Wednesday, January 23, 2013


That's what we call our Language Arts Block. I love that it abbreviates to L.A.B. It just feels right to me.

My school has worked hard over the past 15 years to establish powerful reading and writing workshops. Folks come from other schools to observe what we do. I love it. I'm really proud of it.

But in the past few years I wanted to take it further. So three years ago I tried an integrated block, reading and writing together. I had a few reasons for doing this:
  1. Time - with only one focus lesson and one share we have more time for the real work of our reading and writing - reading groups, independent reading, independent writing, guided writing groups, writing conferences, work stations to practice various literacy skills
  2. Student independence and responsibility - in the reading and writing workshop model we are telling students what they should be doing and for how long - write until we tell you to stop for share - work at your work station until we call you for guided reading - it didn't matter if kids felt finished before that or if they wanted more time
  3. Linking reading and writing - with separate reading and writing workshops students begin to see those two skills as separate - I wanted them to see all the ways reading and writing are linked and support one another
Setting up this integrated block is no small task. We start the year with separate reading and writing times to solidly establish routines and expectations for both. Just before we begin integrating the two we spend a couple of weeks looking at what we are doing during our reading and writing time and how those activities help us to become better readers and writers. We really dig into this. Not just, "I was writing." or "I was reading." We end up with a great list that includes things like, "I reread." and "I thought about what I wanted to write." and "I used the word wall." and "I talked to a friend about my book."

In the first few weeks of L.A.B. students have a half-page with three sections: Guided Reading, Independent Writing, and Work Station. When they finish one of those tasks they write about what they did there to become a better reader and writer. After a few weeks we phase out the paper as they begin to internalize these ideas.

Of course, there are times when I need to talk with a student about spending all their time at their work station and not doing any writing. Or vice versa. That's fine. We have those conversations, as often as we need to. Throughout the year we also revisit expectations and routines. Of course we do that in other parts of our day as well.

A few upper grade teachers have also given this a try and now our administration is interested in learning more. So our literacy coaches, a couple of us classroom teachers, and our administration will meet next week to talk about this idea.

In talking with a fourth grade teacher I found one comment really interesting. I was saying how much time I spend early in the year establishing routines and pushing students to think about what they are doing and how it is helping them become better readers and writers. The other teacher said that this seems to be harder in fourth grade than in first. After four years of school, four years of teachers telling students what to do and when and for how long, students have a rougher time being responsible for this themselves. It just makes me more determined to keep doing this with my students and making it better all the time.

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