Ms. Owen's students are diverse, both economically and racially. Almost half are English language learners . While the class is conducted in English, Ms. Owen encourages her students to use their first language as a bridge to English language learning. "I encourage the children who come to school with another language to use that language. It's a great window, or a door, actually, for me to reach them." She is assisted part-time by a bilingual aide.
Sheila Owen starts her school year with undecorated walls. But they don't stay undecorated for long. From day one, her students create their own literacy-rich space. "They put the art on the walls; they put the writing on the walls.... They have access to the whole classroom, because really it's theirs. So I want them to have ownership of it."
With words and literacy activities readily available in the classroom, Ms. Owen follows a literacy routine built around the idea that reading lessons should happen in context, not in isolation. "The purpose for reading is to gain meaning from text. And I believe children can only really comprehend and only really enjoy reading if it is in an authentic experience in a real piece of literature, in a real activity, not just a segmented component of a program."
Ms. Owen's literacy routine, modeled after the California Early Literacy Learning (CELL) Program, includes the following literacy instructional practices: read-aloud, shared reading, guided reading, independent reading, interactive writing, and independent writing. In each practice, Ms. Owen addresses one or more of the Essential Components of Literacy Development such as oral language, phonics, and comprehension.