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09-10-13: New reading program expands to more schools this fall
09-10-13: New reading program expands to more schools this fall
Posted on 09/10/2013

For many adults, learning to read in elementary school consisted of reading a story out of a textbook and taking a comprehension test at the end of each chapter.


Students who struggled in reading often felt frustrated when they couldn’t keep up with the rest of the class, while those who excelled were easily bored.


Times have changed.


An elementary reading program introduced last year is structured to meet the learning needs of each student, whether the child needs extra help, is on grade level, or is above standard.


The program was launched in 16 of the district’s 21 elementary schools and will expand this fall to the remaining five schools — Brouillet, Northwood, Shaw Road, Wildwood, and Woodland.


ImageStudents, teachers, and principals are giving rave reviews to the new “Journeys” reading program, which is taught in grades two through six. Kindergartners and first graders learn with the “Read Well” program.


In addition to having vivid colors and illustrations, stories depict real life and the characters represent diversity in cultures, genders, ages, and special needs, said Christine Moloney, director of instructional leadership.


Stories are also rich in nonfiction, and a series of related reading and writing activities challenge students to think about local and global issues, people, and events.


The reading program also correlates with the district’s new elementary social studies curriculum, infuses technology, and is tied to the Common Core state learning standards.


One of the focuses on technology, for example, encourages parents and students to log into a Journeys “ThinkCentral” website where they can read weekly stories together, or have stories read to them, on a home computer. The website also features other reading resources to help parents stay informed and students be successful.


That technology component was tested this past school year and is expected to be fully operational at all elementary schools when school starts in September, Moloney said.


While the main textbook is the same for an entire class and each grade level, supplemental reading materials include a variety of related short stories that are targeted to specifc reading levels, including those tailored for English Language Learners.


High-level readers, for example, might read about the Civil War with detailed text and challenging vocabulary words, while struggling learners will read about the same topic in a more appropriate format that matches their level. English Language Learners will also learn about the Civil War, only in a book that has additional illustrations to help them connect words with images.


“I love it, and my students love the stories,” said Mt. View Elementary third grade teacher Kim Gillihan. “The materials are colorful and engaging.”


Like many other teachers across the district, Gillihan said she especially enjoys the program’s focus on small group reading instruction.


ImageGillihan breaks up her class into small groups according to reading ability for a portion of the 90 minutes set aside for reading instruction each day. All elementary teachers districtwide are expected to teach 90 minutes of reading daily.


Nancy Strobel, principal last year at Mt. View Elementary, said she heard from many of her teachers that they were already seeing the benefits of grouping students by reading ability.


“Small group instruction is a phenomenal way to teach kids to learn,” she said. “It meets them at their reading level and pushes them forward.”


Maplewood Elementary fourth-grade teacher Hope Ernst also touts the curriculum’s focus on small group instruction. She structures her class so that groups rotate to a different reading or writing activity every 15 to 20 minutes.


On one morning last spring, students rotated among four groups. The first group joined Ernst in one corner of the room on the carpet, where they took turns reading passages aloud from a biography about Laura Ingalls Wilder. The author wrote a series of books based on her childhood in a pioneer family.


At the next table, students used headphones to listen to an audio recording of that week’s main textbook reading about Sacajawea and then returned to their desks to answer questions about the story.


A third group silently read a book about Lewis and Clark’s packing list, while a neighboring group practiced writing compound words and using them in sentences. By the end of the time set aside for reading, Ernst said she is able to see and hear from every student in the class and stay abreast of their reading progress.


Ernst was among several teachers and district leaders who served on a committee that did an extensive review of reading curricula before deciding on Journeys. The new curriculum replaces “Open Court.”


What is exciting about the new reading program, Ernst said, are questions and activities that challenge students to “make thoughtful connections to what they are reading.”


ImageA story the class recently read about Sacagawea, for example, asks “What makes a team successful?” The essential question, as well as vocabulary, spelling words, the grammar lesson, and other skills, are outlined each week on a poster that she and other teachers display on the classroom wall.


Maplewood Elementary student Ashton Cowan said he waits excitedly for Ernst to display the poster each week because he looks forward to knowing what the class will be reading.


Writing is also integrated, as is vocabulary, fluency, phonics, spelling, grammar, and benchmark tests to measure student progress.


Zaya Harris, also a fourth grader last year at Maplewood Elementary, said she likes Journeys because of the many chances she gets to reflect on her reading through creative writing, including journal writing or poetry.


“I love it because I love to write,” she said.


Classmate Drake Anderson added that the reading curriculum has helped him to become a better speller. He is one of several students whose names are highlighted on a “Stellar Spellers” poster outside the classroom for having done well on a spelling test.


Maplewood Elementary Principal Susan Walton added, “The questions and topics students are discussing and learning are all high-level thinking. We are asking our students to be thinkers, to be curious, and to ponder.”