November 25, 2004

Federal Grant Helping SCR-I Schools Stress ‘Reading First’

Thanks to the instructors who taught you how to read, you’ll be able to learn more about the new method of teaching the most important skill of the educational system, by reading this article.

For years local educators have stressed the importance of reading and now the federal government has finally jumped on the bandwagon and brought the checkbook along.

The Scotland County R-I school district recently was awarded nearly a quarter of a million dollars in the form of a Reading First grant. The program has completely restructured how the skill is being taught at the local level.

“I’ve been in education 16 years and this is the best improvement I’ve seen come along,” said Sarah Myers, the SCR-I reading coach in charge of the new program. “Not only is it getting the kids excited about learning to read, it is bringing all the teachers together and has us all on the same page.”

The federal program is a renewable grant that can be authorized for the district for up to three years.

Reading First obviously stresses teaching the skill. Students in kindergarten through third grade have two 90-minute uninterrupted reading instructional sessions every day under the program.

The Scientific Based Reading Research (SBRR) plan has five components emphasized in each block.

Students are taught phonemic awareness, the basic sound created by each letter. The plan also emphasizes phonics.

“We’ve taught phonics before, we are just doing a much better job of it now with Reading First,” Myers said.

Other components include fluency, vocabulary and comprehension all of which are taught with systematic and explicit instruction.

During the instructional periods, the classroom teacher has added support staff to assist including the Title I teacher, special education instructors and classroom aides.

The program features regular assessments. Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) are tested three times a year. Students that are deemed at risk, not meeting the required assessment levels, are tested every two weeks while students that show some risk are tested monthly.

The testing uses probes based on letter naming fluency; initial sound fluency; phoneme segmentation fluency; nonsense word fluency; word use fluency; oral reading fluency; and retelling fluency.

Reading First utilizes a number of resources provided by the grant funding. Open Court Reading by McGraw-Hill is the new reading series. Supplemental materials include Reading Mastery, Early Reading Intervention, Read Naturally and the Wright Group.

The funds also have brought new dictionaries, thesauruses and atlases to the classrooms along with learning centers, listening centers and new reading books for the library as well as a professional library for instructors.

But the most popular buy has been the new Smart Boards. The high-tech boards resemble a flat screen television that has replaced the old chalkboard in the classroom. The interactive system utilizes a ceiling-mounted projector to cast video images for a computer onto the Smart Board. Students and teachers alike can interact with the program, writing on the screen or moving, sorting or identifying objects on the touch screen.

“One might think that the regular schedule every day might wear on the students,” said Myers. “But the kids like the routine. All of the new technology has the kids excited about reading.”

The new program is having a similar effect on the teachers who are equally excited.

“The teachers are synchronizing lessons, conferencing together, sharing ideas and concerns,” Myers said. “That is the really cool thing about Reading First, all of the teachers are now on the same page with constant sharing and assistance.”

The students are not the only ones facing assessment under the new program. The teachers themselves are observed once a week to insure Reading First is being implemented according to the grant. Former SCR-I instructor Julie Clapp serves as the regional teaching coach, supervising Myers and reporting to the state.

All of the Reading First components will be on display for the public January 22, when the school will host a Reading First/Science Night at the elementary school.

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