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Northville students show progress with new guided reading initiative

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - Updated: 7:04 AM


NORTHVILLE -- On the walls of Northville Central School's elementary classrooms, teachers hang their students' artwork, inspirational quotes, white boards marked with lessons, and most recently, their guided reading chart.

The chart represents the progress students in grades K-5 have made since the district implemented a new literacy learning program for the 2013-2014 school year.

"One hundred percent of the kids are making progress, and it's year one," elementary principal Keith LaLone said.

LaLone tries to spend at least 10 minutes a day in each classroom. He has witnessed the students' progress firsthand, but also collects data to back up his assessment.

The school's guided reading program is based on Fountas & Pinnell's Text Level Gradient, a tool for teachers to gauge a student's reading level. It matches books to readers and provides instruction through working in small reading groups.

The groups are separated based on reading level and each level is represented alphabetically. The letter A symbolizes a kindergartner's reading ability and the letter Z represents an eighth grader's reading comprehension.

Each student is issued a verbal test in the fall, winter and spring that scores them on phonetics, fluency, reading rate and comprehension. They are then placed in the appropriate reading level based on their score.

The goal is for each student to move up one or two levels by the end of the school year, LaLone said.

"Once we find their level, it's a great way to instruct them to fit their needs, each lesson is for each student. It's not an overall concept anymore where you are teaching one thing to every student," first grade teacher Mindy Edwards said.

Because of the way the program is structured, teachers section off reading groups and teach mini lessons based on reading capabilities.

Edwards meets with students individually once a week to make sure they are understanding the concepts being taught.

In addition to guided instruction, the elementary teachers encourage students to read independently.

In Edwards' classroom, students choose a book from a small library each morning. The books are categorized by reading letter and the students are encouraged to "shop" based on their level.

Students read independently for an allotted period of time and then discuss the theme, characters and plot of the book with one another and the teacher.

"I think as they are reading on their own level, they are not trying to be forced to read something that is too hard for them and then they feel unsuccessful; they feel very successful." Edwards said.

In each classroom, the individual student's progress is shown on a bar graph decorated by the class. LaLone said it gives both the instructor and pupil a better idea of where they stand and what goals still have to be met.

Edwards said her students strive to improve and are more motivated when they see their success on the chart.

Currently, some of her students are reading at second- and third-grade levels.

LaLone said the kindergartners just started the program in the winter, but students in first through fifth grades began in September.

Out of the 136 students in grades 1-5, 20 moved up one level, 40 increased by two levels, 32 are up by three levels, 24 moved up four levels, and 20 moved up five levels or more since the start of the school year.

Third-grade teacher Becky Pratt said the program was an adjustment at first because in the past, her lesson plans were tailored to the entire classroom rather than each student's individual need.

She added it was a challenge to teach all of her students on one level when she knew they ranked from first to third grade.

Since the new program, Pratt said her students are not only doing well, but they want to do well.

"I've seen more success this year," she said.

She noticed her children are taking charge as leaders and learning independently.

"Who's excited about reading?" LaLone asked Pratt's third graders Thursday afternoon.

Several of the students raised their hands.

Third-grader Evan Tamulaitis was among his eager peers. He ran to the chart and pointed to where he was in the beginning of the year compared to what level he is on now.

"I went to an L to an O," he said.


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