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Strategies for Boosting Reading Skills in Rural Students

Place-based education and virtual field trips can be beneficial to students regardless of where they live, but these two strategies can be particularly helpful to rural students.

That's Laura Lester's contention in a new article, "Putting Rural Readers on the Map: Strategies for Rural Literacy" published earlier this year in The Reading Teacher. The journal is published by the International Reading Association and is available by subscription.

Lester, a graduate teaching assistant at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., relies on research and her personal experience of teaching in a rural community to back up her point. She says place-based education and virtual field trips are two ways of positively influencing and supplementing reading instruction happening in rural schools.

Place-based education connects rural students' knowledge of their communities to what they're learning in class.

"PBE is not a curriculum in and of itself, but provides a rich avenue for learning centered on helping students make connections between curriculum and their community's culture, environment, and history," Lester writes. "... PBE provides a learning benefit because standards are taught through an environment, community, or culture that (rural) students know."

And virtual field trips offer rural students experiences they might not ever have had, such as seeing the ocean or traveling on a subway, she writes.

"... (rural students) may be disadvantaged by limited accessibility to cultural resources and institutions," she writes. "The goal of virtual field trips is to connect curriculum to the real world and provide students with access to experiences and places they may not otherwise have, potentially expanding their understandings of the world."

Lester offered specific tips for planning place-based education lessons:
• Consider the community's features and determine the lesson's objectives and corresponding state standards;
• Consider the unique attributes of the community and incorporate those into instruction;
• Use culturally relevant literature that corresponds to learning standards; and
• Guide students in thinking about and making connections among their homes, schools, and community.

If you're looking for more placed-based education resources with a rural focus, check out the Center for Midwestern Initiatives, which is supported by the Rural School and Community Trust.

For planning a virtual field trip, Lester suggests:
• Determine the lesson objectives and corresponding state standards and decide whether a field trip would enhance learning;
• Investigate a variety of Web sites and online resources that relate to those standards;
• Find web resources that expose students to places, events, people, and cultures around the world;
• Pick Web activities that spark inquiry, activate the senses, and allow students to explore and develop new ideas and acquire new vocabulary;
• Plan activities so students are engaged; and
• Debrief students after the virtual field trip.

"Recognizing the uniqueness of rural communities is the first step in moving forward in providing effective and culturally relevant instruction for students," Lester writes.

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