With the big push for improving reading scores in the schools around the nation, every effort is being made to involve the students in programs emphasizing reading. First grade students at Alta School have been discovering that reading can be one of the most enjoyable things they can learn to do.
Through a new program, Word Journeys, teachers set aside an hour a day for just reading and reading activities. The results have been gratifying for the young students and the teachers.
Every day following the morning recess, the two sections of students come together to take part in an hour-long class with regular classroom teachers Lisa Brown and Carey Friedrich assisted by Shelley Barker, Melissa Hand and Lynn Wunschel.
At the beginning of the school year, the students were first divided into groups of about six students according to their reading skills. Those groups have continued to change as the skills increase.
Both classrooms are used during the reading hour and students move throughout three stations.
The regular classroom teachers work with the students in "guided reading." In this area, leveled books are introduced to the students along with new words found in the reading material. The books are read aloud over and over, first by the teachers and then by the students. At the beginning of the school year a new book was introduced each day. Now that the students have gotten the hang of reading, more difficult books are introduced, spending up to three days on each.
A student teacher has joined the group, breaking the students into four per group and allowing for even more individual attention if needed.
Melissa Hand and Shelley Barker work with the students on the spelling of those new words. Through interesting activities, such as PALS, reader's theater and reading poetry, the students learn the words without realizing it.
Lynn Wunschel, the Title I reading teacher, works on the reinforcement of all of these areas. At this station, the students learn and continue to practice how to read in an expressive way, in the same way one would talk to a friend, rather than in slow motion.
The students spend 20 minutes in each of the three stations.
At the end of the week, a folder is sent home with the students which contain "refrigerator" words (a sheet with all the new words) for them to practice spelling and pronouncing over the weekend.
The teachers love the new reading program. "It is the best hour of the day," said Friedrich. "The kids are all working at their own developmental level. It's a novelty thing. They like having different teachers. It feels good to us, too."
The kids are engaged in the activities throughout the hour and it is fun for the students to be with friends that may otherwise be in class across the hall in their own classroom.
"The kids work hard and we never have to tell them to get busy," Brown added. "This is efficient time."
The students' progress is monitored by reading assessment tests, one taken prior to Christmas break, and four more times throughout the year.
Brown, Friedrich and Wunschel attended classes during the summer to learn the mechanics of Word Journey.