The Monett R-1 School District will introduce a different strategy this fall for teaching reading. The federally funded Reading First program, a major tool used for much of the past decade, has been set aside as the primary tool, leaving the district largely on their own to find their next direction.
Monett R-1 Assistant Superintendent Julie Germann said educators have approached reading by concentrating on different components, at times working on phonics, spelling, word recognition, comprehension or reading in quantity. Some used a regimented approach using specific books, while others used no specific textbook.
"Recent research says to find a program that has a balance of all the components," Germann said. "Monett is adopting a product called Reading Street. The most well respected, most research-based process used to teach reading is 'balanced literacy,' one that puts all the components together."
Reading Street comes from Pearson Learning, one of the major textbook publishing houses, brand new for the 2011 school year. Reading Street is not strictly reliant on textbook teaching like Reading First. Germann said many of the newer approaches to reading do not even use a textbook series.
"This series is very technology oriented," Germann said. "It will support all the training we've been doing with SmartBoard technology. At the third and fourth grade levels, everything will be on-line. There will be no student textbooks. That's a new twist for us. We may have one book for every two or three students if they need an actual text."
Germann's background in reading is in the core-balanced literacy approach, which uses no textbook or book series. Central Park Elementary Principal Annette Cozort also has experience with the approach in her previous position with the Republic School District. Monett Intermediate School had already gone to more of a balanced literacy approach for fifth and sixth graders.
Monett Elementary School, where the concentration has been primarily on Reading First and the textbook approach, will see the biggest transition, Germann said.
"At the second grade level, you may have students reading at the kindergarten to four grade level in one room," Germann said. "The challenge is how do you get the lower kids to grow without boring the upper kids or 'dumbing down' the instruction?"
The new approach harkens back to a style used in the old one-room schoolhouses. The teacher will do 30 to 45 minutes of whole group instruction, including writing, reading or a communication arts exercise based on what is in a book. For the rest of the 90-minute period, students will break down into small groups, gathered by similar levels of reading skill.
Germann said there will be a reading center in each room where groups will go for predesigned activities. The teacher will take one group at a time to her desk. Over a two-day period, the teacher will work with all the groups. In the last 10 minutes of the class, the teacher will work with students individually to assess their learning progress.
"There is a lot of independent work and a lot of interaction with the teacher in this approach," Germann said. "The big difference for a lot of the staff will be in the small group instruction time. We've had teachers from other districts who have done balanced literacy and they're excited. They've seen results and they understand what we're doing.
"The work is really in the first year, when the teachers do it by trial and error," Germann continued. "The more you do it, the more it becomes second nature. I'm going to be highly surprised if we don't see dramatic change in student achievement in this area in two or three years. I feel we will cover a lot of the gaps where we've had trouble."
The switch to balanced literacy comes at the same time the district is going into its second year of intensive training of faculty to use more SmartBoards in the classroom. The district committed an outlay of $300,000 in textbook development plus nearly $100,000 in training for all the faculty, led by past technology director Melody Paige.
By using federal funds, Germann said the district's outlay for training will drop by about a third.
"It's a pretty good little bargain," Germann said.
A big part of balanced literacy will continue to be measuring the progress of students. Germann said Reading Street has many assessment tools built into it. There is also differentiated instruction to reach students no matter what level they're reading. Germann said the program also has good support for English language learners and special education students.
"I looked at different reading programs," Germann said. "Reading Street came across to me as the best way to put balanced literacy into a textbook-driven program. It will be an enormous benefit to us."