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					Sarah-Jane Atkins is a beginning teacher at East Devonport Primary School.
In this interview she describes how she structures her literacy block for her
Grade 3/4 class and outlines her classroom routines in reading, writing and
spelling. Sarah-Jane combines an integrated approach to learning with
teaching about specific genres, texts and authors. She provides many
opportunities for her students to reflect on their learning.

Structuring the literacy block:
Classroom routines – reading:
Classroom routines –writing:
Classroom routines – spelling:
Using ICTs:
Advice for other beginning teachers:

Structuring the literacy block:

I start with trying to create a context for learning because I think that this is of
primary importance. Students shouldn’t be doing work simply for the sake of
doing work. They need to feel that it is purposeful and to assist with this I try
to always have two main units on the go. One is an integrated unit (LINK TO which tries to cover
the whole curriculum; the other is a literacy-focused unit on a specific genre,
visual text or an author study. All the learning activities and experiences
come from these units.

East Devonport was formerly a PASS school (the Program of Additional
Support and Structure) so we still have a structured literacy block. During this
time I use a ‘whole - small - whole’ structure so I begin the session with a
whole group teaching experience. I focus on a specific teaching point which
might have a writing focus, a reading focus or a spelling focus depending on
the context at the time.

I then break the class into smaller groups. I usually have two main teaching
groups; one is taken by a Flying Start support teacher and the other by me.
The teaching groups are usually ability and needs based, and centre on
guided reading and developmentally important literacy concepts. If students
aren’t working with a teaching group, they independently work through a set of
meaningful reading and writing tasks and learning sequences so that they can
choose the order in which they do them. There are compulsory tasks that
students have to do each day and then they can choose from a range of
tasks. I have a checklist on the wall where students tick off the tasks as they
complete them. I find this easier from a behaviour management and
motivation perspective because students can choose what they want to do at
the time rather than having to do a certain task. Students who complete all
the set tasks for the week become an achiever. They get a star on the
achiever’s chart, which also helps with motivation.
I then finish with a whole sharing session, usually with students sitting on the
mat in a circle. I don’t get every student to share his or her achievements
because it is too time-consuming and can become repetitive. I randomly
choose students by spinning a little token I’ve made up. Alternatively, I have a
reflection time where students write in their journals in response to stimulus
points that I put up on the whiteboard. For example, ‘Something I found
difficult today is…’ or ‘Something I am really proud of today is…’

Classroom routines – reading:

I try to incorporate four main approaches to reading in my classroom.

I read aloud to students and try to create a love for reading. I read novels to
the class and really try to bring the text to life. I also read a range of other
texts such as letters, poetry or magazine articles. I don’t do any sort of
analysis with these texts; they are purely for enjoyment and modelling.

After lunch each day we have twenty minutes to half an hour of quiet
reading. Sometimes it’s silent reading but I have found that just asking
students to read silently after lunch every day can easily be for a behaviour
management purpose rather than a learning purpose. So I’ve adjusted that a
little. Students have something called a Book Brag, which is simply a sheet in
the back of one of their books. The Book Brag helps students to focus on
reading different types of texts and different genres. They write down the title
of the book and the date that it was read. I have a column for magazines,
comics, puzzles and another one for procedural texts and fiction authors.
Students write down the material they read during this time in the appropriate
category. I do this to give reading time a greater focus. To develop reading
aloud skills, at least once a fortnight and generally once a week, we read with
our buddy class. Students get to concentrate on trying to animate the book to
bring expression to what they are reading aloud in order to create enjoyment
for the person they are reading to.

We also have reading with set partners within the class during our after
lunch reading session. Students are levelled on texts and, privately, I order
them from the lowest to the highest reading ability. I then split the class in
half. Students at the top of the lowest half read with the top readers in the
best half. The weakest reader reads with a partner from the lower half of the
top group. I think that this has been instrumental in bringing huge gains for
students, especially for those in the lower group. Working in pairs, students
read aloud the guided reading text that the weakest reader has previously
been introduced to. They read the text to each other and sometimes I ask
them to focus on the structure or features of the text.

I also use shared book experiences for instructional purposes. During the
whole class time at the start of the literacy block, I may have a focus on
editing for example. I read through a text, highlighting an aspect of
punctation, grammar or structure. I analyse text structures and the
conventions of print during guided reading in the small group time where
students are reading levelled texts.

Classroom routines –writing:

I focus my writing program around the three areas of audience, purpose and
structure. I always ask students:

      Who are you writing for?
      Why are you writing?
      How are you going to structure it?

I focus on different writing genres that either relate to a specific literacy unit of
work or form part of an integrated study. I also focus on different authors as
well. I think that’s important because so often students grab hold of one
author such as Roald Dahl or somebody that they really enjoy and don’t
broaden their experiences.

As well as writing genres, I place a large emphasis on the editing and
proofreading process because so often students finish a piece of writing and
think that’s it. I encourage them to go back over their writing and to edit and
proofread carefully. I ask questions such as:

      Is the structure right for the purpose that you are writing for?
      Have you proofread for capital letters and full stops?
      Are your sentences interesting?

I use what I call a Writing Conference Booking Chart and students have their
own booking card. When students think they are ready for a writing
conference they write their name on their card to show which piece of writing
they want to have a writing conference about. They simply place the card in a
pocket in the booking chart. I have found from a classroom management
point of view that this works well. I know when students are ready for a writing
conference and they are accountable in that they must be prepared for it. If
they book a conference and for example haven’t edited their writing correctly,
they get charged for it. (I use plastic money as part of a reward system where
students get to buy small things.)

I find writing journals very useful. I use a personal journal where students
write about their own experiences. We do our journaling on Fridays to make
sure that students have something to write about and don’t feel pressured if
they didn’t do anything in the weekend. I also use a reflective journal quite a
lot. I often use them at the end of the whole literacy block where I ask
students to reflect on their writing or their learning. I also use journals for
reflection on some of the issues that come up in the classroom. For example,
there might be a challenging class meeting that the students are wound up
about it. I ask them to write what they think or feel about the issue in their
journal, which can be a very valuable exercise for them.
For further information about strategies on reflection see Reflection (LINK TO

I have found it very useful to explain writing structures using graphic
organisers. For example, I have found that in an integrated unit research
topic such as ‘Space’, students often just copied down many facts and had
difficulty grouping and rewording their information. Providing students with a
mind map stem was one way to help students organise their information. It’s
an idea that works really well.

Classroom routines – spelling:

I use the look, say, cover, photo, write, and check model for spelling. I have a
parent who largely runs this program for me. Students have a folder which
has a levelled spelling list in it which incorporates words from the TLOs. The
list is glued on the inside cover of the folder and students highlight words that
they have spelled correctly in their test. Words that students can’t spell
become part of their personalised list in the spelling folder i.e. their look, say,
cover, photo, write and check words. The parent who helps to run the spelling
program, writes in seven words each week, sits with each student and makes
sure that they can read the words and explain their meaning. Students then
complete the look, say, cover, photo, write and check process four times for
each word. This is followed by a test with the parent who notes if they get the
words right or wrong. Students repeat this process throughout the week and
have a partner test each day. I test the students at the end of the week.

I really reinforce the whole process because I found at the start of the year
that students would just race through it. Students treated it as two minute task
to get out of the way and there was very little retention of the words. Every
five weeks I go back over and retest the lists that students have been working
on or the words that they have recently learned to spell to see what retention
there has been.

I also use a ‘have a go’ sheet which is on the back of the students’ spelling
folder. They have a go at the word and bring it to the teacher or another adult
in the room who writes the correct spelling next to it. These words are also
added to students’ personal spelling list. Additionally, I focus on blends,
phonemes, word studies and spelling strategies each week. I identify
students who have specific needs, whether it might be word endings, plurals
or simply not implementing spelling strategies appropriately. I work with these
students during the small group teaching time. I also use spelling focused
writing conferences, so that I can go through students’ work with them and
identify particular areas of need.

I also use a home spelling program for students whom I believe are ‘at risk.’
Each week they take home a pocket that has five flash cards with words that
they have been spelling incorrectly. I reinforce with the parent that their child
needs to able to recognise these words, understand what they mean and
learn how to spell them using the LSCPWC process. Sometimes I send home
a memory game with students so that they can play spelling games with their

For more information on spelling see Spelling (LINK TO


I find the Parent Help Program very useful. Three parents come each week
and they work with a small group during the structured literacy block. This
means that there can be three groups working with an adult, which is really
effective. It is excellent that parents are prepared to do that.

I use a word wall, a display board that I have covered that looks like a brick
wall. Students clip up words that they think are a bit tricky. These words are
connected to a theme, usually the integrated unit theme. At the moment there
are space words on the word wall. Students often use the word wall.

For a more detailed explanation on word walls see Implementing Spelling

I also use desk dictionaries, which are mainly for students who find looking
through a normal dictionary far too intimidating. Desk dictionaries are made
up of simpler words that are written in larger font that students can sort
through by themselves. We have made up word blend dictionaries as well.
Students have created these around the different blends that are important to
them. I have also catalogued our library, an idea that came from the students.
They thought our library in the classroom should be like the school library. I
have grouped the books and this also helps with Book Brag reading.

I try to avoid buying too many resources personally because it can easily be a
bottomless pit. I use the Discover Website a lot and I am lucky in that the
school’s resources are very good. I also make a lot of my own resources so
that they are tailored to students’ needs.

Using ICTs:
I use computers a lot as a learning resources and it’s usually for a literacy
focus. We use computers for three main processes and outcomes: for
publishing, for research and as a communication tool. Students publish their
work using such programs as Word and Power Point. I find Power Point really
motivating for students, especially for those students who are reluctant
writers. They can create something that looks impressive and they don’t have
to write a lot. Students also research using the Internet and CD ROMs.
When using the Internet I find it is really important to give students web
addresses to start with, otherwise they just roam endlessly. We use email
through the school intranet and students often email their buddy class,
particularly when we are working on the same integrated units. Students
email questions to each other, information that they have found out or
websites to check out.
Next term we will complete an integrated unit on the local community.
Students will create Power Point presentations that explain and showcase the
Devonport community and then we will email them to our buddy class in
Melbourne and they are going to do the same about their local community. I
find the computer is highly motivating for students.

Advice for other beginning teachers:

I found I came out of University after spending four years acquiring and
collecting ideas and theory to discover that it’s really the practical application
of the ideas and theory that you most need to work on. Don’t be afraid to
approach effective teachers and ask them how they are doing things. Visit
classrooms to see the organisational structures that other teachers have
implemented that have worked for them over many years of practical
experience. This gives you a good starting point and certainly saves you from
reinventing the wheel. And experiment! I find that action research is the most
effective means of creating a successful teaching and learning environment.

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