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Reading & Language

Qualities of a Good Classroom: First Grader and Reader & Writer

Kids reading in a library

Early elementary school-aged children benefit from rich, stimulating environments in which literacy activities are woven in throughout the school day. They benefit from a literacy program that includes direct instruction in all aspects of reading and writing along with many opportunities to practice their skills. Consider these 10 simple tips for finding or evaluating an environment that will foster first graders’ or readers’ and writers’ language and literacy development.

  • Does the classroom use a balanced reading program?
    A balanced reading program is one that includes phonics instruction, or instruction in letter-sound associations and word patterns, practice in recognizing common words automatically, and instruction in decoding, or how to figure out unknown words. In addition, a balanced reading program includes instruction in oral reading for accuracy and fluency, vocabulary and reading comprehension.
  • Do children and teachers discuss books regularly?
    Children extend their understanding of what they read and learn new perspectives though book discussions with peers and teachers. Look for classrooms in which children routinely read books and discuss them in large groups, small groups, guided reading groups and “book clubs.”
  • Do children spend some time each day reading independently?
    When children become readers, one of the ways in which they learn to be better readers is by reading on their own. A quality program for first- through third-graders offers children assistance in selecting appropriate books either by a teacher or librarian and time to read by themselves for a few minutes each day.
  • Is there a regular read-aloud time?
    Although they can read by themselves, early elementary school-aged children can still benefit from hearing harder books read aloud to them in order to learn new vocabulary and information. Some teachers pair read-aloud time with lunch or snack, and children generally look forward to this opportunity to relax and listen to a good story.
  • Does the classroom have a library and a reading area?
    Look for classrooms that have a library containing varied reading choices at a variety of reading levels. Class collections that are arranged by level, topic or genre help children to make appropriate book selections. A comfortable reading area with pillows and soft seating provides a cozy environment that helps children view reading as a pleasurable activity.
  • Is a process approach to writing used?
    Children in grades one through three learn best when they have opportunities to write daily about their own experiences, thoughts and feelings. Writing programs that focus on writing as a multi-step process involving brainstorming and organizing ideas, writing a first draft, revising and editing, are ideal for early elementary students.
  • Is spelling taught directly?
    A quality language arts program for early elementary school-aged children should include some instruction as well as some work in applying spelling skills to writing.
  • Do teachers regularly assess children’s work?
    Regular assessment of children’s work helps teachers to know how and what to teach. Assessment does not necessarily mean a standardized test, but can include listening to children’s reading and observation of reading behaviors. Look for a classroom in which teachers use clear methods of assessment.
  • Do you see your child’s racial or cultural background reflected in the classroom?
    All children should have the opportunity to see books with characters who look and speak like them. Make sure that your child will see evidence of his background in the classroom, either through a diversity of teachers and students or through books and other materials.
  • Is the link between home and school valued?
    Children learn best when parents and teachers work together. Look for environments in which teachers have ways of communicating with parents regularly, such as newsletters or notes on your child’s day. Some schools even offer evening workshops or have lending libraries of parenting resources.

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