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)
- Balanced Literacy Overview
- Workshop Framework
- Reading Workshop
- Writing Workshop
- Word Study
- Formal Literacy Measures
- Informal Literacy Measures
How We Teach Literacy
Children benefit in different ways from different kinds of literacy experiences. Therefore classrooms that 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, we use a balanced literacy approach to K-5 ELA instruction. Time during our school day is set aside for independent reading and writing within the workshop, read aloud, guided, shared, interactive reading and writing and word study. Calkins (2014) asserts that “in order to ensure success (of a Balanced Literacy approach), teachers and principals must participate in a system of continuous improvement, monitor students’ work and their progress, and adapt instruction accordingly.”
The Balanced Literacy Approach incorporates processes that involve both independent and interactive reading and writing experiences. 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. A Balanced Literacy Approach includes Interactive Reading and Writing, Shared Reading and Writing, small group work, word study, and workshop.
The workshop model provides explicit instruction with teacher modeling, followed by guided practice and an opportunity for independent practice. Teachers provide clear models and explicit demonstrations of effective literacy practices. Students assume responsibility for their literacy learning through participation in small groups, partnership and independent literacy experiences, in which they attempt those processes that have been modeled for them during mini-lessons, shared reading, read alouds and other techniques. Teachers ongoing assessment of student learning allows for differentiation to support students in whole group, small group or individually. The goal is for all students is to develop 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 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.
Independent Work (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 a minilesson, 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.
(Video Above: Jump Start Your At Home Reading)
The independent reading time of the workshop is the heart of the workshop. This is where most of the “magic” happens. Our children, from the first day of school, is set up to be independent during the workshop. During independent 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. Our goal is for children to read as much as possible, and for children to learn to love reading.
Writing Workshop is an approach to the teaching of writing that lives in graduate school writing programs, in college writing classes, and in your child’s classroom. The aim of Writing Workshop is to help children become powerful, passionate, and independent writers. In Writing Workshop, class begins with a minilesson, 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. 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. Our children will have a variety of tools to support them 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.
(Above Video: An Overview of Writers Workshop)
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.
K-5 Writing Units
Launching the Writing Workshop Part 1
Show and Tell: From Labels to Pattern Books
Launching the Writing Workshop Part 2
Writing for Readers
How-to Books: Writing to Teach Others
Persuasive Writing of All Kinds
Crafting Stories Using All We Know about Narrative Writing (optional)
Small Moments: Writing with Focus, Detail, and Dialogue
How-to Books: Writing to Teach Others
Nonfiction Chapter Books
Music in Our Hearts: Writing Songs and Poetry
From Scenes to Series: Writing Fiction
Revving Up Writing Muscles
Lessons from the Masters: Improving Narrative Craft
How-To Guide for Nonfiction Writing
Writing About Reading
Poetry: Big Thoughts Small Packages
Nonfiction Writing Projects
Writing Gripping Fictional Stories with Meaning and Significance (optional)
Crafting True Stories
Changing the World: Persuasive Speeches, Petitions, and Editorials
Baby Literary Essay
Test Prep Unit
The Art of Information Writing
Once Upon a Time: Adopting and Writing Fairy Tales
The Arc of Story: Writing Realistic Fiction
Boxes and Bullets: Personal and Persuasive Essays
The Literary Essay: Writing Fiction
Bringing History to Life
Test Prep Unit
Historical Fiction Writing
The Lens of History: Research Reports
Literary Essay: Opening Texts and Seeing More
Test Prep Unit
The Research-Based Argument Essay
Effective literacy learning results from a balance of reading and writing instruction, as well as 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.
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 September, January (optional), and 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.
(Video Above: Grades 3-5 Writers Notebook)
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:
Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System(K-5) uses a running record, miscue analysis, fluency rubric, and comprehension conversation to assess students' use of cueing systems; fluency; and comprehension within, about, and beyond fiction and nonfiction texts.
Fundations 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.
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.
Universal Screener to screen and monitor the reading skills of our K-8. 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.
(Video Above: Reading Levels and Benchmarks)
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.
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