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New reading texts prompt teachers to adjust tactics

November 10, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

After more than two months of teaching new reading books to Washington County elementary school students, most teachers now are starting to feel more comfortable with their new English tool.

Over the summer, the Washington County Board of Education bought a Houghton-Mifflin series of reading textbooks at $1.2 million for elementary school students, a purchase aimed at keeping those students who move frequently from school to school from falling behind after each move.

JoEtta Palkovitz-Brown, Washington County Public Schools' executive director of elementary education, said teachers must teach the reading books at the same pace across the county in order to keep students who move a lot from falling behind, a philosophy most teachers have embraced, but an implementation that has not been without glitches.

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"It's been an overwhelming experience. I'm sure they've (teachers have) felt overwhelmed," she said.

Scott Woods, principal at Clear Spring Elementary School, said teachers underwent "a lot of on-the-job training" after receiving the books about a week before school started.

"There's been a learning curve - you do have to break away from your old habits," he said.

Palkovitz-Brown said Houghton-Mifflin has held several training sessions with teachers over the past couple of weeks.

Teachers now are more familiar with the different levels of reading textbooks available to them and are able to mesh teaching those books into an allotted time frame for English lessons, she said.

She said most teachers have told her that they like the variety of stories in the textbooks, that they are feeling more comfortable teaching the books and that they are finding it easier to integrate students coming from other schools into their school's reading program.

"Most people feel like they have their feet on the ground," said Rebecca Collinson, student achievement specialist at Salem Avenue Elementary School.

Palkovitz-Brown said student achievement specialists, between tracking student performance data and modeling lessons for teachers, help teachers target students for different reading levels.

Collinson said the reading series includes books for students reading at their grade level, below their grade level and above their grade level, and also includes additional books to target students who read either below or above those levels. And since all elementary schools are using the same reading books, teachers can borrow books from another grade level if they are needed to reach a particular student, she said.

Julie Stouffer is a student achievement specialist at Eastern Elementary School, a school that has been told by the state that it needs to improve its test scores.

Since the school's teachers are required to arrive at the school an hour before students, Stouffer said the extra time has given teachers the opportunity to adapt to the new curriculum.

"The teachers rarely have questions about it. Everything seems to be blending together," Stouffer said.

Carol Brunner, a fourth-grade teacher at Sharpsburg Elementary School, said she likes that students - at any level - read the same story through the program. She feels more focused in her instruction now, she said.

Collinson said some teachers have told her that Houghton-Mifflin's mapped-out lessons give them more time to plan for other lessons. But she said some teachers don't like that they can't use their favorite books in reading lessons.

Stouffer said second- through fifth-grade teachers at Eastern Elementary are finding that they still can be creative, but that kindergarten and first-grade teachers have complained that they can't do as much with their students under the new program.

Those teachers' solution has been to set up more hands-on activities for those younger students during blocks of time where reading is taught, she said.

Palkovitz-Brown said teachers are encouraged to read their own stories to students. She said no teachers have complained to her that their creativity is being limited through the program.

Woods said it's a common sight now at his school to see teachers with teacher's manuals open on their laps - it's become an acceptable way of teaching.

"The curriculum is what we teach and the instruction is how we deliver it," he said.

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