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Building a Reading Program

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Now that I'm a 'seasoned' administrator (I have two years in already!! :)), I've decided that instead of trying to fix everything, I'll pick a few goals to really focus on this next year (see how much smarter I'm getting?!?). I want to focus on literacy in our school, especially reading. We are an alternative school, K-12. Our students have come to us, for the most part, because their behaviors got in the way of their learning in their home school and so they were sent here. Many of our teachers are young and inexperienced. The new principal I hired a year ago, just completed his first year in administration. We are trying to build positive relationships with our students and change the negative behaviors that occur. That has been our main focus and we now have many positive classroom and school-wide incentives in place. I now want to focus on reading.

I want us to know the reading level of every student. I want us to know it when they come to us throughout the year, and I want us to know it when they leave. I want us to do more formative assessments so we can do interventions and help students with their reading skills. I want us to look at the data and make informed decisions based on that data. I want us to start a library. I want us to have software for our computers to help with reading skills. I want us to have audio books and podcasts for kids to listen to while they read along. I want to build time in the schedule where everyone reads.

So, what's the problem you ask? Well, I'm not EXACTLY sure where to start. I don't have a reading specialist to rely on and I don't have a curriculum director to plan with and because we are a small school, we have classrooms with multi-grades and abilities. I want to make sure that I'm not burning out the new teachers as we try to meet the state reading standards for each grade and prepare for the statewide reading tests (let alone the other subjects with state standards and don't forget working on those inappropriate behaviors that got them here in the first place}.

What would you do? If you could give me one piece of advice on how to set up a quality reading program, what would it be? You are starting with no K-12 reading program, curriculum or series in place. There are no classroom libraries of books. There is not a building-wide library. You do have enough computers for students, but little, if any, software programs for reading. You have state reading test scores and you now have a more formative assessment that you will adminster three times a year for benchmarks and monthly, as needed, for progress data. What would you suggest next? What has worked for your school? I appreciate any thoughts, ideas or strategies that you are willing to share. Thank you!

Reggie Engebritson

18 Comments

give EVERY teacher a copy of Paul Jennings book "the Reading Bug" to read. It is all about giving children a love of narrative and reading. Great book lists and a very easy read. Made a stunning difference to teachers I have worked with.
Reading should be FUN!!! This book is a neat way to get this message across.
Spend some $$ on fun QUALITY books. Happy to have the conversation about other specifics if you want to get in touch.
lots of things link from our school website - www.outram.school.nz and the Allen Centre (library) wiki in particular.
Plenty of great reading things you can do online but no substitute for quality books you can hold and even smell good :-)
cheers
Greg

If you have quality access and equity in technology (great access to computers with stable internet connections), look at online subscription programs with talking software and programs with UDL supports for students learning all topics (dictionary tools, readability ratings, integrated text-to-speech). With talking software and UDL tools, you'll support the needs of the lowest literacy students, making the biggest impact on your school.

WOW--where would I start? It would be different with elementary, middle, and high school students. And I'm listing where I would start year one with limited funds.

Elementary I would definitely use Starfall.com since it is good and free :) If you can afford a subscription to Reading A-Z that is a good online program that includes a lot of level reading stories so you would not only get lessons but also reading material. That would enable you to do leveled running records to keep track of students reading levels and progress.

Higher Elementary and Middle school I like using a lot of picture books so that you can focus on a skill in a class session. There are amazing picture books out there on all subjects and useful for teaching all different skills. In our school we use the ACTIVE Reading acronym for talking about the skills students need for comprehension. I have recently begun working on integrating all forms of communication (oral, written, and reading) into the ACTIVE framework. If you would like that I can email it to you or share it with you on google.docs. Some novels that are my favorites with disengaged students with behavior issues, especially for the middle school, to think about would be Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Walter Dean Meyers books, and Freak the Mighty.

High School I would work on applying ACTIVE to the content areas, and reading and writing about their lives. I really like Larry Ferlazzo's blog for great websites to teach reading to ESL students. Almost everything he finds is free and I've used many of them! Two books I would love to do with High School Students that aren't by old dead white guys are Feed and Hunger Games but read them first to be sure they are appropriate for your students and community.

Hope that helps!
Beth

What an amazing, yet overwhelming opportunity. I would like to speak to assessment. There are many assessment tools out there for you to track reading throughout the year. I would suggest focusing on assessing phonemic awareness in the earliest grades. Then assess fluency. Then, move onto comprehension. It doesn't matter which programs you decide to go with, there are probably thousands of good ones to choose from in education. My school uses the Spalding Program. It is very complete and effective. I would also suggest looking up the descriptors for your state test and paying a couple of teachers to come together to build formative assessments related to the standards and descriptors. Many people would probably say this is teaching to the state test. If the state test is built on the standards and standards are what children need to know, then "teaching to the test" is actually a benefit to your students.

This isn't exactly my field, but I am appalled that you have no curriculum specialist, no reading specialist and are having to deal with kids across grades. Ask yourself--are these the conditions under which we would expect to educate "normal" kids? How about "normal" kids from middle to upper middle class families? If I had to guess, I would think that your population is heavily male and minority. But, I would also suggest that they are disproportionately learning disabled--there is a high degree of overlap between kids who are not learning and kids who have behavioral difficulties. This may work to your advantage, if you can use that status (and resultant dollars) to leverage additional skilled personnel.

Stabilizing the behavioral issues is certainly an excellent first step, and using a school-wide comprehensive approach is the right one (and missing in many of the schools that these kids come from, I'm afraid). And, I also agree that moving forward to focus on reading is an appropriate next step. I wonder if you have any leverage with the referring schools that they provide recent test scores when kids are sent to you (I have been this route with my son--the referring school just wanted to get him out. Transition was the furthest thought from their mind). But, if you had any way to turn kids down--perhaps until their home school had conducted a functional behavioral assessment, thorough skills testing, etc, this might be a good way to make things happen quickly.

Last, just let me affirm, you are on the side of the angels in this one.

Hi Reggie!

Looks like you have quite a challenge ahead of you. Although I'm primarily responsible for technology professional development in my district I know that we employ the Readers Workshop model, district-wide. We have a Literacy Specialist who has overseen the program for years and has developed it into a very effective program. I can put you in contact with her, if you like.

Your CASTLE bud,
Jennette

use networks too .... virtual and real. Scour sites like delicious.com. My wife is a speech language pathologist so phonological awareness is a big part of what we do at school for the younger and less able readers. But PLEASE remember that reading is about getting a message from print. It is not a series of descrete isolated skills you can teach that will magically come together in the kids heads.
Give them a love of narrative, of story, read TO them, read with them.
Happy to share what things I have found online via my delicious site - http://delicious.com/gregc5, and search phonological awareness on my blog (I take courses) for the things we have found useful http://blog.core-ed.net/greg
passionate people can do anything and engaged kids are less of a behaviour issue!
cheers
Greg

WOW! What a treat to see all of your responses. I really do appreciate it.

Greg-I ordered a copy of "The Reading Bug" to read and check out as you suggested. Thank you!

Steve- we are moving towards an improved technology set-up, so I am doing some online searches to find what you describe. Thank you!

Beth- great suggestions for all grade levels. Yes, please send me more info on the ACTIVE framework. I am checking into your other suggestions also. Thank you!

Nicole- I did purchase AimsWeb for our school. Haven't heard of Spalding, but will check that out also. I will also see if some of the bigger districts around me have created some formative assessments that we could use. Thank you!

Margo/Mom- We only have 100 students in our school/district so that is why their is no reading specialist or curriculum person. We do insist that before students come here they have a functional behavior assessment (if they are receiving special ed services). My other hat is the Director of Special Ed for 11 surrounding districts, so I do have some leverage in getting that and any test scores - IF the student wasn't absent the day of testing or didn't refuse to take the test. I appreciate your support and suggestions! Thank you!

JENNETTE!!! SO good to hear from you! Hope all is well. Yes, I'd like to hear more about the Readers Workshop model. If you can send me the email of your Literacy Specialist, that would be great. Thank you!

Reggie:

You may have only 100 students, but they are 100 students with a high level of risk for learning disabilities, not to mention poor academic achievement due to the affects of their behavioral issues. To be effective (that is, to be able to teach to their needs, with an end goal of re-entry into the larger school community), your school should be dripping with resources. As an administrator you shouldn't be tasked with creating a reading program on the cheap.

I fully understand the circumstances that lead to this kind of out of sight out of mind condition for this population (and believe me, I am in no way blaming YOU for it). But, the quality of learning resources that should be available to students in your school should be as high, or higher than, that available to any "regular" student.

I suppose it easy to say but I'd start with hiring support - someone who has the knowledge to spearhead this, manage the data, enough knowledge to coach teachers in intervention strategies, strong knowledge of the resources. This is an ambitious undertaking for someone trying to manage the school - esp. with newer teachers and admin, and yet that may just work in your favor. This needs a truly collaborative approach, which it sounds like you may have in place. As a librarian my first thought was - hire a librarian. I think all of this is my job. But literacy coaches would say - hire a literacy coach. All of that aside of you can't hire - some resources for PD to be aware of - Reading for Understanding: A Guide to Improving Reading in Middle and High School Classrooms, and The Power of Reading (Krashen). In finding resources for the students a couple of suggestions: YALSA's reading list for finding high interest reads for older kids (teens), Orca publishers for the middle/high kids too. Sorry I don't work with elementary kids so I don't have those resources at the tip if my tongue. I also second the picture book notion. Reading to kids is always a good starting point by the way. And get books - lots of them! As for reading programs that tend to be prescriptive - use carefully and if you decide on one (:::shudder:::) then be sure to supplement. Good Luck.

Begin with your students. In order to promote enthusiasm with reading, children need to choose what they would like to read. Begin with an interest inventory. Have students get involved in raising funds for "their" library and choosing selections. Talk with the public library and find out what type of books are being "checked out" by children. Have students respond to their literature choice with art and music, promoting their favorite book as an advertisement. Literacy should be a choice, not a contest to see what level one is at. Read exerpts from books during morning announcements to promote literature. Have read-aloud time where students can pick which story they would like to listen to. Have older students write a reader's theatre about books they have read and present them to younger classes. Involving the children is key to a good literacy program.

The first thing I would do would be to spend the money on staff development. You have a young, inexperienced staff, so giving them the resources to understand the reading and writing process will benefit your students in the long run. If I were you, I would give my staff the following books and figure out times that they can meet during the week to discuss the theory and practice in these books. Suggested books for all of your teachers: The Continuum of Literacy Learning grades K-8, by Irene Fountas and Gay su Pinnell. They have written many books about guiding and developing readers and writers and their work is excellent. They publish through Heinemann. (www.heinemann.com) The continuum is more of a curriculum, but other books give you the "how-to". I recommend Guided Reading; Guiding Readers and Writers Grades 3-6; Teaching for Comprehension and Fluency;
and their books on word study. They give you just about all the information you need. There are many other excellent resources as well, (I highly recommend Stephanie Harvey's Strategies That Work) but beginning with Fountas ans Pinnell's work will give your staff the direction and understanding needed to move the students ahead in their reading. By the way, if I could give you a second piece of advice: Don't run out and buy a basal series. Buy lots of books at different levels...Fountas and Pinnell even have books about that! (And yes, I am a reading specialist!)

Ask your teachers what they think they need. My guess is that they read many of the books that are offered as "staff development", and most of these books simply rehash what is taught in credential programs.

I think showing respect for teachers by asking them what they want and need would be a good start!

Beth - I would love to have a copy of your ACTIVE document(s) too. [email protected]

Thank you Margo/Mom, Mary Ann, Kitty, Emily and TFT for your suggestions and support!

This has been exciting to see so many responses and to have so many good ideas to explore.

Thank you all! I'm excited for the new school year and to do better for the students we serve.

you must find out what you dont know.
by doing this you then see what is possible. dont go out and buy anything, find out what works, meet the people that matter, those that are do-ing not sell-ing. visit schools, countries, people.
then make your decisions.
remember you dont know what you dont know

Hi Reggie,
1. Turn your school immediately into a culture of readers! That means every member of you staff is a reader. Carry books around. Tell kids what great stuff you read today. Post a list of the books and magazines you have read.
2. Every teacher reads to students every day. K-1 hear 2-3 books a day. Older students hear chapter books. Middle and high school, too. Every single day. Practice your reading so you can bring the stories alive and model fluency.
3. Go to library sales and yard sales and buy every cheap book you can find and fill those rooms with books! Beg from the community. Get as many free books as you can. 100 kids? You need
1,000 books ASAP.
4. Assume that your students WILL be readers. Accept that they may be reluctant, inefficient readers but you and your staff be passionate about literacy. I learned this from Patrick Gibbons a 5th grade inclusion teacher who teaches general ed. and special ed kids. They (ALL of them) read these 2 intense books this year to study the holocaust: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Milkweed. They read lots of Jerry Spinelli. Patrick expects his kids to be readers and they are! His passion for reading simply won't stop so they catch it and blossom. There is no way not to love reading in his class.
5. Order every staff member a copy of the free 58 page Put Reading First:The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read booklet from [email protected] It says K-3 on the cover but ignore that. All your teachers need to master this booklet to be sure they understand how reading works. ALL teachers must commit to being teachers of reading and writing. No excuses!
For middle and high school also get copies from same email address:
What Content Area Teachers Should Know About Adolescent Literacy.

These free booklets will get your staff study of literacy started.
Good luck!
Lynne

Reggie - knowing you're in MN, let me share info on a top notch consultant that we are currently working with in Shakopee. Elisa Brente-Fair with Visions for Learning (www.visionsforlearning.net) is entering her third year working with us. Her entire focus has been on training teachers on reading assessments, differentiation, measuring growth, etc... Her work has made a big impact at the JH level. Please feel free to contact me for further info if you would like. Elisa has been working with several MN districts, so she likes to cluster the visits together to make it more economical for everyone.

Good luck to you!

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Recent Comments

  • Chris Lindholm: Reggie - knowing you're in MN, let me share info read more
  • Lynne Raiser: Hi Reggie, 1. Turn your school immediately into a culture read more
  • luke sumich: you must find out what you dont know. by doing read more
  • Reggie Engebritson: Thank you Margo/Mom, Mary Ann, Kitty, Emily and TFT for read more
  • Doug: Beth - I would love to have a copy of read more

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