Message Time by Samina Hadi-Tabassum, Ed.D.
During my doctoral study at Columbia University in New York City, I also worked as a literacy specialist in the Newark Public Schools with a non-profit organization called The Children’s Literacy Initiative (CLI) based in Philadelphia. It was one of the best jobs that I have ever had. I worked with new teachers and visited their classrooms at least once a week for a few hours all the way to the end of the year. I began the year by modeling the various techniques, methods and strategies espoused by CLI but all based on sound research. We were trained during the summers and presented a wide range of workshops as well for the teachers on Saturdays. By the end of my doctoral program, I saw amazing changes in the children’s literacy acquisition through simple ideas such as pasting a writing rubric on each child’s desk to use as a reference to always posting student writing in the classroom to displaying various kinds of Word Walls…mind you this was in the late 1990s. I worked closely with the teachers and was able to schedule my hours with them individually, depending on their needs. It was ironic that I spent my mornings teaching young children to read and write and then treked up to Columbia for my afternoon classes on semiotics and nation-building in the anthropology department.
Message Time is a copy-righted technique used by CLI. It is an amazing tool for any classroom. The teacher first prepares a “message” to write on the board–which could be anything from a poem, to a dialogue, to a narrative paragraph, to a dictionary entry, etc. S/he then has the students predict what s/he is about to write–which is why this works so well. Therefore, the students are looking for cues and are quite engaged. Throughout, s/he can ask questions like “Is this an uppercase letter?” After each written sentence, the students read the sentence aloud. At the end of the message, the students then also reread the entire message several times. After the message has been read, the teacher selects student names from a cup. Students are asked randomly to come up to the board and circle either a letter or phoneme s/he recognizes (e.g., the letter “p” and/or the blend “br”) to a triangle around a punctuation mark to a box around a word s/he recognizes. Advanced students can also find words within words (i.e., the word “may” in “maybe”). Message Time allows for differentiation and gives each range ability a chance to participate. In the end, students come up and identify the high-frequency words integrated into the message. If a student makes a mistake, this is an excellent time for a mini-lesson. For example, a first grader may circle “I” and think it is a letter even though it is functioning as a word in the message. The teacher leaves the message on the board for a while and has the class reread the message for fluency during any spare minute. The results are amazing: it increases word recognition, fluency, and an understanding of how texts function. Message Time can connect to anything you are teaching in class for the sake of comprehension and should be done 2 to 3 times a week. If you are teaching about butterflies, then your message could be about butterflies.
I have demonstrated Message Time every time I teach the literacy development course. Most often, the graduate students at Dominican University balk at the idea that this simple technique can make radical differences in their students’ language acquisition. Try it, I say. Show me that it does not work when well done. Amy Niederberger was one of the non-believers. I challanged her to try it. She did and she loved it. She even showed me the growth charts by the end of the semester and how her students were doing so well on their language assessments. Amy Niederberger paid it forward by demonstrating this technique to Medha, the classroom teacher with whom she worked in India. I did the same with Sapna. Both teachers fell in love and are still using this amazing but simple technique in their classroms at People’s Education Society. Here is more information on it from the CLI website.
Message Time Plus® is a modeled writing and shared reading instructional program for pre-kindergarten through third grade. It is an important classroom tool because it provides highly focused instructional time each day that addresses so many educational goals in a compact process which students enjoy.
During this time, students have the opportunity to:
- respond to print at their own developmental level
- increase their knowledge of print convention and of concepts about print
- learn how and why to think before they write
- see the spoken word written down
- increase high-frequency word recognition and rich vocabulary by learning these words in a meaningful context
- see reading strategies modeled
- see written language in a meaningful context
- work at their independent level while making predictions
- work at their instructional level when working with the teacher in mini-lessons