110 Minutes Of Literacy

Used by the teacher to plan their daily Balanced Literacy activities; can be posted outside the classroom for public disclosure.

How to implement in the classroom:

Teachers have commented, “These pads have saved my time management problems”, “I feel secure in knowing I am accomplishing my literacy goals for the day and the week”; “I could have used these years ago.” These pads are to be used to help you plan your literacy block and make your teaching transparent. Fill out one each day and you will immediately notice that your planning has become intentional. Choose and pre-read your Read Aloud , prepare your questions in a scaffolding manner and require students to journal every day. The very young ones can draw and label what their thoughts are. Post these slips where they can be seen by your administrators.

110 Minutes of Literacy for the Classroom

Exit Slips: Read-Aloud, Centers, Guided Reading, And Independent Reading And Writing

The Exit Slips are to be used for larger units of thought including ideas, notions, images, and much more, which allow for richer conversations and discussions to ensue. There are four downloadable exit slips covering each area of formative assessment: Read-aloud, Centers, Guided Reading, and Independent Reading and Writing. There is also a convenient 4-in-1 sheet available for download.

How to implement in the classroom:

Want to know what questions your students had but didn’t ask in class? Interested in finding out what concepts students understood in class? Always have exit slips available. These “parking lot” tools help you group your students for small, differentiated learning. Collect the slips and sort them according to levels of understanding. You may discover that you need to “circle back” and answer questions. Or, move more quickly. Exit slips are a quick way of ascertaining the learning that is going on.


Group Exit Slip: Guided Reading

Exit Slips

Group Exit Slip: Read_Aloud

Group Exit Slip: Centers

Group Exit Slip: Independent Reading and Writing

Debate Centers

The debate center is one strategy in which to promote the development of argument and debate. This center can remain up all year in classrooms while changing the topic of debate on a weekly basis. Social justice can be the perfect starting point as students work on teams to develop opinions and arguments to debate. Students at centers are engaged in rigorous conversations based both on the informational text readings and their own personal experiences.

Tips on How to Implement in the Classroom:

  • Make sure that the students understand what a debate is,
  • Provide clear directions, rules, and roles for the center
  • Include informational text and other sources (video & more), and
  • Make sure that the students include the evidence from the sources to build their arguments.

Debate Center Materials

Debate Center Information Sheet

Moving Toward A Justice-Driven Curriculum In The Balanced Literacy Classroom

By Margaret Mary Policastro, Diane Mazeski, and  Noreen Wach

This material is derived from discussions that took place when 5th- through 8th-grade students were getting ready for an interactive read-aloud and being introduced to the book 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery (2016). Hearing these questions posed, we were quite curious and interested in how the students would react as the teacher asked them to write their responses on a white board. As we moved around to get a glimpse and catch the responses, the students were engaged, serious, and appropriate. The responses included a range of topics such as “Human Rights,” “Equality,” “Animal Kindness,” “Freedom,” and “World Peace” (see Figure 1).

Read More: Moving Toward a Justice Driven Curriculum

The New Word Walls To Language Walls

Language Walls are Word Walls expanded to a more sophisticated level to include ideas, notions, images, and much more, providing for deeper discussions. Language walls foster both social and academic discourse, allowing the teacher to document specific aspects of language. These walls allow for building vocabulary in all content areas. The focus of a language wall is on language generation by the students which create new information and understanding about the world.

Check out the Word Walls to Language Walls article by Dr. Margaret Policastro for more information. 



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Discourse: The Importance Of Talk In The Balanced Literacy Classroom

By Margaret Mary Policastro, Roosevelt University, Chicago, Illinois

During a classroom book club discussion in our university summer reading clinic, the students we were observing had just moved their chairs into a circle to discuss The WatsonsGo to Birhmingham — 1963 and, even before they were in place, the students were eagerly discussing the book. In this open forum discussion, they were saying “I can’t believe this happened …,” “I was so sad when I read…” and “I thought it was so funny when …” Even class conversation outside of the book club seemed to be connected to the book. For example, “My dad did this funny thing last night, and it reminded me of the Watsons …” The students were eager to share and respond to each other about funny events, sad events, and much more. Parents also commented on how the children were discussing the book at home.

Read more: IRCJ Discourse Corrected

Creating Parent Libraries: Enhancing Family Literacy Through Access To Books

By Margaret Mary Polieastro, Diane K. Mazeski, and Becky McTague

Imagine walking into a school and the first thing you see is an inviting parent library where books are displayed and celebrated. This would be a place where parents can check out children’s books or read a book and find information about family literacy.

It has been our goal to assist reading specialists and literacy coaches to develop and create such parent libraries within the schools and districts where they work. The last several years have provided an outstanding opportunity for us to work in a large urban public school district. Most recently, we have focused our attention and efforts on understanding and creating a structure or framework for access to books for parents through designing and implementing parent libraries. This critical and essential access to books requires a confluence of ideas that bridges libraries within a school and provides access to books for families and caregivers.

Thus, the notions and ideas of family literacy permeate throughout our work and efforts. Family literacy is based on the idea that parents and children learn best when learning together and, through this process, both parents and children develop essential skills. Furthermore, this approach to literacy has been identified as a potential strategy for ameliorating the challenges of low levels of literacy and poverty (National Early Literacy Panel, 2008). The purpose of this column is to introduce the idea of developing and creating parent libraries and to provide descriptions, elements, photographs, references, and a checklist. Further, we showcase several parent libraries—one recently created and another that has long been in existence as an exemplar model.

Read more: Creating Parent Libraries IRCJ Article

Comprehensive Literacy Basics: An Anthology By Capstone Professional

This book, compiled by experts in the filed of literacy language arts education, will provide support for educators as well as valuable knowledge in literacy development in areas such as language arts block, including whole group, small group, writing, and differentiation. Capstone publishing ensures “the quick tips and suggestions within will reinforce current practices while providing an invaluable go-to reference” (capstonepub.com).

Buy this book!

Comprehensive Literacy Basics Information Sheet

Living Literacy At Home: A Parent’s Guide

Embed Video

Dr. Margaret Policastro gives a snapshot of what literacy looks like in today’s classroom and the support on how to make that home-to-school connection. 

How to implement:

The joy of reading continues at home — in the kitchen, doing the laundry, painting a room, wherever!

What a wonderful book to share on parent’s night, at open house, during parent teacher conferences, and in your newsletter’s home. Parents are partners in education and the tips and strategies in this book will strengthen the home-to-school alliance.

Discuss the book in a staff meeting and decide what might be included in the weekly principal’s newsletter. Ask your students to share their favorite stories that are read at home. Ask your parents to volunteer and come and read to the class. Children should view their parents as life long learners. You may need to help prepare the parent before, perhaps showing them a few techniques you use to model reading.

Have fun! Read together!
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