Katherine Ali is a dual-certified elementary and special education teacher. She recently graduated as a literacy specialist with a Masters in Science from Manhattanville College. She has experience teaching internationally in northern China and now teaches in the Bronx, NY.
In order to be active participants in the literate world, students must be reading, writing, speaking, and listening at all ages. The natural interplay of language looks slightly differently across grades levels, but the foundations and mission are the same:
Reading: Text Complexity and the growth of comprehension
We want our students to ascend the staircase of text complexity and simultaneously sharpen their comprehension skills. Students, of all ages, need to build stamina through independently reading more rigorous and complex texts. Additionally, read-alouds allow students to access content and concepts they may not be able to decode themselves.
Writing: Text types, responding to reading, and research
Opinion pieces, research-based projects, and narratives are the three main categories of student writing the Common Core State Standards focus on. It is also imperative that our students engage in the writing process and expand their writing style using the conventions of the English language.
Speaking & Listening: Flexible Communication and Collaboration
Speaking and Listening in each grade level includes but is certainly not limited to presentations, group work, and class discussion. Students need to be aware of their oral language skills and communicate their thoughts and research appropriately. Building off other students’ ideas is also an important component in developing these skills.
Today I look at how to integrate reading, writing, speaking and listening standards in grades 4-5, using the book Bird as an example.
Bird, by Zetta Elliott, illus. by Shadra Strickland
Interest Level: Gr. 3-8
DRA: 40, Guided Reading Level: Q
Reading: Due to some heavy content (drug use and addiction, death) this story must be used in a safe learning environment. It allows for great discussion around the themes of death, decision-making, perseverance, and coping skills. Reading this book closely with a small group of students – almost page by page – will allow the students to deeply recognize the narrator’s point of view and how it affects the story. Character description and point of view are the two main reading strategies I would suggest teaching with this intense, powerful text.
Writing: Quick writes about students’ reactions and connections to the story are still merited in fourth and fifth grade. Higher-level thinking questions can also be posed for students to develop their inferential thinking skills as well as their ability to cite evidence to support their answer. Questions can include, “How are birds important in this text?” “What happened to Marcus? How do you know? What in the story tells you this?” and “How do you feel about the ending? Why?” Using a high-interest and provocative book such as Bird may elicit a higher level of student participation.
Speaking & Listening: To engage the students immediately, introduce this story by showing the Book Trailer posted on the Lee and Low website. After students read and listen to the trailer, have them turn and talk with a partner to make predictions. Or you can pose the question, “How does this trailer make you want to read the book Bird?” and give students 5 – 10 minutes for a quick write and share. Then, discuss the media medium of the trailer asking, “Whose perspective is the story being told from? How do you know? What decisions did the editor have to make? How do the music and transitions affect the presentation?” The S&L standards for these grades want the students to converse about multimedia and presentation decisions.
There is also an extensive free teacher’s guide available to go with Bird, with several additional ideas.
Notice the close relationship between the modes of communication as the students read, listen to, write, and speak about complex, grade-appropriate texts. If these key features are central to your instruction, your students will leave with a toolbox of skills they can rely on forever.