Manitoba

Education and Training

Kindergarten to Grade 4 English Language Arts: A Foundation for Implementation

Implementation Overview: K-4
Creating a Literacy-Rich Environment - Part 1

Effective Early Years classrooms immerse students in books, visual images, and the spoken word. A literacy-rich environment is important for all students. But for students who have little involvement with literacy events outside school, it is essential. These students may need additional scaffolding and other supports.

The most beneficial literacy experience for students at all grades is to be read to daily. Read-aloud sessions introduce students to the world of texts beyond their own reading level and give them access to ideas, places, and characters they might otherwise never meet. They also help students become familiar with story language and text structure. Students who have been read to will adopt and adapt the language of books when they write, retell a story, share information, represent a character or event, dramatize a scene, or create a storyboard.

A literacy-rich classroom provides students with a wide variety of texts that include oral, print, and other media communication. Students need to listen to poetry, and engage in dramatic, expository, and narrative texts. Teachers need to supplement narrative and expository texts with appropriate types of literacy materials with which students are familiar in their personal lives. Students from other cultures, or students who speak a first language other than English, will benefit from seeing and hearing their own literature and oral traditions shared and valued in class.

A literacy-rich environment has visual appeal, with attractive posters, charts and "word-walls" at students’ eye-level. Different areas of the classroom will be devoted to materials and equipment to encourage writing, viewing, and representing through art and drama, listening to music and to story-tapes, and reading — alone, with friends, or with teachers. Student-published books will be on bookshelves, student artwork and other representations will be displayed, and works-in-progress will be evident. Student-made books or posters that display photographs with captions provide a record of past shared experiences and successes. A literacy-rich classroom is a visual celebration of students’ work in language arts.


Appropriate Teaching Strategies

What we know about early childhood development shapes and informs language arts classroom practices. By applying knowledge about the continuum of development and learning in the language arts (Kindergarten to Grade 4 English Language Arts: Manitoba Curriculum Framework of Outcomes and Grade 3 Standards, 1996, Appendix D), teachers can ensure each student’s progress in moving toward appropriate learning outcomes.

Within this continuum, however, each student has a unique and individual pace and style of learning. Teachers learn about the needs of their class by observing students closely, and by joining small groups and interacting with students. With this information, teachers differentiate instruction and learning activities for students and adjust the pace of instruction so that all students have experiences in which they feel challenged and can succeed. Teachers set high expectations for every child’s learning but take into account students’ differing abilities, developmental levels, and learning styles. As students acquire growing competence in the language arts, teachers encourage them to set high but achievable goals for themselves.

A literacy-rich environment that offers interesting reading, speaking, listening, viewing, representing, and writing activities is important, but it is not necessarily all that is required to enable all students to learn and become literate. Teachers must use a variety of active, intellectually engaging strategies and methods of instruction. These include:

  • reciprocal discussions in which students’ ideas are taken seriously: posing problems, asking open-ended, thought-provoking questions, and interacting informally
  • sustained inquiry in which teacher and students select questions or topics to pursue as a group and individually
  • explicit instruction in response to the observed needs of individual students
  • incidental teaching, conferencing, and informal instruction
  • flexible grouping to promote literacy learning and social-emotional development

The emphasis in all these various types of instruction is on real contexts for literacy learning. Students in the Early Years are eager to make sense of the world and are developmentally ready to explore, to take risks, and to construct and take things apart. Teachers engage students in challenging problems and tasks that require them to use all six language arts for pleasure, for authentic, purposeful communication, and for exploration and creative expression.

Students are also acquiring attitudes toward learning that they will carry with them throughout their school years and beyond. Teachers promote initiative, prosocial behaviour, perseverance, task-orientation, and self-regulation by providing relevant and interesting activities, choices, ample time for sustained involvement, one-to-one time with the teacher, and social interactions with peers within a community of learners. Teachers also act as models, sharing their own enthusiasm for learning and literacy.

Students learn from teachers, but they also learn from one another in directed group activities (such as literature circles or author’s chairs) in which they can share and compare their personal interpretations of texts with peers. Young students benefit from participation in flexible collaborative groups that vary in size and composition, and change with the needs of the learning experience. As students mature, teachers establish more structured co-operative learning groups that require students to share ideas and materials, explore roles, listen to and integrate the views of others, and negotiate shared goals and processes. This builds a foundation for the lifelong skill of working with others as a team to achieve common goals.

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