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

Teaching Practice
I think the key to my teaching is constant reflection.  As a teacher you don’t have the luxury to think too much as you go, because you’re mostly reacting.  There’s a book called Into Thin Air that I think provides a good metaphor.  They describe climbing Mt. Everest and how when you’re over 10,000 feet your brain is denied the oxygen it needs to be making life and death decisions.  But the fact is what you’re really doing above 10,000 feet is making life and death decisions.  That’s how it is in the classroom.  I’m not equipped to be making the decisions that I’m making. 

Luckily, there is retrospect and you can think about how it’s gone and you can adjust.  I also keep accurate records.  I write a lot about what goes on in the classroom.  Especially with The Teachers Learning Cooperative I’m doing real structured reflections.  For example, within that structure there’s something called “classroom stories,” where we tell stories from the classroom.  With the help of whom ever chairs that meeting the big ideas from individual classroom stories get pulled out and linked together.  Another huge way of stepping back and reflecting is bringing all kinds of people into the room to observe.  It’s crowded sometimes, but it’s really helpful to have multiple eyes.  I’ve never been lulled into thinking that I’m going to be able to do it right, so I’m pretty open to tearing my work apart.  And I’m willing to tear myself apart too. I don’t expect to ever do the work perfectly to my satisfaction.  I think that’s part of what makes me a good teacher. 

We use Investigations as our math program.  There’s a way that conversation is brought into that instruction that influences the conversations that I have in reading and writing.  I’ve been really influenced by the math standard of thinking about communication and talking about process.  There are writing conversations I have with the students that mirror what we do in math.  It’s helped me thinking about writing as communication, not just in the way that it’s communicating something when you put a pencil on a page, but communicating about your writing process.   Being able to give words to choices that you’re making as a writer and being able to give words to how it is that you’re reading are important components of that writing.  Talking about process is one thing that I’ve picked up from teaching math. 

Obviously the Lucy Calkins material is a big influence.  This goes back to questions I have about structure and independence.  As a teacher I’m thinking about my own ways that I’m influenced by other structures and how they allow me to be independent.  For example, I think about how I work within a program like Lucy Calkins’ so that I don’t just become an automaton.  It’s not scripted in the same way Voyager that Mattie Davis uses in her classroom is scripted.  I think that there’s a way that you would use it and shut down thinking because it’s done for you.  Therefore, I’m conscious of how I think and bring in structures to help me be creative and listen. 

I really find the balanced literacy frame useful.  You could trace that back to Marie Clay and all the New Zealand/Australian people, and think about the different social configurations of how learning to read happens.  In this structure there is shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading throughout the day. I try to make all of these different configurations possible.  I’m influenced by different “how to” ideas that I come across.  If you think you have to invent what you teach in your classroom, you’re foolish.  It’s important to think about the work as taking from others who are there with you and have gone before and modifying these.



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Site last updated July 22, 2006