Monday, December 8, 2008

Skills Block

Our literacy block, in Kindergarten and First Grade, consists of an uninterrupted 2 1/2 hour block. Sixty minutes each for Readers' and Writers' Workshop and 30 minutes for Skills Block. The collective goal in Readers' Workshop and Skills Block is to teach phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary.

The Skills Block portion focuses on phonemic awareness and phonics so students have the necessary tools to read with fluency and are able to move beyond the distractions and mechanics of decoding words. Then, during Readers' Workshop students can focus on the goal of reading--comprehension. In addition, vocabulary is embedded in Readers' Workshop with read aloud texts, and we use the Text Talk curriculum tool, as well.
Skills Block consists of several fast paced activities that teach students phonemic awareness and phonics. On Friday, Maria Mallon and Cheryl Dillard used video conferencing to stream a live lesson into the Literacy Lap Leader training taking place at our Professional Development site. The audience of 180 participants watched the Mallard's Morning Skills Block and then debriefed with the teachers.

The Skills Block began with a song as students sang along and gathered in their meeting area at the front of the room. Next, lead by a student with a pointer in hand, the class went over their Class Promise, sang a song on Letter Combinations, and went over their beginning blends and digraphs chart. Then, the first graders, seamlessly transitioned into their Morning Message. The message was prewritten on the board and students, one by one, as their name cards were drawn collected in a line to fix or highlight part of the Morning Message. Items needing fixing included spelling and punctuation, and items needing circled, underlined, or written included vocabulary words, antonyms, and word families. I was impressed by the level of sophistication in the message and the students understanding of the elements being covered including dialogue. (There would be a picture here of the Morning Message, but I got distracted by the video taping I was doing. Sorry!) So far, by my observation, the students had run this Morning Skills Block, and you could tell from the established rituals and routines that the high expectations were made clear by the teachers early on and that this is a daily activity in Room 104.

After Morning Message, students quickly stood up and took a stretch, as the teachers hung the sight word chart. The teachers reminded students that they would be singing the chart to the tune Jingle Bells. A student used the pointer to point to each sight word as the class belted out the tune, and then the teachers pulled a name card and had a student try it on their own. A brave soul, I must admit, because you wouldn't catch me belting out a tune in front of an audience of 180 teachers! :) A two minute whole group word sort game followed and then a quick antonym match. Lastly, the teachers introduced an antonym game and thoroughly explained the directions. They strategically paired the students and set students off to play this game.
All in all, I think you'd agree, that this fast paced 30 minute Skills Block is certainly preparing students for mastery in phonemic awareness and phonics.

Stay tuned, because this session was videotaped and as soon as the film is rendered and uploaded, I'll be posting it here.

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