What's happening in our reading classrooms?

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What's happening in our reading classrooms?
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Rappahannock County Elementary School has wasted no time this year! In fact, the teachers and staff began day one focusing on reading strategies that engage reluctant readers. With the emphasis on raising math scores last year, being that Rappahannock Elementary was accredited with warning in that area, reading may have fallen from the spotlight, but not from the forefront of the curriculum for Rapp junior panthers.   Last year, much attention was dedicated to sifting through reading data, establishing reading levels and goals, tailoring instruction to specific reading needs, and increasing comprehension and fluency. Also emphasized was the use of nonfiction text to engage student interest, such as science trade books and student articles.

Learning to read is a complicated brain process, requiring lots of practice. It is much like working out at the gym—you may be able to lift only ten pound weights at first, but the more reps you do over time, the more weight you are able to add. Similarly, the brain processes text this way when learning to read. It may only be able to handle light, short amounts of text at first, but with more practice, especially fun, engaging practice, the brain makes gains in understanding text structures and finding patterns, leading to higher levels of comprehension.   Because of this, it becomes necessary to find innovative ways to motivate those reluctant readers early on, instilling in all students an internal aptitude and affinity for reading—a skill they will use readily for the rest of their lives.

This year, teachers are working on using active reading strategies with fiction and nonfiction combined with strong systematic phonics instruction. This style of teaching integrates various subject areas such as history or science, engaging students and supporting real life experiences. What does a good reading lesson using these strategies look like?

During classroom walkthroughs last week, I was excited to see lessons in which multiple strategies were being implemented. I observed a lesson on butterflies in which context clues were presented as students explored theories and made “predictions” based upon their “previous knowledge” from their science class. Students discussed how the vocabulary words connected their spelling lists to this real life learning. Graphic organizers were used to help categorize information for later recall, and processes were established for student use in realistic nonfiction learning exercises. So what does all of this mean? It means that students are learning through real life experiences, using the old fashioned skills of “hands on learning,” and teachers are providing that critical support to help build a strong cognitive foundation. Hats off to our teachers for making reading development both fun and stimulating!

-         Dr. Donna Matthews, Superintendent of Schools



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