Friday, January 8, 2010

Interactive Skills Block

Our third Vertical Demonstration Day last Wednesday focused on interactive Skills Block instruction. In December, we sent out an evite to all teachers and the first 15 responders secured their spot to participate in the session. The four hour session included three lesson observations, a debrief, dialogue about implementation ideas, and lunch. By the next morning, some teachers had already implemented new ideas into their classroom instruction!

To give you some background on the topic selection, the America's Choice School Design recommends that there be a 2 1/2 hour uninterrupted literacy block. In Kindergarten through Third grade, the literacy block consists of a thirty minute Skills Block, one hour Readers' Workshop, and one hour Writers' Workshop. The Skills Block is supposed to be fast paced, interactive, and consist of approximately three different activities. The components are phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling, punctuation & capitalization, grammar & syntax & usage, vocabulary, and handwriting. These components are implemented grade appropriately and on a consistent basis.

In reality, at Chets Creek, we are able to provide the 2 1/2 hours in Kindergarten and First grade, but due to departmentalized classrooms in Second and Third grade, they only get about 2 hours and 10 minutes. Some days teachers spend time with the Skills Block by trimming 5 minutes from their Readers' and Writers' Workshops, but other days they can only carve out about 10 minutes to do skills. To assist in covering the majority of skills, they embed the teaching of skills into their Workshop sessions.

Our original America's Choice training happened years ago, and since then we've added teachers to our staff, as well as recognized that some teachers have turned to more pencil and paper activities. In an effort to introduce or remind teachers of the original design recommendations, we decided to offer Interactive Skills Block as a session topic. The professional development focused on three lesson observations and debriefing, as well as professional literature the America's Choice recommendations.

We began by observing in Mrs. Dillard and Mrs. Mallon's Kindergarten classroom. Their 36 minute Skills Block included six fast paced engaging activities which included 1) Good Morning Chart/Song 2) Beginning Blends and Digraphs Chart 3) Morning Message 4) Word Families Song and Magnetic Letter Sort with -ig, and -ap Families 5) Digraphs ch and sh Lesson 6) Individual Student Application of ch and sh with their white boards. As you watch the video, you will notice that each learner is engaged and the Skills Block offers instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling, and punctuation & capitalization. Their lesson was typical of a daily lesson in their classroom.

Randi Timmons hosted us for the Second Grade Skills Block lesson. Normally, she only has about 10-15 minutes for Skills Block. However, on this observation day, I asked her to teach about 30 minutes to offer teachers the opportunity to see what her instruction would look like across three days of Skills Block lessons. Randi's Skills Block lesson had six fast paced and interactive activities including 1) United States Song 2) Snap Words 3) Weekly Words 4) Syllable Jeopardy! 5) Noun Rap 6) Morning Message with Editing Bags. Her instruction focused on phonics, spelling, grammar & syntax & usage, and capitalization & punctuation. On a normal Skills Block day, her instruction would consist of approximately three fast paced activities. Again, you will notice in her video that the session was engaging and the 30 minutes was packed full of skills and concepts.
Jenny Nash invited us to her 4th Grade Skills Block lesson. The original design calls for an embedding of skills into the Readers' and Writers' Workshop after 3rd Grade. Jenny typically embeds the applications of skills within her Workshops, but also offers about a 10 minute Skills Block as a review of skills and concepts. On the day we observed, Jenny combined two days of lessons to show us several different activities including 1) Editing Message 2) Poem Recitation for Fluency 3) Affixes Practice 4) Vocabulary Group Work Sort. As you will observe, the 20 minute block is packed with activities and review, and will encourage students to use these skills in context within their Readers' and Writers' Workshop.

As you watch each of these lessons, I'm sure you will see the many similarities and the progression of instruction throughout the grade levels. I am also confident that regardless of the grade level you teach, you can borrow ideas from each of these teachers to implement in your own instruction. In addition, I'd love to have you leave a comment if you have other ideas you use in Skills Block so we can learn from your expertise.

Kindergarten Skills Block

K Skills Block Mallon Dillard 1-2010 from Melanie Holtsman on Vimeo.

Second Grade Skills Block

2nd grade Skills Block R. Timmons 1-2010 from Melanie Holtsman on Vimeo.

Fourth Grade Skills Block