This week was my first week in the field at Munroe Elementary in Tallmadge, Ohio. Going into the week, I was a little apprehensive about entering a third grade classroom because it was an unfamiliar setting to me. The majority of my teaching experiences have involved working with younger children at the preschool and kindergarten levels; however, I was excited to explore this new territory of teaching and learning and to engage in a completely new experience. As I have learned time and time again, new experiences, although challenging, teach you more about yourself as a person and I am constantly eager to improve my teaching and myself.
Upon entering the classroom, I immediately recognized various elements of an organized, productive classroom in regards to promoting reading and writing development. Two areas containing wooden selves filled with leveled and non-leveled book pots were located near an open carpeted area in the back of the classroom with a comfortable-looking couch facing the door. The area also contained two wooden benches, plants, colorful posters, and an easel for writing. Sharon Taberski, in On Solid Ground: Strategies for Teaching Reading K-3 (2000), describes the importance of a well-organized meeting and reading area. As she explains, “…children sit on the sofa, on the carpet, and on low tables along the edge of the carpet; I sit on the rocking chair alongside the easel, which is the focal point of the meeting area” (pg. 21). There is a purpose behind this arrangement. The sofa, the carpet, low tables, rocking chair, and book selves create a comfortable, home-like atmosphere where students can relax and participate in read alouds and shared readings. The rocking chair and easel are reserved for the teacher, unless the students are called to use the easel, and are positioned in such a way as to encourage participation; the students sit with their backs to the door so guests do not disturb the reading lessons. In my mentor teacher’s classroom, the comfortable-looking couch, wooden benches, book selves, easel, and various other decorations invite students to participate in the same way. Cathy Fuller, my mentor teacher, has an established seating schedule for the two benches and the couch, which Cathy shares with one student each week as she reads children’s literature and chapter books. I love the fact that the students have the opportunity to sit beside the teacher because this promotes the intimate nature of shared and guided reading. Based on the calmness observed both days, the children understand that the area is a place to relax and think about words and stories.
On Thursday, my mentor teacher read The Iguana Brothers by Tony Johnston, focusing on the main characters, their roles, and the problems the characters solved in the story. The term “role” was unfamiliar to many of the students so Cathy encouraged someone to give their best definition of the term. One of the students explained that a character’s role is what the character does in the story. Instead of instantly giving the students a definition of the word, Cathy encouraged one of the students to provide a child-friendly definition that made sense. Throughout the reading, Cathy used this term in context of the story (e.g., asking “So based off of what we just read, what is Tom’s role in the story?”) and the children answered questions about the characters’ roles as the story progressed. These repeated discussions of the word led the children to develop a deeper understanding, or comprehension, of the story’s characters and plot. According to Sharon Taberski (2000), when teachers want to demonstrate story mapping, which involves distinguishing between the different elements (characters, setting, plot) in a story and how the characters react to and solve a problem, they should use stories with a conflict and resolution format and that have discernible story elements (pg. 84). This book met the criteria for teaching children how to story map and the children were introduced to new literature terminology. The story also featured a variety of Spanish words that could be understood when read in the context of the neighboring sentences. Using context to understand the definition of an unfamiliar word is a powerful strategy children, and adults, can use on their own when reading independently. As teachers, we want to provide the scaffolding needed to support the development of such strategies so our students can become independent, fluent readers.