According to the Common Core State Standards, fourth graders must use the four operations to solve word problems involving intervals of time(4.MD.A2). Well, I’ve written a real world problem for them…
You are at school for exactly six hours and twenty minutes. For the first five minutes of class, you put away your things and get organized for the day. One hour and fifteen minutes are spent at recess and/or lunch every day. Eleven of you go to reading and/or math intervention classes for thirty to sixty minutes each morning. We do spelling/word work each day for twenty minutes. Four days a week you have music or PE for thirty minutes. One day a week, you have library for fortyfive minutes. Math takes one hour on Mondays and Tuesdays and one hour and fifteen minutes Wednesday through Friday (we go to the computer lab for that extra fifteen minutes on Mondays and Tuesdays because you need to be able to type one page in a single sitting by the end of the year (W.4.6)). You have five to ten minutes to packup and cleanup the classroom at the end of the day. How many hours and minutes do we have left for reading, writing, science, social studies, health, and art?
Struggling to solve this problem myself, and after delving into the Common Core State Standards, I saw an opportunity to borrow a little instructional time back through the integration of reading, writing and science. Since my teaching colleagues were game to try a new approach, the creation of our I.L.B. (Integrated Literacy Block) began. In our schedules, we devoted ninety minutes each day to our ILB; the key was that this time was flexible and could include one or all pieces to the ILB puzzle: vocabulary, reading, writing and science. We then reviewed the Common Core Standards for reading and writing to identify the overarching goals for our first ILB unit.
As an ELL (English Language Learner) school and a Title 1 school, we need to teach vocabulary explicitly during all core subjects. For science, we use Marzano’s sixstep process for building academic vocabulary. We also post the words, definitions, and pictures that help illustrate each term in a pocket chart for reference.
For teaching reading comprehension strategies, we have utilized the Comprehension Toolkit (Heinemann) for a few years in our building and already felt comfortable with the format of the lessons. The fact that this curriculum provides lesson guides that can be easily adapted to multiple pieces of text is a huge benefit.
As we reviewed our MSP Writing scores, it became clear that we needed to focus and increase our explicit modeling and teaching of expository writing. As a PLC team, we wrote a student growth goal based on the common core standard W.4.2, “Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.” Our goal was to have all fourth grade students write a five-paragraph expository essay centered around a topic we had studied in science.
Our district’s newest curriculum adoption was elementary science, and we were impressed with the amount of text that the STC (Science and Technology Concepts) Literacy component provided in each of our fourth grade science kits: Electric Circuits, Land and Water, and Animal Studies.
A question that we grappled with while planning was whether or not we would be able to teach science content, reading comprehension strategies and expository writing skills at the same time.
We began by creating a shared Google document to track each day of the ILB and how we were going to use our flexible ninety-minute block of time. At first, it felt strange to plan a day of ILB that included only vocabulary and science. How could we NOT teach reading or writing everyday? However, we soon found that by interspersing the science lessons, we were building a foundation for our reading and writing instruction. This foundation was strengthened through handson activities with opportunities to use content vocabulary words during discussions and in recorded observations.
Day one of our Electric Circuits ILB began with the science lesson and the question, “What do you know about electricity?” We created an anchor chart that was added to as the unit progressed. After this discussion, we began our Electric Circuits vocabulary dictionary with the word “electricity.” Then, we used the article “Where Does Electricity Come From?” from our science literacy reader to teach Comprehension Toolkit Lesson 1: Follow Your Inner Conversation. Each toolkit lesson provides modeled, guided and independent practice. For many of our students, once we completed part of the article and modeled how they were to keep track of their thinking, they were able to complete the rest of the article with a partner and keep track of their thinking independently using a graphic organizer. A small group of students needed additional guided practice, and completed the article and graphic organizer with teacher support. As a class, we gathered again to wrap up our day’s work with sharing and discussing our thinking about the reading.
Day two started with rereading the article from day one for a new purpose. As a class, we used a lesson from our district writing curriculum (Being a Writer) to model and guide students to write questions about electricity. Students reread “Where Does Electricity Come From?” to promote asking questions and recorded questions directly into science journals. Then we introduced several new vocabulary words, recorded their definitions, pictures and original sentences into their dictionaries. In the second science lesson, as students investigated building a circuit to light a bulb, we encouraged the use of the vocabulary terms that had been introduced so far. We ended day two by drawing labeled diagrams of a working and a nonworking circuit in their science journals.
We mapped out the entire unit ahead of time and made adjustments to our ILB plan as we taught. The addition of extension projects for our high achievers was a priority; for example, during our Electric Circuits unit, students researched and presented biographical information about famous inventors. By midOctober we thought the first ILB was going so well, that we put together a Narrative ILB unit, as well as units for our other two science kits. In the spring, our students who were not in intervention groups also completed a miniILB for social studies. We found ourselves asking, “What else can we ILB?” Our integrated approach was and still is a workinprogress; therefore, we will continue to add and change as we learn more about the Common Core State Standards.
Now, as we wrap up our school year and reflect, I would say that our students not only deepened their understanding of the science concepts that are part of fourth grade, but they also became proficient writers and thoughtful, strategic readers along the way. My data supports that every student in fourth grade successfully completed two fiveparagraph essays this school year, one about Land and Water and one about Animal Studies. All students included scientific vocabulary, an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs and a conclusion. We taught them how to take notes and use them to create an outline and then use the outline to write a rough draft. Students revised, edited and published their essays, even sharing the Land and Water essays with their fifth grade peers.
For a measure of reading comprehension, our district uses the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) to measure students’ reading level and growth over time. By June, the data showed we had gone from 59% of our students at or above benchmark to 76%. And, only one student was still in the “intensive” category (significantly below benchmark). All students made growth, and many of them advanced much more than expected. Students read a large amount of nonfiction. They participated in whole group, small group, partner and independent work to practice and apply reading comprehension strategies. When asked what they thought of the ILB work this year, our students said, “We put a lot of effort into it!” and “We worked harder than usual.” When asked if they had any specific examples of their learning this year, one student said, “I felt like I was learning double. Before fourth grade, I had no idea what circuits were, then we learned about them in science and then read about them and wrote about them and that made me more confident in knowing what a circuit was.”
The answer to my own complicated story problem: there were just about 90 minutes a day to teach reading, writing, science, social studies, health and art. It feels like quite an accomplishment to have created an integrated instructional block to use that 90 minutes wisely. It is the real world after all, and as elementary teachers, it’s our job to teach it all!