There’s no slowing down in Lisa D’Orazio’s fourth-grade classroom at Challis Elementary School — for the teacher or her students.
On the second day of the new school year, fourth-graders were focused on refreshing their reading, writing and vocabulary skills and getting ready to improve and advance those skills. During an uninterrupted almost two-hour spelling and phonics session students discussed long and short A sounds; were reminded that letters aren’t followed by an “uh,” — it’s B, not “buh;” talked about patterns in words that tip the reader to the correct pronunciation, chatted about consonants and verbs, practiced writing the letters of the alphabet and worked out kinks in their fingers and hands which hadn’t done much writing during summer vacation.
When it came to the letter A, the topic got complicated. There are short A’s like the A sound in raft; long A’s like the sound in sale, long A’s paired with an I like jail; long A’s followed by a silent E like steak.
Students broke into small teams with a stack of cards containing words with all of those A options plus more and figured out how to determine the pattern and group the words.
There word “hang” seemed to give most of the groups a little trouble, and D’Orazio reminded them that some words are pronounced differently in some parts of the country — hang being one of those words, so some people might not agree that it went in the long A category.
“You guys have never had to think about words like this,” D’Orazio said. “You have to learn the patterns. As you learn the patterns you’ll become much better spellers and even better readers than you are. You’ll read fluently and who doesn’t want to read more fluently.”
Likewise, learning to correctly sound out a letter and not add a syllable to it is important to improving reading skills, D’Orazio said.
“If you start saying ‘buh,’ not B when you start trying to read you are in trouble,” she said.
Somehow D’Orazio squeezed in time to read the book “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” to the 15 students and they started on a project to build a cause and effect vocabulary based on that book and the timeline of Alexander’s day.
Peppered throughout the instruction, D’Orazio reminded the students to look at her and listen, stay seated, to not play around at their desks, to not talk over other people and to do it all “with a spirit of excellence.”
As the children were writing a row of capital A’s and saying both the short and long A sounds, she reminded them again to write and speak with excellence, “because it’s not a race.”
Letters are to be written from the top, not the bottom and pencils are to be picked up to start a new stroke, the teacher said, all part of the plan to achieve excellence.
Between all the learning, the students logged what they were focusing on in their agendas. They write a brief description of what they covered in each subject each day in those journals, which can be shared with their parents.
Then it was on to lunch before the youths were back at their desks tackling other subjects and soaking up new knowledge. Just a typical day in fourth grade.