Reading plan targets first-graders

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By Tracy Harris

Changing the lives of students struggling to read is the focus of a new program at Oldham County schools.

The district added the Reading Recovery partnership this fall, a short-term intervention program for first-grade students struggling to read. The program is used in more than 80 Kentucky school districts.

The program pairs students one-on-one with a Reading Recovery teacher for 30 minutes a day for 12 weeks. 

Over the summer, the district hired 10 teachers, one for each elementary school, and a teacher leader. 

Amy Grimm, a district intervention coach who monitors the program, said the goal is for students to become an average reader at the end of 12 weeks.

Even though Oldham County Schools don’t have a large number of underperforming readers, Grimm said the district believes any number is too many.

On a daily basis, each Reading Recovery teacher instructs four students individually. By Thanksgiving break, 38 of the 40 students made significant gains, Grimm said.

Reading Recovery targets five components of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension and fluency.

To begin each lesson, the student reads two familiar books, which Grimm said helps start every lesson with success.

The student reads a progress book used to measure daily improvement. Students also work with magnetic letters for phonic development.

The connection between reading and writing is emphasized when students write a story each day, even if that story is only a sentence long, Grimm said.

Teachers then literally cut the sentence apart and students put the words back together. Lessons wrap up with reading a new book, which becomes the next day’s progress book. 

Teachers spend the rest of the day working with small groups of students between kindergarten and third grade who need additional guidance.

Most of the 40 students in the program will complete the program by fall break, Grimm said, giving the opportunity for another group of students to take part in the spring.

During the 2010 school year, 64 percent of Reading Recovery students in Kentucky reached grade level reading within 20 weeks.

Data for Oldham students participating in the program’s first year show 95 percent reaching their goal at the school year’s midway point.

At the end of their first-grade year, students average a level 16 on the 80-point developmental reading assessment scale. Level 80 is expected during eighth grade.

Several students who started at the lowest level have already attained levels 10 and 11, Grimm said. And even students at level 8 or 9 are on track to reach a level 16 by the end of the school year.

Grimm said last year district officials decided to take a “more intentional focus on intervention.”

Part of that focus included adding Reading Recovery. In addition to the 11 new hires, two classrooms at Camden Station Elementary underwent renovations to serve as the district’s training center.

After school on Mondays, the teachers have a three-hour graduate class. During each class, two teachers conduct the lesson while other teachers watch through a one-way mirror. 

Grimm said the exercise gives teachers an opportunity to receive feedback and suggestions for individual students. 

Teacher leader Heather Garland also talks observing teachers through the process and helps with problem-solving techniques.

Two of the 10 teachers had taught Reading Recovery in other districts before teaching in Oldham County. All 10 taught in traditional classrooms before becoming Reading Recovery teachers.

Sherri Wadsworth, who heads Shelby County’s Reading Recovery program, is helping Garland train Oldham’s first group of teachers.

“They have become sharp observers of their students, allowing them to make critical moment-by-moment decisions,” Wadsworth said of the teachers. 

Garland, Shelby County’s first Reading Recovery teacher in the early 2000s, received her original instruction from Wadsworth. Garland continues her training process at the University of Kentucky and by visiting other school districts.

Garland said Reading Recovery prevents students from becoming lost in a classroom setting.

“Those confusions become habits,” she said. If a student’s bad habits go unnoticed for several years, they can become difficult to change, she said.

Grimm agrees early intervention is key — it means the achievement gap can be bridged before it becomes too large, she said.

She presented information about the program to the Oldham County Board of Education Monday night.

Board chair Joyce Fletcher said her son, now 20, struggled with reading as a youngster. As a parent, she said she is incredibly grateful for the Reading Recovery team’s efforts.

Superintendent Paul Upchurch commended Reading Recovery staff for “changing the lives of many first graders.”

Oldham County’s Reading Recovery teachers include Nancy Farmer, Angelica Fotos, Joni Griffin, Susan Harsh, Zamara Johnson, Shari Kortum, Lauri Pytko, Nicole Robison, Julia Yanke and Nicole Villescas.