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Support for struggling readers

Reading specialists share what is new in reading at Watervliet Elementary School

 

Reading specialists at Watervliet Elementary School have switched up the way they deliver support to struggling readers this year and that change is making a real difference for students.

picture of reading teacher working with a student

Reading specialist Rachel Alric works with a student during the ExTRA programs Breakfast Reading Club, which offers young students additional support as they learn to read.

In past years, reading specialists were assigned to individual classrooms where they would work for 30 minutes with groups of struggling readers, and most often those students had different needs or experienced difficulties with different skills.

This year, the reading teachers have been digging deeper into multiple measures of data and grouping students by need. “We began this year looking at students across the entire grade level to group readers with similar needs,” said Rachel Alric. “That has allowed us to design more targeted instruction at their level, essentially creating programs to fit students, not fitting students into programs.”

Building fundamental reading skills

At the elementary school, 90 minutes of every day is dedicated to literacy instruction. Within that reading block, the five specialists work with smaller groups of students from the same grade level who are having difficulties mastering similar skills, such as fluency or comprehension, which are essential to reading. (Fluency is defined as the ability to read with speed, accuracy and proper expression, while comprehension is the ability to read text, process it, and understand its meaning.)

picture of reading teacher working with students

Reading specialist Yvonne Dungan reads with WES students in the classroom during Read Across America Day, which celebrates the birthday of beloved children's author Dr. Seuss with reading activities.

The more intensive the students’ needs, the more support they receive. Reading specialists typically work with groups struggling with both comprehension and fluency for five days each week, for example. Groups that are considered fluent, but struggle with comprehension, also receive support five days per week. While other student groups may work strictly on fluency for two days each week.

“The nice part about it is that within those grade levels the students who are struggling come out all at the same time, as Rachel mentioned,” said Jennifer McNeff, “which allows each of us to work more closely with students who come to the table to work on the one or two skills that are giving them most trouble.”

The reading specialists agree this is a more efficient and effective way to help the students.

“We can make the most of our time, where in the past we would have to set these two students to task so that we could work on comprehension with the rest of the group,” explained Samantha McCabe. “Now we can go in knowing that every student has the same needs, which allows us to really utilize our time better.”

“Because we are working basically on one skill with a particular group, we have a chance to tap into students’ learning styles and be a little more creative,” said Yvonne Dungan. “It allows more flexibility in our teaching, rather than a cookie-cutter approach.”

The reading teachers emphasize that being able to work with smaller groups is important to student progress.

“Grouping students more by their needs is the way it should be,” said Jennifer Salvi. “We used to have groups of six that we would work every other day, or times when we might be working with 12 in a classroom, which was not an ideal setting.”

Nowadays, Watervliet’s grade level reading groups consist of no more than five students based on similar needs. For learners with more intense needs, the maximum assigned to a group is two or three students. Those numbers, Mrs. Salvi and her colleagues say, are in line with mountains of research that suggest struggling readers make greater gains when interventions occur in groups no larger than two to five students.

Most importantly, the reading specialists report they are seeing struggling readers at all grade levels make greater strides this year.

“We have seen the most growth this year,” said Mrs. McCabe. “In other years, we would see fluency for some students increase maybe 10-20 words per minute, but I feel like the majority of students this year have been increasing 20-30 words per minute for the most part.”

meet the Reading specialists

Want to know what careers the five reading specialists dreamed of pursuing when they were in elementary school, or if they prefer peanut M&Ms to the plain variety? To learn the answers to those and a few other questions, click on the staff member’s name to reveal a short Q&A.

picture of reading teachers

WES reading specialists, from left: Jennifer Salvi, Rachel Alric, Samantha McCabe, Jennifer McNeff and Yvonne Dungan.

 

Jennifer Salvi

bullet graphicPlain or peanut M&M’s? Plain

bullet graphicWhat is your favorite thing about being a reading teacher? Seeing the growth that my students make from the beginning to the end of the school year.

bullet graphicCoffee or tea? Coffee.

bullet graphicWhat is your favorite book to read with elementary school students? Anything by Shel Silverstein.

bullet graphicFavorite color? Blue.

bullet graphicWhen you were in elementary school, what did you dream of being when you grew up? I knew that I wanted to work with children in some capacity.

 

Rachel Alric

bullet graphicPlain or peanut M&M’s? Peanut.

bullet graphicWhat is your favorite thing about being a reading teacher? My favorite thing about being a reading teacher is being able to read and discuss great stories with my students. I also love watching the progress students make throughout the course of a school year.

bullet graphicCoffee or tea? Coffee.

bullet graphicWhat is your favorite book to read with elementary school students? My favorite book to read with elementary school students is Tikki Tikki Tembo retold by Arlene Mosel.

bullet graphicFavorite color? Red.

bullet graphicWhen you were in elementary school, what did you dream of being when you grew up? I always dreamed of being a teacher.

 

Samantha McCabe

bullet graphicPlain or peanut M&M’s? Plain

bullet graphicWhat is your favorite thing about being a reading teacher? I love seeing my students get excited to read about their favorite characters.

bullet graphicCoffee or tea? Both coffee and tea.

bullet graphicWhat is your favorite book to read with elementary school students? Reading anything by Chris Van Allsburg with my students is my favorite.

bullet graphicFavorite color? Blue.

bullet graphicWhen you were in elementary school, what did you dream of being when you grew up? I went to WES when I was a child and the love that I had for my teachers made me want to be just like them when I grew upand here I am :)

 

Jennifer McNeff

bullet graphicPlain or peanut M&M’s? Plain

bullet graphicWhat is your favorite thing about being a reading teacher? The children, every day is new and exciting. Never a dull moment.

bullet graphicCoffee or tea? Coffee.

bullet graphicWhat is your favorite book to read with elementary school students? “Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan.

bullet graphicFavorite color? Yellow.

bullet graphicWhen you were in elementary school, what did you dream of being when you grew up? Crazy, I wanted to be a Dallas Cowboy's Cheerleader (even though I never cheered)!

 

Yvonne Dungan

bullet graphicPlain or peanut M&M’s? Plain

bullet graphicWhat is your favorite thing about being a reading teacher? My favorite thing about being a reading teacher is watching the struggling readers use the skills they are being taught and decoding text. Once a student becomes more confident with reading, they begin to enjoy it more and more.

bullet graphicCoffee or tea? Coffee.

bullet graphicWhat is your favorite book to read with elementary school students? The True Story of The Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka is my favorite book because it tells the story of The Three Little Pigs from the wolf's perspective and is really funny.

bullet graphicFavorite color? Blue.

bullet graphicWhen you were in elementary school, what did you dream of being when you grew up? I wanted to become a teacher since I was seven years old!