What We Value in Literacy Instruction
The Pelham Public Schools value a literacy-rich environment across the disciplines that provides all students with authentic opportunities to become independent and lifelong readers, writers, speakers, and critical thinkers. We are committed to helping students grow into empathetic, intellectually curious, and informed global citizens who demonstrate strong and effective communication skills in diverse ways. Our programs and instruction foster student voice and encourage choice in student work to promote students’ engagement and develop their creativity. The Pelham Public Schools recognize that, together, we can build a community of learners who gain a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them through reading and writing and effectively communicate their unique perspectives for the betterment of our democratic society and interdependent world.
(Vision Statement Adopted by the K-12 District Literacy Committee May 2018)
- K-5 Literacy Overview
- Workshop Framework
- Reading Workshop
- Writing Workshop
- Word Study
- Formal Literacy Measures
- Informal Literacy Measures
- Online Resources
K-5 Literacy Overview
Research-Based Strategies and a Balanced Literacy Approach
Pelham’s literacy program is grounded in the Science of Reading (SoR) or research-based foundational skill instruction as well as the development of a student’s love of reading and writing. Teachers use a combination of approaches in a flexible format are those most likely to give all children the chance to learn to read and write successfully. In Pelham, teachers bridge the gap between research-based reading and writing instruction and a balanced literacy approach. Time during our school day is set aside for Reading and Writing Workshops as well as Word Study and Language Instruction.
Research shows that students need early, direct instruction in “Structured Literacy” (including phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension) to become successful readers (Cowan, 2016). For over a decade, Pelham teachers have provided spiraled research-based direct instruction in phonics, phonological awareness, word meaning, conventions, and reading and writing strategies. Pelham’s early literacy instruction is systematic, diagnostic, and cumulative (Ordetx, 2021). Our literacy instruction incorporates:
Phonological awareness, including teaching students how to recognize and manipulate sounds (or phonemes) within words enabling letter-sound knowledge, phonics decoding and encoding as well as phoneme manipulation.
Phonics, including teaching letter sounds and spelling patterns.
Fluency, supporting a student's ability to read and re-read text with seamless word recognition and fluent expression.
Vocabulary and oral language comprehension, including teaching morphemes (roots, pre & suffixes) with exposure to high-quality texts.
Text comprehension, including teaching students to monitor their reading, make inferences and understand text features and structure (Jiban, 2022).
Literacy blocks also include student work time, shared reading and writing, guided reading, interactive writing, and read aloud.
Students participate in a variety of well-planned reading, writing, speaking, listening and thinking activities that will serve as the foundation for high-level achievement. Strong emphasis is placed on developing effective skills and strategies that enable students to read and write for a variety of authentic purposes throughout and beyond the school day. Teachers provide clear models and explicit demonstrations of effective literacy practices. Students participate in small groups, partnership and independent literacy experiences, in which they hone their skills. Teachers' ongoing assessment of student learning allows for differentiation to support students in whole group, small group or individually. The ultimate goal is to develop students with strong foundational skills who also display the habits of lifelong readers and writers.
Pelham teachers use the workshop structure to deliver instruction in reading and writing. This model is based on the belief that children learn best when given direct instruction and authentic opportunities to learn. Reading Workshop includes opportunities for read aloud, guided reading and independent reading. Writing Workshop includes opportunities for small group writing and independent writing. The structure for the workshop model includes:
Mini-Lesson (10-15 minutes)
The lesson begins with the teacher providing direct and explicit instruction to the whole class. Following a gradual release model, the teacher first demonstrates a strategy or thinks aloud for a specific purpose. Students are given an opportunity to rehearse while the teacher carefully watches and provides guidance and feedback as needed.
Student Work Time (30-40 minutes)
Students are then released to apply what they learned in small groups, pairs, or independently. The teacher checks in to ensure all students are engaged with the task before moving on to either confer with individual students to assess, support, and scaffold their learning, or work with a small group to provide direct instruction.
Share (5 minutes)
Students are given opportunities to consolidate and reflect on their learning. For example, the class might examine the work of a few students which reinforces the objective of the mini-lesson, or explore collectively how the day’s teaching will help them become stronger readers or writers.
Reading Workshop is an approach to the teaching of reading that helps children become lifelong, avid, and expert readers. In Reading Workshop, the class usually begins with an explicit mini-lesson, in which the teacher shares a reading strategy that will help children become more powerful readers. Then children go off to read - and to work on their reading. Sometimes they are reading partner or book club books, other times they are reading independent books. Very young readers will read two or three books during a single workshop. Older readers will read one book over several days or a week. While the children read, the teacher works with small groups or confers with individual readers.
During student work time, students pull from the repertoire of strategies that they have learned in the workshop. Our reading curriculum is divided into units of study. A unit of study focuses on a set of reading skills. For instance, in a mystery book club unit, children not only read mysteries, they learn to read more closely, thinking hard about small details that authors lay out as clues. K-2 teachers utilize the newly revised Teachers College Reading and Writing Units of Study. These new spiraled units include direct, explicit instruction in the skills and strategies of reading and writing. Each reading unit contains instruction in phonological awareness, phonics, spelling, conventions, language structures, literacy knowledge, and comprehension strategies.
Classroom libraries in K-1 not only house engaging age-appropriate literature, they also include decodable readers targeting specific areas of phonics development. Reading Workshop allows opportunities for read-alouds, small group work, partner reading, shared reading, and work time. Our goal is for children to read as much as possible, grow in their listening and reading comprehension, and for children to learn to love reading.
(Video Above: Jump Start Your At Home Reading)
The aim of Writing Workshop is to help children become powerful, passionate, and independent writers. In Writing Workshop, class begins with a mini-lesson, in which the teacher demonstrates a writing strategy that will help children become more powerful writers. Then children go off to work on their writing. Writing Workshop includes opportunities for small group writing and independent writing. Students establish goals, work with partners, apply feedback, self-assess, and develop study skills through the new primary units. Very young writers will write one or two pieces during a single workshop. Older writers will work on a piece over several days or a week. While the children write the teacher works with small groups or confers with individual writers.
Our students will write stories, essays, articles, books, and poetry in the writing workshop. They’ll learn about the writing process. All professional writers follow a writing process. In writing process, writers collect ideas, they draft, they revise, and they publish. Sometimes they move through this process quickly, and sometimes they take more time for parts of the process. During workshop teachers focus on explicitly teaching conventions in order to make student writing more powerful. Students are shown model sentences from examples of quality children’s literature. Students study author’s craft and purpose authentically, using rich literature.
Our children will have a variety of tools to support them as writers in school and at home. These include:
Writing strategies - help writers become more powerful. They’ll learn these strategies during Writing Workshop.
Mentor texts - writers study model texts, which are usually by published writers, to learn more about the art of writing.
Checklists - our school uses writing checklists from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. These checklists support children in understanding expectations and setting personal goals.
Charts and mini-charts - teachers create a record of what they’ve taught, on large posters called charts or in mini-charts. These tools remind children of what they’ve learned. Spelling and word charts - children often have personal or class lists of words they are working to spell accurately.
Across the year, our writing curriculum is divided into units of study. A unit of study, might focus on fiction, or essay. At the end of most units of study, we’ll have a publishing celebration.
(Above Video: An Overview of Writers Workshop)
Effective literacy learning results from a balance of direct reading and writing instruction, student practice, and explicit instruction in word study and language use.
Word study in the elementary grades develops a curiosity of spelling patterns, word meaning and conventions. The students focus their attention on word parts, words and sentences in order to help students become strong readers and writers. Word study is comprehensive in its scope: including decoding, spelling, vocabulary, grammar and mechanics. This instruction is systematic and sequential, and is based on what we know about a child’s cognitive development as well as the language use standards for New York State. At each grade level, students practice and apply their growing understanding of language use to real world reading and writing.
Kindergarten teachers utilize research-based systematic phonological and phonemic awareness program or the Heggerty program. During a lesson, our teachers explicitly model how to break up spoken words into smaller units reflecting the relationship between sounds and letters. All instruction is based on assessments measuring phonological growth therefore Heggerty is responsive and targeted. Heggerty is used daily during “word study” time. The lessons improve word recognition and language comprehension including decoding, encoding, and sight words (Heggerty & VanHekken, 2015).
Teachers in grades 3-5 utilize the Pattern of Power Program by Jeff Anderson to model sentences from quality children’s literature. Students are invited to examine the sentences while studying the author’s craft or use of conventions or grammar. Students imitate the quality authors before being invited to apply the skill independently and edit their work.
Assessment is a critical component in the learning process. As teachers and students work towards a learning outcome, assessment informs instruction, guides students in setting learning goals, and measures progress and achievement.
There are two forms of assessment: formal and informal.
Formal district-wide literacy assessments measure overall student achievement. These measures help identify whether a student is meeting district benchmarks, or where the child is along a developmental continuum of literacy learning.
Informal assessments are performance driven; this type of assessment provides ongoing feedback to both student and teacher, and helps to drive focused and meaningful learning. Informal assessments help students to identify their strengths and challenges and set meaningful learning goals. They also help teachers to adjust instruction to support or extend learning for students based on their progress and need for differentiated instruction.
In the early Fall, January, and May/June, Pelham teachers conduct district-wide formal assessments; they assess all students in the areas of reading against established district benchmarks. In the intervening months, teachers use a variety of informal methods of assessment during the daily reading and writing workshops and word study lessons.
Formal Literacy Measures
The district elementary literacy assessment framework prescribes the specific assessments teachers use at each grade level across the year. This framework uses the following tools to assess all students in the areas of reading, writing and word study:
- Teachers College Reading and Writing Program Running Records uses a running record, analysis, fluency rubric, and comprehension conversation to assess students decoding skills, fluency and comprehension of fiction texts.
- Fundations and Heggerty Unit Tests assess student progress within the district's K-2 word study curriculum. These tests measure students' phonemic awareness and phonics understanding, as well as spelling.
- AimsWeb Universal Screener screens and monitors the reading skills of our K-5 students. With its robust set of standards-aligned measures, it is able to uncover learning gaps quickly, identify at-risk students, and assess individual and classroom growth.
- High-Frequency Word Lists (K-2) assesses students' automatic recognition of words that appear most commonly in print. Students graduate from these assessments at the point in their elementary education when they master these word lists.
- Reading and Writing On-Demand Assessments are utilized before and after units in the major genres. Teachers adjust instruction and set goals with students based upon pre-assessment data.
Informal Literacy Measures
All classroom teachers use the following established tools and methods to monitor and document students' progress across the year as well as inform and adjust instruction:
- Student Conferences (K-5) are one-on-one conversations in which the teacher explores the student's current reading and writing interests, behaviors, challenges and strengths; and then teaches him/her something specific that is both immediately useful and generally transferable.
- Informal Running Records (K-5) occur when teachers listen to individual students read a text aloud. Teachers annotate a copy of the text, recording words students read correctly and using a coding system to record students' miscues, omissions, substitutions, and self-corrections. Teachers pose questions to assess students' literal and inferential comprehension of the text.
- Anecdotal Records are brief comments about observed behaviors of students at work. Teachers may record anecdotal notes while observing students during independent reading and writing, conferences, partner work, clubs, and small group instruction. Typically the notes taken by the teacher highlight the strengths the student is demonstrating as well as the suggested next steps for instruction. Teachers keep anecdotal notes in a variety of ways ranging from paper record-keeping to electronically.
- Observational Checklists are another tool teachers and students use to keep track of progress and learning. Students may use checklists to self-assess their habits, behaviors and strategy use. Data gathered from checklists is often used by teachers to plan for follow up instruction as well as determine instructional goals for students.
- Student Work is a written record of student understanding. Teachers use students' ongoing written work to assess and plan for whole class, small group instruction and one-on-one conferences. This student work may include reading logs, reading notebooks, writers notebooks, writing drafts and published writing.
Check the launchpad for myOn!
myON gives students the opportunity to engage in the frequent, high-quality reading practice that fuels literacy growth with 24/7 access to thousands of enhanced digital books and age-appropriate news articles.
Issues and usage pertaining to all the myON mobile apps for mobile devices
Family Engagement with myOn
What Every Parent Should Know About Reading - Spanish/Español
All students in grades K-5 have access to Raz Kids. (Please use Pelham Launchpad to access this resource)
Reading aloud to children has been shown to improve reading, writing and communication skills, logical thinking and concentration, and general academic aptitude, as well as inspire a lifelong love of reading. Storyline Online is available 24 hours a day for children, parents, caregivers, and educators worldwide. Each book includes a supplemental curriculum developed by a credentialed elementary educator, aiming to strengthen comprehension and verbal and written skills for English-language learners.
Practice your grammar skills! (Please use Pelham Launchpad to access this resource)
Current events that can be read at various reading levels! (Please use Pelham Launchpad to access this resource)
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Dr. Maria Thompson
Director of Humanities, K-12