Federal grant lets teachers focus on proven reading strategies
Changes are in store for the reading program in Storm Lake Community Schools as the district prepares to kick-off the first school year under the Reading First program.
Storm Lake is one of 31 districts in the state eligible for Reading First, which is a federal reading initiative under the No Child Left Behind Act. The program is designed to help schools to improve student achievement in reading through the application of scientifically-based reading research.
Storm Lake will receive approximately $700,000 over three years to implement the program.
Leading the effort will be Michelle Huntress, who has been hired as the district's literacy strategist as part of Storm Lake's Reading First program. She will coordinate and conduct staff training to meet the goals of the Reading First program.
Huntress has 13 years worth of experience in education as a public school teacher, preschool and daycare center director and an early intervention teacher with Early Head Start. She has served as a consultant with AEA 3 in the areas of reading and early childhood.
While with the AEA, Huntress has worked with both the Clay Central Everly and the Spencer school districts on reading initiatives. At Clay Central Everly she oversaw the forerunner of Reading First - the Reading Excellence program.
In Spencer, Huntress implemented similar reading strategies through a comprehensive school reform grant. Through that program, 4th grade students improved their reading skills from 34 percent not proficient to 8 percent not proficient this past year.
Huntress said she is excited to work with the Storm Lake School District to implement Reading First.
"When I worked with the AEA, I would do pieces of this with 13 different districts," she said. "So I'm excited to work with one district that is really ready to go."
Reading First will focus on improving the reading skills of elementary students by providing teachers with proven classroom teaching strategies. The program will also focus on student assessment to see where students are at and to identify problem areas.
For K-1 students, testing will be done two or three times a year over phonological awareness and vocabulary and basic concepts, Huntress said. In grades 2-4, the Basic Reading Inventory will be given two or three times a year, which will provide teachers with diagnostic information about student development in reading, fluency and comprehension, she said.
Huntress said the data from the assessments will drive instruction and staff development. A "Schoolwide Action Research" model will be developed and used by K-4 staff and the middle school and high school special education programs.
"This will allow teachers to use the data to determine student needs and allow the district to pinpoint strategies needed by teachers to meet the needs of students," she said.
Throughout the school year, teachers will take part in approximately 40 hours worth of staff development in the area of reading strategies, Huntress said.
Those in-services will help teachers learn strategies for presenting the five main components of Reading First: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
A key component to Reading First is that teachers will learn scientifically-based reading research, Huntress emphasized. That means the strategies have been proved effective in other districts like Storm Lake, she said.
One of those strategies will be a focus on "quality non-fiction." These types of books will be used to help enhance student comprehension and understanding of informational text structures, Huntress said.
"Kids love factual information, and parents should notice their kids reading a lot more of these types of books," she said.
Non-fiction will also be sued to enhance student vocabulary and content knowledge. The goal is to improve overall comprehension, Huntress said.
Another strategy will be thinking aloud, which will allow teachers to hear what the processes are as students are comprehending. It also helps to show where a student may be struggling, she said.
"Hopefully over time kids can know more on their own processes and how they best learn," she said.
As the district's literacy strategist, Huntress will be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the grant, providing training, support and technical assistance to K-4 teachers, administrators, and middle school and high school special education staff.
She will observe and model strategies in classroom, as well as lead district literacy and assessment teams and serve on the statewide reading team.
As the program gets underway, parents will hear more about assessments and the type of data collected and how it is used. "This will allow teachers to figure out where a kid is on the continuum and identify what a student needs to succeed in reading," she said.
Other districts part of Reading First in Northwest Iowa include Albert City-Truesdale, Sentral, Twin Rivers and WLVA.