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  • Literacy-Centered Teaching

    2010 - 10.24

    Students reading in Mrs. Wyrick's 5th Grade classroom, Spring 2010.

    I believe in literacy-centered teaching and learning not only because of my own personal love of reading and writing*, but because of the incredible centrality of literacy in every-day life, and a related belief that fostering literacy learning in all curricular subjects will best prepare my students for both personal and academic success.  In my teaching experiences so far, I have already made it a priority to place literacy at the center of my instruction, working to help my students improve their reading and writing skills for use both in and out of the classroom.

    *To understand more about my personal experiences with, and love of, literacy, please click here

    Today’s world is one which is seemingly entirely dependent upon effective communication.  In the age of technology, where cell-phones and email reign supreme, writing and reading are a near constant activity for even the very young.  With information traveling long distances at increasingly fast speeds, literacy skills are becoming ever-more important.  Without a firm command of self-expression in writing, and an ability to understand and interpret the expressions of others, learners would be at an incredible disadvantage.

    Equally important as the academic and communicative benefits of literacy skills are the sheer joy and confidence that can grow out of learning to both make sense of language and use language to make sense of the world.  Reading and writing should be an opportunity for young learners to express themselves, to get lost in imagination, and to be inspired by the imagination of others.

    To help foster this love of literacy, and to improve literacy skills in all students, I believe that literacy must be at the center of student learning.  By this, I mean to say that students should be using and enhancing reading and writing abilities in every aspect of their learning.  In each subject, and in every part of the school day, learners must be exploring language in deliberate and imaginative ways, learning about reading and writing as they use reading and writing to learn about themselves and their world.

    In my own teaching, I have already demonstrated a commitment to making literacy-centered instruction a top priority.  During my three weeks of teaching as a part of the Boundary Crossings into Elementary Schools course (also referred to in this portfolio as Maymester), I planned and taught a three week unit in which my students created magazines reflecting their own understandings about community.  These magazines were filled with original writing about community, and were designed and completed by the unique fifth graders in my field placement classroom.  The students worked hard, and took great pride in their accomplishments.

    Students working on magazine projects in Mrs. Wyrick's 5th Grade class, spring 2010.

    Please click here to see my lesson plans as they were taught during this unit.

    Please click here for pictures documenting student learning during this unit.

    I also planned and taught several literacy-centered units as a part of my Professional Internship.

    To start, I taught an English Language Arts unit in which students strove to improve in their use of particular reading strategies.  These strategies were aimed to help my learners increase their reading comprehension, level of accuracy (words read correctly), fluency (ability to read accurately and with feeling), and to facilitate expansion of vocabulary.  These strategy lessons allowed students to work individually and collectively to explore as readers and writers, internalizing the strategies needed to improve.

    Please click here to read the lesson plans taught during this unit.

    I also taught a Showcase Unit Plan, likewise centered on fostering student literacy growth.  In this unit, my learners read books at or near their reading level, discussed those books in groups, and completed work individually that was centered on textual features and comprehension skills.  The unit was designed to help students to improve in the area of reading comprehension in particular, intended to help facilitate the practice needed to improve in the capacity to understand reading and articulate those understandings in complete and interesting ways.

    To further build on these aspects of students’ literacy and comprehension skills, I also created a virtual learning environment to accompany this unit.  This virtual experience was used in the classroom and was therefore accessible to all students.  The experience served as a review tool for the learners and helped me to evaluate their learning throughout the unit.  It was also a fun way for the students to explore the books that they read and their own reading and writing skills in a new way.

    Please click here to view the virtual learning environment which accompanied this unit.

    Please click here to read the lesson plans for this unit.

    Please click here to view samples of student work from this unit.

    Unfortunately, for too many, learning to read and write is not such an enriching and exciting experience; instead, literacy learning is a frustrating and arduous task.  This is partly due to the fact that literacy education is too often centered in methods that are out-dated and not supported by research.  Instead of adhering strictly to “sounding out” strategies and tasks which promote reading out of context, reading and writing instruction must be incorporated into all facets of teaching, and they also must be taught using research-supported methods which honor and value the vast knowledge that learners inherently have about language.

    Sample of a retelling assignment from a student in Mrs. Ellenwood's 3rd grade class.

    By research-supported methods, I mean to say that literacy instruction should be based upon learners’ use and understanding of the four levels of language: grapho-phonics, the letter-sound correspondences in words, lexico-grammar, the grammatical structures of sentences and paragraphs in text, semantics, the meaning of words written and read, and pragmatics, the practical use of language.  Too often, literacy teaching and learning relies on grapho-phonics alone.  Teachers encourage students to “sound words out,” seemingly without regard for the fact English does not follow strict guidelines when it comes to spelling-sound relationships.

    Without teaching learners how to use the other levels of language knowledge that they posses, how are children to read, for instance when they come across words which do not adhere to “normal” phonetic patterns?  Thus, instead of traditional phonics alone, learners must be equipped with the skills needed to also use a word’s context within a larger grammatical structure, to understand the meaning surrounding and impacting a word or words, and to grasp the practical function of a word or words.  With all of these understandings working together, children can make sense of language in a way that honors all that they know and builds that knowledge of language in a multi-faceted and complete way.

    By teaching such that literacy instruction (which incorporates all levels of language) lies at the center of student learning and accomplishments, children will be better able to express themselves in writing and speech, and they will be better able to understand and interpret the understandings and expressions of others.  With a firm grasp of how language works and how to use language in multiple contexts, I believe that students will be better prepared for the world of words in which we live.

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