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In #RaiseMKE

Students from Ms. Rehm's first grade class at 95th Street School reading while they wait in line to use the bathroom.

In #RaiseMKE

Clemens School principal Jacqueline Richardson reading with students during the weekly D.E.A.R. program.

In #RaiseMKE

Academy of Chinese Language K5 teacher Timothy Manley says the new curriculum has made reading fun.

In #RaiseMKE

Students in Manley's class make use of one of the room's cozy reading stations.

New reading curriculum spurs teacher creativity

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Last month, Clemens School hosted its first Family Literacy Night of the year. A week earlier Hampton Elementary, on 53rd and Villard, hosted the Big on Books Breakfast. Teachers modeled books for parents, gave them a book and some literacy-building ideas to take home and share with their children.

"We strive to get parents to understand the basic idea: If a child sees a parent involved in some activity, the child will want to emulate their parent," says Hampton's school secretary Tanya Schmutzler, who helps coordinate the event. "If a child sees mom and dad reading, the child is more likely to pick up a book. Likewise, if it's an event that involves snuggles and a good story, who wouldn't want to be enthusiastic and get involved?"

Schmutzler says the program is growing and she's encouraged because she continues to see new faces at the event. She notes that her school also hosts a monthly Family Gathering Night to ensure parents are tied into their kids' education. Each evening is focused on a core learning standard, including reading and language arts.

"The goal of the FGN is to increase parental involvement in their child's education and inform parents of where their child should be academically. The goal is to have at least 25 percent of the student population attend the FGN."

Ninety-Fifth Street School hosts evenings like "Snuggle Up and Read," during which parents and K5 kids bring pajamas, sleeping bags and pillows and read together.

"We have classrooms with special reading areas with bean bags, big books, rocking chairs and 'magic' readers," says Cole. "We have Book Buddies, (a program) where older students pair up with younger students and eat lunch together and read."

Students at the school also keep reading logs as part of their daily homework and get rewards for being good readers," says Cole, whose school hosts authors to read from their work and invites other guests in to read to students, too.

Manley says that he's always seeking out new activities and games to tie reading into other subject and into kids' lives.

"Every week I send home two activities that correspond with what we're doing in reading for students to do at home with their family," he says. "In K5 we've tried to 'glam up' the less popular literacy stations in order to get kids excited about them again. A simple change, like adding 'reading glasses' or fun pointers to the library can make a dramatic difference in how the students react to that station … and when we added glitter pens to our vocabulary station is was the most popular place in the room for two weeks straight!"

These activities and others help keep kids focused during a long daily reading block -- remember a teacher like Manley is working with 5-year-olds.

A sense of excitement

The curriculum is still in its early days with no results data to track yet, and certainly, with more than 5,000 teachers and principals in the district, not everyone will likely agree on it.

Without speaking on the record, some have intimated that the extra work required by the new curriculum -- along with the expected inertia that comes with changing familiar systems -- has led to skepticism among some teachers. However, even they are quick to point out that kids have taken to the curriculum quickly and that response has helped bolster support.

There is a definite sense of engagement and excitement -- and of progress already -- according to the educators I spoke to, none of whom seemed at all leery.

"We are excited about the new curriculum because it ... provides students more time on task, differentiated instruction and more non-fiction. It also provides greater continuity of focus at the building and district levels," says Richardson.

"We do see some real positives about all being on the same page," adds Cole. "I think the consistency of instruction is clearly a benefit for the school. Also, the literacy centers and varied activities are exciting for students."

Cole says that as teachers get to know the curriculum even better and spend more time with it, they will continue to create opportunities to integrate it with other subjects throughout the day. She -- in a sentiment echoed by Richardson -- also believes that a common, district-wide curriculum allows staff within a school -- but also staffs at different schools -- to exchange strategies and offer support.

"I think it is a positive step forward for our district," says Cole. "The expectations are clear for everyone and the accountability is there, as well."

Manley is effusive about the progress he's seen among his kids so far and he can't help but compare it to the drudgery of the previous method of teaching reading.

"I absolutely have seen good results from this new program," he says. "Our 90 minutes of Direct Instruction used to be like pulling teeth every day in kindergarten. The kids hated it and, to be honest, they had good reason to. It was boring, repetitive and just not enough to keep their interest. (Now), the kids can't wait to get to work. 'Journeys' offers really good literature for the children to hear every day, and the flexibility allows me to cater my literacy stations and instruction to the interests and needs of my students.

"They're already showing a lot of growth and are learning concepts that weren't addressed until way later in the year with previous reading programs. I'm not the only one seeing their progress, either. The kids themselves are able to recognize their growth and they're so excited they can hardly wait to volunteer answers or come work with their small groups. This new reading program is more than a positive step forward, it's a positive leap!"

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MKEabouttown | Dec. 5, 2010 at 2:36 p.m. (report)

Wow, this is the best piece of propaganda I've read in a long time!

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