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
During the Message Time Plus process, teachers model the mechanics of writing — print directionality and sweep, capitalization, punctuation, and format. They also model vital elements of the writer's craft - word choice, genre, planning what to write about, how much detail to use, and using prior knowledge to create new work. The process also models phonemic awareness and phonics skills within a focused and meaningful context.
Message Time Plus has a profound influence on student learning because it goes beyond modeling writing by also modeling reading skills and strategies. When a child makes a prediction based on a good reading strategy, the teacher pauses to draw attention to this and make explicit to everyone the strategies good readers use. If students are stuck, the teacher may pause and "think aloud" about which strategies (such as stretching out the word or using clues from context) could be used to figure out the problem word, again underscoring how good readers read.
The process helps draw out struggling students and guides them into a highly supportive community of learners. When a child who has never spoken in class says, “I found the letter ‘g,’ ” the teacher, holding back tears, asks her to “kiss her brain” to validate her intelligence and risk-taking. When the child infamous for being disruptive learns to channel his energy by racing to the board to find “talk marks,” the children pat him on the back as he walks proudly back to his seat. When the child who doesn’t speak English tells the class that “do” rhymes with “shoe,” the class breaks out in applause
Message Time Plus has become the favorite tool of the teachers who use it because it can do so much in such a short time period. As demands for meeting content and strategy standards, conducting assessments, and creating direct instructional time increase, while other demands on teachers' time are not decreased, highly effective and classroom-proven tools are vital. Message Time Plus is this kind of tool, and can easily become the most effective 10 to 30 minutes of your day.
How Message Time Plus was developed
Message Time Plus evolved from CLI’s partnership with Dr. Janice Stewart, a professor of education at Caldwell College in New Jersey. It was Dr. Stewart’s experience as a high school student on a family visit to rural South Carolina that served as the starting point for a teaching method that has succeeded in some of the country’s most impoverished inner cities. Stewart saw her aunt teaching in a three-room schoolhouse and was impressed at how well she was able to reach children of different ages. She started the morning with a discussion of the day’s events, wrote a paragraph about them, discussed it with the whole class, and then had the older students help the younger ones, pitching in herself when the youngest children needed individual help. Decades later, as a graduate student and teacher in settings as varied as Brooklyn, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, and Newark (NJ), she saw teachers using informational morning messages as a basis for modeling writing strategies. In sharing these methods with CLI, a seven-step process based on research-based effective practices like thinking aloud, scaffolding, and re-reading was developed.
A Word from Dr. Richard Allington
In the foreword to CLI’s Message Time Plus manual, Dr. Richard L. Alllington, Professor of Education at the University of Tennessee writes that, “Narrowing the achievement gap that now exists between more and less advantaged children will require just the work that Children’s Literacy Initiative does and Message Time Plus embodies -- research-based techniques to support developing the expertise needed to teach all children well.” He describes Message Time Plus as a flexible instructional tool requiring teachers to know their students and adapt their teaching based on their needs. This signature element of Message Time Plus is what makes it a powerful practice as opposed to a scripted program. The teacher is empowered to make instructional decisions such as how much support her readers and writers require, what literacy skills and strategies to highlight based on whole class and individual need, and what connections to make between the message and other balanced literacy practices. These connections to other learning, including learning in the content areas, the arts, and the development of character traits, allow teachers to build a classroom community while teaching literacy skills and strategies in the context of meaningful message.