Elementaries offer new reading programOverall reading test scores in the River Falls School District are always above average to some degree.
By: Phil Pfuehler, River Falls Journal
Overall reading test scores in the River Falls School District are always above average to some degree.
That may be a reason why the district’s students, collectively, score high in other core subjects on standardized tests.
Reading, especially at an early age, is the No. 1 academic building block.
But this is the 21st century. The world, pushed by technology, is rapidly changing. State and federal academic standards are rising.
Meanwhile, the district’s elementary school reading program was 14 years old.
But for the 2012-13 school year, River Falls is rolling out a new K-5 reading program called LEAD21, by publisher McGraw-Hill.
This is the same publisher that the district picked a few years ago for the new K-5 Everyday Math program.
River Falls Academic Services Director Mike Johnson says LEAD21, costing the district roughly $200,000 to implement, “is a more targeted, intense, specific” reading program and with more “relative, engaging materials” than the old one.
Greenwood, Rocky Branch and Westside students will use the LEAD21 curriculum.
Montessori elementary school students will use another new reading program called Good Habits Great Readers by Pearson Education.
Johnson said the latter has “more flexibility” to fit the Montessori teaching model, while still retaining the “inquiry-based, analytical methods” that are the hallmarks of LEAD21.
The Montessori program in the Eau Claire School District uses Good Habits Great Readers.
Both LEAD21 and Good Habits Great Readers were the top two picks of an ad hoc committee — made up mostly of teachers and principals — charged with finding a successor to Literacy Place, the old reading program.
The district’s Title One K-8 Reading Coordinator Barb Anderson said the selection process was thorough and took two years.
Publisher finalists gave presentations before the local reading committee before members voted on which program to pick.
Anderson said unlike the old reading program that relied on fiction, LEAD21 reading will be split evenly between fiction and nonfiction. The later will have science and social studies reading content.
A Grade 2 reading science booklet has a unit called “Where You Live.”
One chapter talks about the many designs of bridges in the world, like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and how they’re built, supported and used.
Another chapter talks about transportation and tunnels, including the Eurotunnel that goes under the ocean between France and England.
Pages are filled with bright, colorful diagrams, photos, illustrations, key vocabulary words highlighted in yellow and occasional focus questions to spur critical thinking about what children read.
LEAD21 books are clearly not the elementary reading books that our grandparents knew, especially the Dick-and-Jane simplistic reading series that relied on repetitive lines as: “Oh, see. Oh, see Jane. Funny, funny Jane.”
Johnson said the district’s new series will “be more demanding” of young readers. Anderson said the contemporary reading material is designed to “engage and stimulate” — in other words, to nudge students to be more inquisitive and assertive readers rather than passive.
Johnson and Anderson also like LEAD21 because it breaks down each classroom of readers according to their abilities, and is designed to “accelerate” and “chart” their progress throughout the eight units of the school year.
“This is a much more structured, tailored reading program,” Anderson said.
The tailored portion is that students are tested and then placed in one of four reading categories, starting at the highest level: Advanced, Benchmark, Strategic and Intensive.
Johnson said there is “ongoing, common assessments” done primarily through regular “benchmark tests.” Testing data for each student is graphed to see what reading gains are being made.
During 90-minute reading class, students break out into their “differentiated” groups (Advanced, Benchmark, Strategic, Intensive), depending on their ability.
LEAD21 booklets are tailored for the readability of each group, but they all cover the same key concepts, content vocabulary, skill and strategy focus, activities and organization.
Johnson said elementary school teachers have had to train to prepare for the new reading class.
“They are going to be going back and forth between small groups and being more like facilitators to the kids rather than standing in front of the entire class, speaking and having them all listen,” Johnson said.
Reading classes will set aside time for individual, small group- and large-group discussions.
“It will also force students to be more responsible for their learning,” Anderson said.
Johnson said the new format is a “radical” though positive change for reading instruction.
Both like the systematic, measurable way LEAD21 tracks and advances the reading abilities of students.
The Osceola School District has used LEAD21 for two years. Teachers there came here to present about how the program works at the end of the last school year.
Johnson said the high turnout for that session by River Falls teachers shows they seem committed to making a successful transition for the new school year.
Another reading plus that Johnson sees is that each classroom at each of the three elementary schools will follow the same system, the same schedule.
That uniformity, he said, should be reflected in a consistent pattern of reading mastery districtwide.
Anderson said that the small-group reading sessions will encourage young students to articulate, communicate, solve problems, learn when to speak and how to work together.
“These are your 21st century skills,” she said.
LEAD21 also has a strong writing component that uses several genres, such as persuasive, narrative, descriptive, essay, and how-to directions.
Anderson said that, ultimately, the reading success rests with instructors.
“We already have very good reading teachers,” she said. “It’s teachers who make the difference. Now we’ve given them a high-quality product to use.
Johnson said that an interesting technological feature of LEAD21 is that parents will eventually be given an access code and be able to follow online how their child does in the program.