Friday, July 14, 2000

Reading as they never did before

Results will show whether summer school helped

By Mara H. Gottfried
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Outside Parham school, the shouts of seven children tumble from an open window. In a steady staccato the children rattle off words they are practicing.

        At South Avondale, an 8-year-old girl stares at a computer as a short story flashes on the screen. Her fingers move carefully over the keyboard as she answers questions about what she has just read.

        The methods vary, but the mission is the same: Help struggling second and third graders with their reading skills.

        Today is the last day of Cincinnati Public Schools' summer school and an intense effort to help 2,466 students unlock the secrets of reading and move on with their studies.

        In this inaugural year of the district's Third Grade Reading Guarantee, students who did not pass the state's reading proficiency test were required to attend summer school.

        That meant about 42 percent of the district's second graders and 20 percent of third graders were summoned to classes in schools throughout the district.

        In its fifth and final week, the students took another shot at the proficiency test. Third grade students who fail again may not be promoted to the fourth grade without an exemption from their teacher and principal.

        The district is trying to get its students reading at grade level before the state's Fourth Grade Reading Guarantee takes effect in the 2001-2002 school year.

        About 45 Cincinnati schools hosted summer classes, using a hodge-podge of reading programs selected by individual school officials.

        “The idea behind this is who better knows the specific needs of the community and the kids than the people who are working right there,” said Dr. Michael O'Laughlin, the district's curriculum manager for reading/communication arts and quality improvement. “The needs are going to differ from building to building.”

        In nine schools, the district implemented a pilot program, Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Success (DIBELS), to evaluate students' progress.

        The Cincinnati Enquirer visited eight schools and found that although reading and writing were always the focus, the methods and materials were distinctive.

Focus on phonics
        Direct Instruction, a method of teaching reading that concentrates on the sounds letters make, is the program of choice at Parham in Evanston.

        Teacher Sherry Bell works with seven students sitting in two rows in front of her. The students are energetic. They fidget but their eyes are glued to a book the teacher holds in her hand. Its words are marked phonetically.

        “Let's sound this out as a group,” she says.

        The students repeat several times: “REE-each.”

        “What word?” Ms. Bell asks.

        “Reach,” the children shout.

        Even with all the excitement, the students stay on task.

        “I like doing the words because it's fun and it might help me read better,” says Daija Ison, 8.

        As these students finish the drills, the rest of the class works quietly at their desks. They study the “Recipe for a Hippopotamus Sandwich” on the blackboard and write down answers to questions about it.

Writing to read
        A class of eight students at Douglass in Walnut Hills is learning how to write letters by writing to their grandmothers.

        Teacher Marlena White encourages the students to stop writing for a minute and examine their work.

        “Do you have ideas to support what you're saying?” she asks.

        “Make sure you have good spelling, punctuation and capitalization.”

        It is less than a week before the students, who have finished third grade, will take the reading profi ciency test again. Whether they will move on to fourth grade hangs in the balance.

        “You're making me nervous,” Ms. White says, looking around at the students bent over their letters. “It's D-Day week.”

        But student Jeanette Fields isn't nervous.

        “I'm going to take my time and go slow so I'll pass this time,” says the 9-year-old girl. “I'm going to make it to fourth grade.”

"The Sentence Song'
        Jodi Hammond's students sit in a hot, stuffy classroom at Clifton. It is 8:25 a.m. on a Friday and 11 children join her in “The Sentence Song.”

        “Write a good sentence. That's easy to do. How many parts? A sentence has two,” they sing.

        The class then splits in half, six children gather around a table with Ms. Hammond and the others work in pairs on book interviews.

        Each of the six with Ms. Hammond has a copy of a book, Going Nowhere. They read it silently.

        “I hope I see no one just flipping through the pages,” Ms. Hammond says.

        “I hope I see mouths sounding out words and practicing.”

        The students read the book out loud as a group. Ms. Hammond asks questions about the book and the students write answers.

        For Antonio Castleberry, 8, summer school is time well spent. Snacks are his favorite part of the day and, he says, “we get smarter because we read lots of books.”

Interactive programs
        At South Avondale, students work at a keyboard and follow a computer program.

        In Marilyn Seward's classroom, a girl reads a mock letter from a fan to Stevie Wonder on her computer screen. Questions about the letter follow.

        She moves on to another exercise.

        A fill-in-the-blank question asks: “I could see my own breath when I went outside in the morning. It was ...”

        The girl pauses. She selects “cold” from a list.

        In this class, the 17 students are evaluated daily.

        Halfway through summer school the students are not faring well. One is reading above grade level, but the rest of the scores are below third-grade standard. The lowest is reading at 2.82, which indicates second grade, eighth month.

        “Realistically, five will probably master what they need to at the end of the summer,” says Ms. Seward.

        Eight-year-old Brittany Price worries about the proficiency test.

        “I'm afraid I'll do the same as I did the first time,” she says. “I like being in summer school because I get more help, but I don't know if I'll pass.”

Verbs in action
        Students look for “dead” verbs in their writing at North Fairmount.

        “How can we change these "dead' verbs to strong ones?” teacher Carrie Smith asks the class.

        The 12 students are completing an exercise to finish the sentence, “My crazy, fun teacher did ...”

        They get a “thumbs up” and a sticker for sentences with action verbs.

        Cody Gibson, who has completed third grade, says summer school is helping him become a better speller.

        “I need to be here to help me pass the test,” the 9-year-old says.

        “I think I'll do OK next time,” says Cody. “I like this better because the class is smaller.”

Word problems
        Eleven students examine a hand-drawn neighborhood map at Roberts Paideia. The map shows how many blocks there are between the bakery, library, bank and school. The students raise their hands and answer math word problems to compute the distance between various buildings.

        “Even this involves reading because they have to be able to read and understand the problem to be able to solve it,” says teacher Nancy Grow.

        Desirae Terry, 9, says she enjoys reading and working on math problems.

        “I love school so I'm going to be sad when summer school's over,” she says. “I know I'm going to pass the test because I've been studying.”

Familiar words
        A girl stands in the front of the room at Gamble, reading from a crumbled piece of paper: “Ohio, apple, people, snack, cook ...”

        It was her homework: List 20 words that are familiar to you.

        “Everything is spelled correctly and she read fast and fluently,” says teacher Lyn Hubbard.

        Ms. Hubbard holds up a book the students read the day before, Jam and Ice Cream. She asks them to write in their journals about their favorite ice cream.

        Keyasha O'Neal says it's fun to write in her journal.

        “I really like to read books I haven't read before,” says the 8-year-old. “I'm glad I'm in summer school.”

Reading for fun
        Children gather for a “Stone Soup” opera at Winton Place Academy.

        Some of them don construction paper hats and mustaches. They clap and sing, “It's a soup you've never seen, it's only made from stone. ... Oh, stone soup, stone soup ... The story says it's true.”

        Teacher Iris Boyd then reads the book, Stone Soup, out loud.

        “These are some of our lowest achievers, so we're trying to introduce a fun way of reading to them,” Ms. Boyd says. “I'm trying to make them appreciate and enjoy the written word. They're getting there.”

        For Tobias Robinson, singing the “Stone Soup” song is his favorite part of summer school.

        “I think it's funner than regular school,” says the 10-year-old. “There are too many kids in class during the year and I can't pay attention.”

        He thinks he will pass the proficiency test.

        “I was scared to take it at first; everybody was,” Tobias says. “I couldn't concentrate. But I ain't going to be scared this time, I'm going to pass.”

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