Elementary schools adopt new program to improve student literacy
Reading is one of those three Rs that is a basic part of elementary education. Because schoolwide goals were to improve literacy, Scarselli and C.C. Meneley elementary schools have adopted a new reading program.
California Early Literacy Learning for grades K-3 and Extended Literacy Learning for grades 4-6, are programs that take the best information teachers have about how to teach reading skills that is out there today, said Cindy Supko, reading specialist for Scarselli.
“It’s exciting because the schoolwide goal is literacy. You get these kids reading when they are young and you will keep them reading. Reading is so important – it helps in everything. A child’s success depends on their ability to read,” she said.
CELL is the only program that the teachers have been trained in so far. Last fall, six teachers, one reading specialist and one administrator from each school attended training on the program with the help of a grant. They, in turn, taught the rest of the teachers the program.
CELL involves eight elements: oral language, phonological skills, reading aloud, shared reading, guided reading, independent reading, interactive writing and independent writing.
Supko said reading and writing are integrated into every part of the curriculum so teachers don’t have to find time in the day for reading instruction – students read and write about science, math, history and all other subjects.
She said the teachers identified improving reading skills as their goal last year when they saw the results of the first Achievement Level Tests.
“The ALTs gave us hard evidence of what direction we needed to go in. That is reading, writing and speaking – all language skills – you can’t separate them,” she said.
Supko is organizing a literacy library filled with books on every subject, for every level. Teachers can go to the library to find books for the whole class to read together. When a class has readers on many different levels, Supko has collections of books on similar subject matter. For instance, 6th graders study exploration and western expansion, so she has a collection of fiction and non-fiction books on those topics.
The library also has reading instruction literature for teachers and tests that teachers have made for each level.
Whenever a teacher makes up a new test, they add it to the test bank so others can use it.
Supko said her goal is to increase the library even more with non-fiction books and continue to stock the library with resources for teachers.
Debbie Eve, who teaches a multiple-age 2nd and 3rd grade class, was one of the teachers who has been using CELL in her class since last year. She said the students wrote everything that decorates her walls themselves – this year, they started by taking turns writing the codes of conduct on a large sheet of paper that will be hung in the class.
“I like how it incorporates literature into everything – math, science and social studies – because we need that time for reading and it is hard to find,” she said. “So we read all day long.”
Brenda Downs, who also teaches a 2-3 MAG class, said because the kids are reading all day, the students benefit.
“It was all things we used before, but now it’s all pulled together. It flows easier for the kids. It makes sense to us. I think it is wonderful. It has got me excited,” Downs said.
Martha Framstead, who teaches 3rd grade, said CELL forces the kids to write more.
“The key is to make sure they are doing it all throughout the day. I’m looking forward to the kids who have had this from kindergarten, 1st grade and 2nd grade, because the management of it will be easier. They will know what to do and they will have been using words around them in the environment all that time,” Framstead said.
Cyndi Monroe, who teaches 1st grade, said she sees her kids grow quickly within the program.
“The amount of involvement of students is amazing. They are using it every day. With the 1st graders, there is so much growth and progress,” she said.
n C.C. Meneley. Reading specialist Laura Parsons also took part in the CELL training and will soon start the Exll training in Reno. Parsons said the six CCMES teachers who were trained are dedicated to the program.
“Every one of these people are committed because they’ve seen it work with their kids,” she said. “It’s about exciting children to learn on their own. It’s not about a Pavlovian dog salivating when the bell rings. Teachers have free rein to grow and learn, too.”
Most aspects of the program have been in place in the reading classes, Parsons said. The exception is interactive writing.
One example of how interactive writing is used is from Mary Weigel’s 2nd grade class, which discussed a book they read together, “The Wump World.”
The students decided to write rules for the “pollutants,” the creatures that, in the story, come to the Wump world and destroy it. Weigel encourages students to think of their own ideas for pollutant rules just as they wrote their own classroom rules.
As a student thinks of one, such as “Don’t put garbage in the river,” he or she goes up to an easel and writes it.
If a student doesn’t know how to spell a word, Weigel asks them to practice first.
She prompts them as much as possible without giving them the answers, so they think things out for themselves.
The interactive writing also holds more elements than meets the eye. While one child is figuring out how to spell a word for the pollutant rules, Weigel encourages the kids to keep thinking by asking them to clap out how many syllables are in the word.
“There is no down time,” Parsons said. “They’re thinking all the time. You get more bang for your buck.”
Behind the group is the “word wall,” which is in each classroom. When the students come across a new word, they write it down and stick it on the word wall. During individual writing sessions, the students can refer to the wall if they need help thinking of a word or spelling a word.
“Everything around the class is the kids’. Everything is correct, so if they need to refer back, they see the correct spelling. The word wall has words like a big dictionary. By the end of the year, there is so much stuff on the wall,” Parsons said. “The kids are really creating their environment, and language is built into all the elements.”
Teacher Nancy Valiquette has her class broken up into different groups. She teaches a 1-2 MAG and the class is currently studying butterflies.
Valiquette is reading a story about butterflies in a group with some students, while others are writing letters to the butterfly they are raising from a caterpillar, writing stories about their butterfly, practicing spelling words or reading on their own.
Weigel said the best part of the program is it allows the students to work on their own reading level.
“It meets them right where they are and pushes them forward because they have to meet a little bit of a challenge every day,” she said.