Suzanne Francis runs a Reception class at Stanmore Bay School, Auckland and currently has 25 students in her room. She gets a new intake of students at the beginning of each term.
In the term that her students are with her, she works hard at preparing them for the long-term literacy learning journey that they will embarking upon. As well as fostering a love of reading and writing, she introduces and models how to use some concepts about print, some basic letter-sound relationship knowledge and a range of content and high frequency words.
Furthermore, she introduces these basic blocks of literacy learning within contexts that are rich, engaging and meaningful for her students. For example, I observed a writing lesson in which a group of students (who had been at school for four weeks only) were innovating on a text that they loved (‘Brown Bear Brown Bear’) by writing about a bug of their choice for a class book on Bugs that they were putting together. Using a blend of demonstrating, questioning, prompting and feedback, she ensured that each student was successful in writing about their bug.
While observing, I noted the colourful, well-presented and very attractive learning environment that Suzanne had established for her students and I asked her to write explanatory notes for some key areas of the classroom.
This is a large display area for Science-based theme work. At present the children’s interests lie in “Creatures you find in your Backyard” and the current display is an “Ant Trail”. The children delighted in learning the scientific names for the parts of the ants, and they were created piece by piece using black sugar paper and a touch of paint. The captions include basic sight words the children are already familiar with so they can read this display independently.
This area consists of two parts:
To the left is the “Cosy Book Corner” – an area where the children can opt to go and sit in relative quiet and read books whenever they have finished a set task.
To the right is “The Theatre” – currently set up as a family corner complete with a large selection of dress-ups. It is an area for the children to engage in free role play and helps develop a wide range of skills in oral language. Sometimes the “Theatre” can be a shop, a doctors’ surgery, a vet etc depending on where the children’s interests lie.
I like to hang displays up for the children to refer to and see their ideas validated.
In the foreground is a “brainstorm chart” based on our Colour Run Day – a fundraiser. I brought my t-shirt the next day as a prompt for the children to share their Colour Run Day memories. I wrote down each child’s memory with their name against it – some were good, positive experiences, some were memories of being apprehensive or scared. The goal for me is to include and validate all experiences, so the child feels free to share their personal thoughts without judgement. Also the children as beginning writers, see that their thoughts can be recorded in written form to be read and reread.
This is my Teaching Station, where the whole class comes to sit on the mat together.
On the board is my piece of writing modelling – where the children were exposed to me thinking through the process of how to write my story. They also shared in the process at certain points. To the right of the whiteboard is a display of the “focus letter” for the week, and and “focus basic sight words”. The children are able to glance any time at these displays and further reinforce their learning in a way that it is meaningful to them.
This is our Alphabet and Word Games area. The list of basic words that my class would cover in a term are displayed for the children to refer to. They can read them at their leisure, or use them as “looking” words when wanting to spell a particular word in their own writing. The alphabet is there for the same purpose. At the foot of the display is a table laden with alphabet and word games. The children are free to use these activities whenever they have finished certain tasks. I do allocate time however for certain groups to work at this table at particular times of the week so I know all have been exposed to them at some point. The children are encouraged to work on these activities in mixed ability groups to enable some peer teaching to take place.