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New reading program unites

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” The school district is changing the way it teaches reading to elementary students this year.

For the first time, every elementary school will be using a standardized, districtwide program to teach reading instead of their own, home-grown programs as they have for years.

This new set of textbooks, workbooks, assignments and training seminars for teachers might seem like routine business, but school leaders see it as a major improvement in how schools will teach reading.

The program, called Literacy By Design, will bring some much needed consistency to reading lessons and help teachers with the difficult but important task of customizing lessons for every student, said Heather Eberts, director of elementary education.

Literacy By Design will, of course, focus on all the basics, like vocabulary, word recognition, phonics and reading comprehension. It will be highly flexible so it can teach any group of kids, from those still learning English to those who are a few grade levels ahead of all the other students.

It places a lot of emphasis on teaching students in small groups and testing their progress and is supposed to be easy for teachers to use and understand.

These are all ideals the district has been trying to reach for years, but in sort of a scattershot way. Schools have always been required to meet state standards, but each were using their own patchwork reading programs made up of different books, worksheets and lessons collected over the years.

“There were eight different schools doing eight different things ” nothing comprehensive,” said Monica Lammers, principal at Eagle Valley Elementary.

The success of those piece-meal programs has been hit and miss. Some of the programs have been good, some of them have a lot of holes. Many schools, because of budget restrictions, could only order parts of a reading program, and made-do without on the rest. Overall, there hasn’t been any consistency in the reading programs, and kids end up missing out, Eberts said.

When students transfer from one school to the next, as many do in the county, they have to get used to a totally new reading program. Same thing with teachers who transfer from one school to the next.

A program like this will help fill in those holes ” it has everything a reading program is supposed to have, and makes sure all the schools are on the same page, Lammers said.

“It includes everything we haven’t had in the past ” teachers don’t have to go out and find supplemental resources. Everything is there,” Lammers said.

A big goal for the school district over the past few years has been to do a better job of customizing lessons for students based on their ability levels.

Teachers are now expected to create lessons that can be tweaked for every individual student ” perhaps ratcheting up the difficulty for advanced students or making easier to understand lessons for students who might be struggling to learn English.

The difficult part to this approach has been showing teachers how to actually do it ” how to build this needed flexibility into lessons.

“Teachers know who those learners are who need something different, but planning for them is time consuming and difficult,” Eberts said. “If you have resources that point you in the right direction, it makes a teacher’s life that much easier.”

The new reading program will help teachers customize lessons. Literacy by Design has built into it specialized lessons for all sorts of ability levels, so the teacher knows exactly what to give the student who’s falling behind, and has something more challenging for students who are way ahead and growing bored.

Having a reading program like this will be an especially big boost for inexperienced, first-year teachers who need more guidance, said Dana Harrison-Garcia, a kindergarten teacher at Avon Elementary.

“It will help them have a better grasp and make sure they’re not missing pieces of the required curriculum,” Harrison-Garcia said.

It can take the best reading teachers several years to develop effective reading programs through trial and error, and there’s not really time for that, Eberts said.

“It’s going to tell teachers what needs to be taught and give examples of how to do that ” but it doesn’t take away a teacher’s creativity and ability to add their own personal touches to what they teach,” Eberts said.

Also built into the program are regular assessments that track a kid’s progress, which is a really good thing to have, said Melisa Rewold-Thuon, principal at Avon Elementary.

“You’ll get to see if it’s meeting the kid’s needs or not,” Rewold-Thuon said. “It’s a much quicker process to help kids along.”

The district also plans on ramping up training at all grades, kindergarten through 12th grade, on how to better teach students reading.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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