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About the Glendale-River Hills School District Literacy Program

Our reading program: Phonics or Whole Language?

Actually it’s both… and then some. Our district literacy program is founded on the National Reading Panel’s research-recommended five pillars of effective balanced reading programs: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Vocabulary, Fluency, and Comprehension. The Reading component features:
  • Development of students’ vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension in listening, speaking and reading
  • Use of both fiction and non-fiction materials
  • Small group and individual texat matched to individual student reading levels with age level interest
  • A strong emphasis on the strategies proficient readers use to make sense of and engage in reading (see Comprehension Strategies article)

Our writing program: Writing or Grammar?

Yes, again, it’s both… and then some. The district writing program component addresses all four key elements of effective writing instruction, including:
  • Writing Forms (e.g. journal entries, letters, biographies, articles)
  • Organizational Patterns (e.g. cause and effect, persuasive)
  • Writing Process (brainstorming -> drafting -> editing -> revising -> publishing)
  • Writing Traits (Ideas, Organization, Conventions, Voice, Sentence Fluency, Word Choice)

How are reading and writing taught?

Through a “gradual release of responsibility” model. When you learn a new card game, for instance, you often learn from an ‘expert’ in the game: You observe people playing the game first, asking questions of the expert, having the expert tell you what they were thinking as they were playing the game. Often this is followed by you and the expert playing the game together just for practice, where it “doesn’t count.” You play and ask questions and the expert advises you, filling in missing knowledge, refining techniques as you go. You likely go on playing more games this way.

Gradually the questions become fewer but the expert continues to provide you feedback on well-played cards and plays that will get you into trouble. The expert provides this continual think-aloud and think-along until s/he observes that you are applying the rules, strategies and skills needed to play on your own. After some time, you start to play the game without assistance and then with other players.

Complex skills, including reading or writing, are best learned when following this apprenticeship model. In a literacy class, the teacher follows this same general pattern when introducing a skill (e.g. how to use quotation marks) or a strategy (e.g. summarizing what was read):

This process starts with the teacher modeling and ‘thinking aloud’ about the skill or strategy in complex read-aloud text…

…then having the students think along with her/him as they use the skill or strategy in a shared piece of reading or writing,…

…followed by pairs of students collaboratively applying the skill or strategy and sharing their results with the class.

Next, the teacher works with small groups of students at the same approximate level to apply the skill or strategy in materials matched to the needs of the small group, with the teacher providing feedback.

Finally, students apply the skill or strategy independently with materials suited to their instructional needs.

Materials and Homework

What materials are used?

All SK – grade 5 classrooms use Literacy by Design, a research-based Readers and Writers Workshop approach to literacy instruction. Beyond the range of materials provided with the program, teachers will also engage students in structured opportunities to read and discuss great children’s literature through read-alouds, literature study groups and independent reading. Our grade 2 – 6 Spelling program, Spelling Connections, also provides students with practice in language skills.
In grades 6 – 8, teachers continue using a Readers and Writers Workshop approach. Students will participate in thematic literature studies (e.g. author study) with materials at multiple levels to match readers’ individual needs. Students will also complete several extensive research and writing projects each year. In the process, students learn valuable life-long academic skills, including locating information from multiple sources, note-taking, summarizing, and presenting findings.

How does this affect homework?

Many studies have shown that time spent reading helps to build better readers. With this in mind, the purpose of homework for our students is to promote reading enjoyment and to build students’ reading fluency beyond the school day. One of the ways teachers monitor the time students spend reading beyond the classroom is to assign reading logs as homework so that students can record the number of minutes engaged in self-selected or school-provided reading at home. Note that school-provided reading materials sent home will not always match the story read in class but will allow students to apply the reading strategies they have learned.

Comprehension Strategies

Simply put, reading is thinking. Proficient readers engage with what they are reading. They strive to continually make sense of and meaning for what’sread. Research in the area of reading has provided us with greaterunderstanding of comprehension strategies that good readers use:

Make connections
Connect new ideas in your reading to what you already know
Infer Combine what you read with what you already know
Monitor understanding When you don’t understand what you're reading, try a few key strategies to help.
Determine importance Think about whether information is important or just interesting
Create images Create mental images using your senses and feelings
Synthesize Bring pieces of information together to form a new idea
Ask questions Think about questions in your mind as you read.
Use fix-up strategies When you get stuck on a word or a concept, try different strategies to help you figure it out.

We begin teaching these strategies in Kindergarten; each year, we move students to deeper understanding and with more sophisticated application of these strategies. For instance, in the ‘making connections’ strategy, we ask Kindergarten students to recognize similarities between characters in the text and what’s in their life (e.g. “We both have dogs.”). Intermediate grade students are asked to make connections from their lives to the emotions and characteristics of the characters in the book or the settings or to draw connections among text that they’ve read (e.g. “This situation reminds me of the part in James and the Giant Peach where he…”). In the upper grades, students are asked to connect together author styles, for instance, or to connect themes from the text to what’s happening in the world (e.g. compare the dystopian societies of Fahrenheit 451 to The Giver).

In each instance, students are asked to make meaning from and bring their experiences to what they read. This is the mark of a good reader and, along with a love of reading, is what we are striving to develop in our district literacy program.

Meeting the Needs of Different Learners

How can teacher manage a classroom where students are at different literacy levels?

All students benefit from the whole group and interactive sessions designed to deliberately sharpen their listening skills (e.g. appreciative listening), provide opportunities for speaking (expressing their ideas to other students), and to develop their vocabulary.

In small groups and through independent work, teachers are able to meet students where they are, with materials designed for their instructional reading levels. This approach allows teachers to accelerate students reading above grade level with challenging materials and to provide supportive instruction to those who need less challenging text. Thinking back to the card game analogy, it’s at this point where teachers group together the beginners (who may need further clarification about the game rules, for instance), those on their way, and those who are ready for a tougher card game or to learn the finer points of the game.
In determining reading groups, teachers take into account students’ reading levels, making sure to identify groups of students with ‘like’ levels for small group and independent work.

Will children be challenged?

Absolutely. The curriculum we’ve selected is a high-level thinking curriculum. Students are challenged to go beyond just being able to read the text; they need to be able to discuss it, write about it, make inferences, make connections and comparisons, draw conclusions, analyze author’s use of language…, in other words, all of the strategies that good readers do to engage with and make sense of what they’re reading. Students will be further challenged in learning academic vocabulary by describing, applying and extending their knowledge of words beyond simply matching words to their meanings on a test.

How are Reading classes and groups determined?

Teachers use the first several weeks of school to establish reading routines, engage students in high quality literature activities, get to know students and to administer benchmark assessments. In late September, teachers will make adjustments to reading / language groups to place students in their optimal learning environment. We anticipate that groups will be adjusted as progress is made throughout the school year.