sun. Activity centers around the classroom are well organized, containing puppets, stuffed animals, props, paints, paper, and plenty of writing materials.
But what is most inspiring is watching Mr. Carter teach. For about two hours during reading period, he tirelessly keeps the children moving in an upbeat and energized pace from one interesting and valuable activity to the next.
When reading period begins, the children get their personal baskets of books and sit at their tables reading independently. Mr. Carter also has them read in pairs—shoulder to shoulder—or in small groups in circles on the floor. During this time, he takes the opportunity to move around the classroom and provide personalized attention. With one child, he reviews the previous day’s word attack lesson. With a small group, he sits down on the floor and begins asking questions, helping them make meaningful connections between the literature and their own lives.
Now it is time for today’s word attack lesson. The children put away their baskets and gather around Mr. Carter at the board. Each child sits on the floor holding a personal eraser board and magic marker. Clearly these new tools bring an aura of importance to the small hands holding them. Perhaps it is the authoritative thick marker, or the teacher-like power to erase. Perhaps it is the power of having one’s very own tableau. Beyond being fun, the boards also give children privacy to make mistakes and easily correct themselves.
Mr. Carter begins by reading a sentence he has written on the board. Certain parts of the words are covered up. When he comes to the word “kind,” he says it aloud, but what the children see is k___. He asks them to provide the missing letters. After various responses, correct and incorrect, he reveals the correctly spelled “kind.” He then asks children to write the words “find” and “mind” on their boards. He proceeds doing a similar exercise with a number of words.
Now it is time for a class read-aloud time, in which children sit in a circle for two books, one fiction and the other nonfiction. Because it happens to be the end of the school year, both books are related to the theme of summer vacation.
The students are engaged and eager to participate. They sit in an orderly way, enthusiastically raising hands to answer questions instead of calling out. (This is protocol that Mr. Carter requires.) Mr. Carter pauses frequently, asking questions about the characters, plot, and meaning of the text. He also makes time for the children to ask some questions of their own.
At the beginning of the second hour, Mr. Carter gives a writing assignment. The children are to write a letter to a friend, describing their plans or hopes for summer vacation. When they are finished, they go to the computers to illustrate something from their writing. If time allows, they will then move on to their journals. Because the classroom has only six computers, he breaks the students into rotating groups.
Mr. Carter moves easily among groups, checking on his students’ progress. Some children at the computer need encouragement. They don’t know how to go about illustrating their writing. He talks through some options with them. When working with the children who are writing, he praises efforts to logically sound out new spellings—even if their final product is incorrect. But when he sees students misspell previously introduced words, such as “find” (taught that very day), he is sure to make a correction. Casually picking up a book or a word card, he says, “Remember the last time we saw this word in a book, it was spelled this way.”
For a student who is having trouble with the writing assignment because she obviously didn’t understand the story, Mr. Carter retrieves the book and asks an aide to read it again to the child. For another child, whose discomfort with the mechanics of holding a pen and writing gets in the way of even beginning to write, he assists by taking dictation. For children who have successfully completed the assignment before the others, Mr. Carter sets up groups of two, encouraging them to take turns reading to one another and polishing their newly finished creations.