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This post is written by literacy consultant Danielle Larsen.

It is sometimes easy to forget the uneasiness that can come when something is brand new, particularly when it comes to a young mind. There’s novelty of course, but there’s also anxiety and the fear of making a mistake, not being good enough at something, or not meeting an expectation.

How much of a smoother transition would it be into something new, however, if only the thinking was done for a period of time, without any other action or doing? If we had a guide or safe group setting to begin our journey of trying something new…wouldn’t it all make more sense? Wouldn’t we feel like we were set up for success because there was a gradual release into independent application?

Well, this is the beauty of immersion time being allotted for at the beginning of all reading and writing units of study. Students have the opportunity of living something, of being totally absorbed into that genre, before there is any expectation from them.

The purpose of immersion is to:

  • assess students’ prior knowledge and skills with the goals of the unit

  • preview the work that students will be learning to do independently during the workshops

  • pre-teach language, vocabulary, and concepts

  • participate in shared experiences

  • build excitement, enthusiasm, and a clear purpose for students

Most of the teaching time during this week will be dedicated to shared experiences. This allows teachers to build a common, strong foundation in the goals for the unit prior to expecting students to begin working independently in the workshop. Most of the teaching and learning during this week will be in the components of balanced literacy.

These include:

  • pre-assessments

  • interactive read alouds

  • shared reading

  • shared and interactive writing

  • goal-setting conferences with students

These components begin during immersion and continue throughout the entire unit of study. When describing the components of balanced literacy, I like to use the metaphor of a puzzle. The puzzle tends to be more complete when students are a part of different learning experiences that all relate to the genre being studied, and read or written.

A few additional benefits of building immersion time into a unit of study are that students tend to be a bit more independent during their reading or writing time, once they have been exposed to and have practiced the process. This of course frees up more time for us to confer or lead strategy groups! Additionally, students are immediately aware of the goals or the bigger picture of the unit, so the expectation is a bit more explicit throughout the whole unit~ the big picture is in sight. And lastly, we can anticipate strategies and skills that may be difficult for students to perform independently, and preteach into them during immersion week; again, supporting the notion of gradual release.

Immersion Week Sample Schedule

n.b. – The above schedule is a sample that works for a particular school. It is meant to show how the time allotted for workshop components can shift during the immersion week literacy block.

Danielle shares her deep love of reading and writing with the teachers and students she supports. Her work allows others to feel comfortable taking risks as they grow their teaching practice. @danielle815lars

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