Creating Structures that Facilitate Independence
in a Literacy-Rich First Grade Classroom

Gillian Maimon , Powel Elementary School
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Where do I teach?

What are my students learning?

Teaching Practice
What's my approach?

Student Work




Physical Structures Time Structures

The curriculum provided to us by the School District of Philadelphia is Trophies.  The official word is we’re supposed to use it only for shared reading.  However, that depends on the leadership at the individual schools.  I use the anthology and I do the story of the week.  When you really look at the shared reading component of balanced literacy, it’s only 20 minutes.  Other schools that are stuck in workbooks and building the whole 120 minutes around Trophies, which is not consistent with the official message from downtown.  The use of the curriculum is more reflective of individual principals who are really demanding that all the materials that were sent be used – because we were sent a lot of stuff.  There are some principals who are insisting on their use. Whereas my principal took a look at a lot of this and found much of it not useful.  But even though this is standardized and supposed to be used district wide it comes down to the individual leadership.  I use some of it.  I use the stories.  I think actually some of the materials sent along with it are pretty nice, including a number of big books.  They are real books.  I don’t care very much for the story selections in the anthology.  They get better as it goes through the grades but they're really contrived in first grade.  They're not real literature.  For example, it uses a very controlled vocabulary.   As with anything I’ve brought into the classroom, I know I must be prepared for my students to hate the material I love or to love the material I hate.  They call the trophy stuff we use in the classroom the big blue book.  There are kids who love the big blue book.  When they are doing independent reading it’s often the big blue book, the Trophies' book, they go to first.

Literacy Learning
Literacy learning happens throughout the day in my classrooms.  So within that context I hope that my students are learning independence more broadly.  I don’t want all the learning to be controlled by me.  Reading and writing are both processes that you’re going to use to plug content into throughout your life.  And so I hope that they’re learning to feel really comfortable with both of these processes and that they’ll just be able to plug content into.  There are so many stock ways that this is said.  For example, people talk about how there’s learning to read, but once you learn to read there’s reading to learn.  That’s a piece of it.  I want my students to feel control over everything we do in the classroom, so when we’re reading a book, I like just asking the question, “so what do you think?” and letting them take the conversation wherever they want it to go.   They should have control over their response, what it is that they’re doing.  I think that’s why writing is such a big piece of what we do in the classroom because that’s how you take control of your ideas – you put them on paper.  Lucy Calkins talks about that fact that everybody should read like a writer.  There’s something really profound in that.  It’s the idea that whatever you read, you’re reading it not in order just to consume it, but to think about.  It’s about doing.  It’s about making.


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Site last updated July 22, 2006