The Missouri Reader Vol. 42, Issue 1 - Page 29


Rethinking Time and Instructional Priorities in Literacy

Harry Mercurio



The Literacy Block is not just for Primary Grades

Research on best practices regarding literacy instruction (Madda, Griffo, Pearson, &

Raphael, 2011) states that there is a broad range of skills, strategies, and contexts that need consideration (Harvey & Goudvis, 2017) in a complete and thorough literacy curriculum, and yet acknowledges that teachers have a finite time frame in which to teach each of the components of literacy. According to Pressley et al., (2001) effective teachers organize their instructional routines so that they demonstrate reading strategies and have children engage in response activities, and also find time for students’ independent reading and reading on a daily basis. Pressley et al.,(2001) found that the effective teachers they studied have significantly better reading and writing achievement in their classrooms. The most effective teachers also integrate reading and writing with content (Morrow, Kunz, & Hall, 2018). Quality instruction in literacy

includes building students’ independence, fostering extensive reading and writing, and providing all children with access to higher level questioning and thinking opportunities. According to Lipson, Mosenthal, Mekkelsen, and Russ (2004), effective teachers orchestrate a variety of activities in order to keep students engaged with meaningful, respectful tasks related to reading and writing. In addition, effective teachers capably differentiate grouping and instruction to allow for whole group, small group, and individualized instruction so that children receive support when and where they need it (Tomlinson, 2005).

Gambrell and Mazzoni (1999) synthesized the results of ten research based best practices

in literacy, in conjunction with a study of outstanding fifth grade teachers (Pressley, 1998). Findings were that effective teachers in the middle grades should adhere to the following practices: giving students direct instruction in word study and comprehension strategies that promote independent reading; balancing direct instruction, guided instruction, and independent learning; working with students in small groups while other students read and write; using high quality literature and multiple texts that link and expand concepts; using teacher and student lead discussions; providing opportunities and time for students to read in class; and using a variety of assessment techniques to help drive instruction (Morrow, Kunz & Hall, 2018; Pressley, 1998). Bromley (2003) identified key ingredients to sound instruction. These include: the opportunity for students to choose their topics and audiences for writing; explicit instruction provided by teachers; large blocks of time being available for students to read and write; and opportunities for students to write and construct meaning across the curriculum.

Primary Grade Literacy Block

As a former second grade teacher, Ryan was accustomed to the idea of having an

uninterrupted block of time for literacy instruction. His 150 minute block afforded him the opportunity to conduct whole group shared reading experiences where he was able to model comprehension processes for his twenty-five second graders through thinking aloud. That teacher modeling naturally moved into independent reading where Ryan was able to confer individually with children as they practiced and applied the good reader strategies that were modeled for them during the shared reading experience. Then, guided reading most naturally followed as an essential part of the literacy block where Ryan was able to meet with small, flexible groups as they read and interacted with text during a Before-During-After (B-D-A) instructional framework. These small groups focused on the learning needs of the children as assessed by Ryan: decoding and other word work strategies,