“Growing Our Reading Brains” with the Skills Block

This year Detroit Prep has adopted the EL Primary Curriculum for English Language Arts. Students in K-2 experience 3 hours of reading and writing each day! During the hour of module time, students work on developing their reading comprehension, writing, speaking and listening skills through a 6 to 8 week in-depth study of a topic. During the hour of Literacy Labs time, students experience play based learning related to the module topic. Finally during the Skills Block hour, students work on mastering the alphabetic code and the skills required to become a fluent reader.

Skills Block is a fun and rigorous approach to phonics instruction. We begin each Skills Block together on the carpet. We sing songs, play games and explore poems and stories as we work on mastering letter-sound correlations and phonological awareness. After our whole group instruction time, students break into small groups and either work on independent reading activities or with me for small group instruction.

The research that grounds the Skills Block emphasizes not only teaching the Reading Foundations Common Core State Standards during the whole group instruction time but also offering small group differentiated instruction to students based on their current understanding of the alphabetic code. We group students by what they know about letters, sounds, reading and spelling. We then plan instruction for each each group centered on the exact skills they will need to become a proficient reader. The goal is that by the end of second grade students will have the skills to successfully decode (read) and encode (write) any word in the English language.

The Skills Block and its explicit approach to teaching the alphabetic code have had a tremendous impact on my Kindergarten Crew in only a few months of school. My crew is constantly examining text in the world around them and working to read it. On a daily basis I hear things like “Ms. Shelly, do you see the word ‘we’ hiding backwards inside of the word ‘crew’?” or “I’m trying to write oil, but I need to know the letters that make up the /oi/ sound.” Reading isn’t some mysterious skill you acquire. Reading is having a firm understanding of letter sound relationships and using that knowledge to carefully examine and decode written text. Skills Block helps my Kindergarten Crew learn these things each day and “grow our reading brains.”