The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 29, 2002


Early literacy and writing in the lowest grades

Superintendent Davida Fox­Melanson said, "I am very proud of the school's early literacy and writing program. Very exciting things are happening." She introduced second- grade teacher Donna Clapp and early literacy coordinator Susan Helenius­LaPorte to the school committee meeting Tuesday, March 5. Helenius-LaPorte gave an overview of the methods of teaching reading comprehension in the Carlisle primary grades, methods way beyond the phonics curriculum so familiar to many of us.

The literacy program is based on studies from the book, Mosaic of Thought, by Ellin Oliver Keene, (1997, Portsmouth, NH:Heinemann). Author Keene notes that it is a struggle to learn to read, especially beyond surface word level to the discovery of deeper meanings and related thought. She has studied qualities that make good readers fluent and proficient and concluded that there are specific skills that encourage children to think while reading.

Specifically Keene, according to Helenius-LaPorte, lists the cognitive strategies used by proficient readers. Proficient readers use relevant knowledge before, during, and after reading text. They also determine the most important ideas and themes in a text. They ask questions of themselves and the materials in the text. They create visual and sensory images while reading. They draw inferences from the text as well as retell or process what they have read.

Furthermore the process of teaching children to read involves "a gradual release of responsibility from the teacher to the student." After the teacher has planned a method for teaching and has chosen a model to convey the experience, the student and teacher can practice the strategy together. The teacher within the reading experience with the student may express possible individual thoughts and experiences. The students are encouraged to articulate their own thinking. More broadly the students share their own thinking processes with each other during small group readings and discussions. They then try to apply the strategy on their own, while receiving regular feedback from the teacher and other students. Once this is mastered they are ready to progress to more difficult texts.

The teachers determine in the instructional framework what is developmentally appropriate for the kindergartners through third graders. In kindergarten the children are encouraged to make connections, ask questions, and visualize images. In grade one they are encouraged to make connections from the text to self, the text to text, from the text to the world. In grades two & three students are encouraged to make inferences and finally to create sensory images. The comprehension strategies are constantly being reaffirmed as developmentally appropriate for the young students.

In the primary grades, teacher Donna Clapp explained to the school committee, the writing curriculum encourages the children to read like writers, to look at words and see how words are put together. They are asked to write what is going on in one's life, what one likes and what one knows and cares about. They are invited to write text themselves, to study poetry, picture books, authors and ultimately to write a memoir. The students are encouraged to look through their writer's notebook and think what pieces they could use in the writing of a memoir.

A unit in the second grade curriculum focuses on the writing of a memoir. The students learn qualities of a memoir, how a memoir differs from an autobiography, and from the reading of excerpts from others' memoirs. Finally the students publish and share their memoirs with each other and other grades. Superintendent Fox-Melanson said, "You haven't lived until you hear and read the second grade memoirs."

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito