Gardner-Dickinson’s youngest learners are making huge strides in reading this year due to a new approach that places a reading specialist in kindergarten and first grade each day.
Spending at least an hour in each class, Andrew Newmark works with students in small groups, reading with them and assessing areas where they need help. The additional support also provides teachers the same opportunity to work more closely with students.
“Every student rotates through me then their regular teacher so they get a double dose of small group instruction,” explained Mr. Newmark. “Small group instruction is the most effective instruction. We try to do that as much as possible.”
Guided reading time typically starts with students rereading a book they are familiar with to build their confidence and fluency. It also gives educators an opportunity to evaluate how reading strategies are working for a student.
Students then move on to work with words, using magnetic letters or dry-erase boards to build words and make word analogies. “That gives students a better sense of language and how words fit together in different spelling patterns that create words,” explained Mr. Newmark.
A new book is then introduced to students. Teachers first review vocabulary that students may struggle with and make reading engaging by asking students their predictions about the book or how it may connect to their lives. As students read quietly, educators periodically check in with them to evaluate their reading accuracy and the strategies they use to guide them.
Outside of the classroom, teachers and Mr. Newmark discuss their teaching strategies. This helps educators learn from each other about what approaches are working best for students. Students who struggle receive additional reading support as needed.
“The more we can collaborate, the more we can talk about each student, the more we can know about each student, the better we can help each student. That’s been a huge part of their success,” said Mr. Newmark. “The best part of the job is seeing how well students are doing.”
Principal Mary Yodis explained the new teaching approach came out of discussions with teachers on how the district could improve students’ reading and writing skills. Instead of bringing an outside person to provide professional development, Dr. Yodis said teachers preferred to work with Mr. Newmark.
“Andrew’s knowledge on literacy, particularly on how children acquire reading and writing skills is phenomenal,” said Dr. Yodis. “He’s such a benefit to the children and also helping teachers become even stronger at their craft.”
The results have been impressive already, said Dr. Yodis. Almost every kindergartner and first grader is reading at or above their grade level.
“All the research shows that providing intervention in kindergarten and first grade really makes a substantial contribution to reading achievement in students,” said Dr. Yodis.