Barbara Brann: Building blocks for literacy – a year on

A year ago our school implemented Barbara Brann’s framework – building blocks for literacy – which looks at identifying and addressing the skills necessary to be ‘curriculum ready’. This means that a student is ready to take advantage of the school curriculum, and has the skills necessary for this. Any gaps that existed prior to the programme have been addressed, similar to plugging the holes in a bucket before trying to fill it with water. 

Toys used as writing prompts, sorting prompts, oral language prompts, science prompts, play prompts…

This framework was started in its entirety by a very talented teacher at my school, after some PLD was provided to myself and her courtesy of the RTLB (resource teacher of learning and behaviour) service. I incorporated aspects of the programme with the older children I mainly focussed on, and tried to implement it later on in the year when I shifted to working with younger students. 

Now, a year later, the framework is still in use, although less intensively than it was a year ago. It has been incorporated far more naturally into our daily programme, with key aspects still being applied. 

  • Blocks for teaching spelling
  • Blocks/counters to help young students hold a sentence in their head as they write it
  • Blocks/counters to help students visualise a target number of sentences for writing
  • Casey Caterpillar – teach letter shapes and the order they go in to turn into letters – when kids are ready
  • Casey Caterpillar – Use a means of teaching skills such as differentiation and patterning 
  • Have physical objects handing as prompts for writing (and let the children handle them as they talk and write)
  • Develop fine motor skills and oral language – these are essential to success in writing
  • Explicitly teach oral sentence structure and questioning techniques – in a practical context
  • Shore up the foundation before adding to the building
  • Look at the stage not the age

Has it been successful?

This depends on your view of success. In terms of academic achievement gains it has a two year span, so the jury is still out. It has definitely not harmed/limited the students’ learning. In terms of teacher gains, it has been an outstanding professional development tool which has vastly improved my understanding of how students develop their literacy and what potential blocks or ‘holes’ are preventing their learning for moving forward. From that view alone, the training is worth goin through. 

Am I convinced? 

The jury is still out on that one too. The framework is absolutely valuable and worthwhile. I would be interested to see the results further down the track. 

I think adopting the framework in its entirety is outside my current headspace of working with year 0-3 students (pre-k to 2). In a situation where students were of a closer age/stage I can see myself implementing this in more detail. However halfway through last year we introduced play-based learning, which I believe complements this framework and has provided a means of covering the framework more authentically than previously. 

The Casey Caterpillar leaves me with no doubt whatsoever of it’s benefit. I wouldn’t want to teach it any other way (unless it was a rose by any other name).

I hope that this has been of some help to you if you are interested in building blocks. Even getting the giant chart which identifies all of the skills would potentially be helpful as a PLD tool.

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Summary – Singaporean teachers’ views of classroom assessment

Assessment matters 6: 2014 p.34-64.

  • Singaporean teachers’ views of classroom assessment.
  • Assessment is cultural and not easily transferable.
  • Teachers first need to know their views of classroom assessment.
  • Should be holistic.
  • Q: viewpoints can be subjective and can be communicative. Designed to explore “Subjective perceptions of groups of individuals.Easy Blog Photo

Yolanda Soryl follow up.

I was going to put up my notes from Yolanda Soryl‘s course, but they contain multiple pages of a workbook from the course that I photographed and annotated as part of my learning (un unavailable for purchase unless you do the course). I think that it would be a breach of copyright for me to put these up. Frankly I don’t want to risk it. The course was well worth attending, and would be again, in a year, once I have taught the material for a while.

One of the biggest benefits has been learning to teach phonics: strange, I know given I have worked with year two and threes for the past few years, but I was not teaching with any kind of systemic approach. That (the systemic approach) is one of the key things I have taken away from this programme. Yolanda Soryl seemed to have a ‘bang, bang, bang’ keep it moving approach.

Additionally I was teaching reading today (in the Cave – small group teaching room). I took the ‘bang bang bang’ approach (or tried to) and kept reading moving. That was the goal anyway. My aim was to bring in a degree of urgency. I did. The kids were really focussed and engaged. I will definitely keep going with that.

I also used Yolanda’s method to teach the letter ‘s’ today. I missed a key component of it though – the hook with the story and the picture. We had a song which we sang, but I did it out of order. I will follow Yolanda’s advice (insistence really) and teach with the lesson plan open. I also need to get some form of assessment done for this as there are a couple of students who are using initial letter sounds already. Regardless, students all got what the letter ‘s’ was and the sound it makes. They had a little more trouble with the shape. I did ‘dge’ with an older group and need to do some revision there.

Reading

I have introduced a different format of reading contract. It made a small difference to students as they had all their information there in front of them, except that which they were required to do AFTER seeing me for their lesson. 

There was a definite improvement in student engagement, but reading is an area I am using ICT in a minimal fashion. We are currently studying narratives in writing (consequently we are focussing on them in reading as well). 

I am a big believer that ICT should not be used for the sake of it, but I am certain that I could better enhance student learning through ICT. 

One of my biggest issues is getting students to revisit a text multiple times: they just lose interest. Clearly this is a praxis issue. I am failing to engage them in the examination of texts. 

How can ICT be used to enhance this

We are working on summarising in my two comprehension groups. This ties in perfectly with creating comics.

Students could complete a variety of summarising tasks which require them to work as a team to achieve this. 

  • Create a movie of the story (taking a section in pairs/threes)
  • Retell it using various multi-media
  • Create various alternate endings. Students could script a ‘what if’ scenario and then design an alternate ending which they conclude in some form or another. 
  • Partners work to create a comic
  • Focus on an aspect of the text each and represent that in some fashion (e.g. setting/character)

How will you measure success? 

The number of complaints and ‘can we read a different one’ statements. Track these over a period of three weeks to see if they will reduce. 

Question: will this inform their writing skills?