The Cafe Book" by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser. I'm excited and I immediately started re-reading "The Daily 5" book I have and ordered "The Cafe Book". Imagine my surprise when I came across this book study on the blog Special Education Strategies and More. I figured because I'm reading the book anyway it might be fun to join in to this online book study. I look forward to reading and learning other people's posts about this book.
I am not a grade 1-3 teacher but am hoping that we will be able to implement some of the strategies outlined in these books in the 1-3 general education classrooms that the students I support are a part of. My role is that of a inclusion facilitator for those students - kind of a cross over between Alberta Education's Learning Coach model and the role outlined in the book "The Inclusion Facilitator's Guide". All but one of the students that I serve are in the process of developing alternative or augmentative communication approaches (AAC) so this adds some challenges in regards to figuring out appropriate literacy instruction and assessment strategies for them.
Some of my thoughts that link to the things I have been learning in the last while as well as the population of students that I teach include the following...
I have been teaching this population of students for six years now. When I first started almost all of my literacy lessons were made up of "extension activities". We would read a book or story or poem and then do an active activity that allowed students to do something active - cooking, crafts, visuals, games...etc. Sometimes we would do cloze activities or vocabulary activities as well. With a few of the students, we would work on site word reading programs (often with visual symbol support) or functional reading by way of learning what environment signs mean. Over the past couple of years I have been exploring the concept of comprehensive literacy instruction for students with significant disabilities and the links between the use of AAC and literacy learning and coming to realize the need to have the ultimate goal of literacy instruction for these students to be print based generative reading and writing. I have explored other comprehensive literacy frameworks and this idea of no longer thinking of extension activities as literacy instruction seems to come up again and again. We need to be engaging ALL students in the actual acts of reading and writing for extended amounts of time every day. This book aligns with the direction that I would like to go with literacy learning for the students I serve.
The authors of this book reference this as a "Management System" but I would tend to think of it more as focusing on and setting up a learning environment. I really like the focus on developing independence in meaningful activities. The idea of spending at least a month at the beginning of the year creating the environment for learning is one that speaks to the concept of inclusion. The tasks that are being done are related to community building, understanding citizenship (roles and responsibilities), defining and practicing expected behaviours, building stamina and coming to understand the needs of each unique group of students. It speaks to knowing students as individuals and responding to their unique needs. This, to me, is a huge element of what inclusion is and in the descriptions given in the book I can see that every child could function and learn in the environment that is created through this system. It holds a lot of promise for inclusive learning.
The structure is obviously one that is meant to facilitate independent learning. Teachers respond to and work with individual students. There is a reference in the chapter to a student being able to pick an area that they are struggling with as a goal they want to focus on. I skimmed through "The Cafe Book" when it came in the mail and I was excited to see the focus on students setting individual goals. This speaks the to what I believe the purpose of school to be. Student need to understand and take responsibility for their own learning. The idea of aiming for intrinsic motivation is one that I believe strongly in. I think it is great that it is stated that kids can do this no matter what age they are. To me, spending time on this is time worth spending. It may take longer at first but it will result in more authentic learning.
On page 10, the question "How will we know students are learning if they don't hand in worksheets for us to correct?" is referenced. The shift from assessment FOR learning to assessment OF learning requires a philosophical shift but it also requires a shift in processes. I think if we are really doing assessment of learning we are using different strategies then we would if we are doing assessment for learning but I'm not sure if this is what always happens in practice. When we use things like worksheets as assessment for learning it kind of shuts down the learning process as it becomes about the process rather than the product. Again, I took a quick look through "The Cafe Book" and some of the pages for keeping assessment notes that come from conferencing. This concept is one that I look forward to digging in to further as I read through both of these books.
Now onto the questions...
1. On page 4-6, the authors present two different pictures of their classroom. In thinking about about and reflecting on your own practice, how would you characterize your literacy block? Does it look more like the first or the second scenario, or is it somewhere in between? How will you change it?
As we are in the middle of transitioning our approach to educating the students that fall under my umbrella this is a difficult question to answer because more than half of my students now join general education classrooms for literacy instruction. Most of these classrooms have a balanced approach to literacy and as I said above we are looking to possibly do some work with the Daily 5 in two of those rooms this fall but both rooms already have great literacy programs.
With my students who will be going to the high school we are looking at a schedule for them that will include both time together and time integrated in to other classes in the high school. We are looking at using one of the four blocks in the day as a literacy class to address literacy learning that is appropriate for them. I am looking to set the classroom up based on "The Four Blocks" literacy model with a modifications and assistive technology as needed. Because there are only three students it will look a bit different but the idea of having a comprehensive program with micro-teaching and then lots of time to read and write and do word work will be in place.
2. The typical teacher is very busy having students do lots of different activities. How is what you are having students do now in your classroom creating quality writers and readers?
This year I have been trying to focus more on reading and writing and using communication systems in literacy learning rather than just literature exposure, extension activities and sight word programs. It was a stat and we probably saw the most excitement in the area of doing word work with this population. Next year, I am looking at further expanding to look the four blocks and include:
Word Work: Planning to do both word wall work and using Patricia Cunningham's Working with Words with students. With my students we need to tie in their communication systems as well as ensure that the students have access to do this work (through pointing or eye gaze). Modifications have to be made to allow for participation.
Writing: Planning to explore the use of "Alternate Pencils" (will write a post about this soon) as well as generating a variety of sources for students to pull from to decide what they are going to "write" about. At first we will be thinking of writing in terms of just generating a list of letters related to a topic and also incorporate the use of their communication systems to talk about what they are writing about. I'm planning to use remnant books as one source that student's can generate ideas for writing. The explanation of this will take more than a few words here and I plan to write a post about it soon. I'm excited to add this piece to our literacy plan because writing to this point has consisted of mostly doing cloze passages by eye gaze to picture to make choices about what word to put in sentences.
Guided Reading: This will be done with the whole group and we will be looking at doing an Anchor-Read-Apply sequence with a piece of writing. We will be rereading the piece of writing several times with a different purpose each day. This I will also write more about. Many of my plans came from the Literacy and AAC course that I attended a few weeks ago.
Self-Selected Reading: Here we will be doing both partner reading and using technology to read. One sight that I am going to explore extensively to find "just right books" is going to be Tar Heel Reader. I'm seeing I have a lot of posts to add in the near future :).I think that this will cover each of the elements of "The Daily Five" even if it is in a bit different format. My interest in this method for my high school students is actually in the "The Cafe" book as I am hoping to get some ideas related to assessment for that.
3. What sets the Daily Five structure apart from what you are doing in your classroom?
As I have already mentioned, we are just in the process of changing our approach to literacy and programming with these students so there are many changes that will come from thinking in terms of more comprehensive literacy instruction for this population.