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 Whitehead Elementary School Teachers Help Struggling Readers

10/23/2019 3:30 AM

​Clementine Honore achieved two years’ growth in reading in about four months last year. This year, she’s so stoked about reading, she stopped watching TV at home. She also wants to be a teacher.

It’s a powerful testament to the work of a Professional Learning Communities (PLC) team at Whitehead Elementary School in Rockford Public Schools.

Last winter, the second grade PLC gathered for one of its twice-monthly meetings after school. This meeting was focused on reading. The teachers discussed how all their hard work wasn’t hitting the target and helping students grow.

Whitehead Instructional Coach Renee Guse remembered the mood. “What we are doing is not working,” she said.

With the blessing of Whitehead Principal Pam Miner and use of school building funds, Guse and Anita Hughes, a Title I teacher, decided to try something new and attend training in Wisconsin. They learned about the RISE Framework, a reading intervention program.

Guse, Hughes and two reading tutors at Whitehead worked intensively with 16 second graders, including Clementine. The students had one hour a day focused on reading comprehension, word recognition and discussion. One of the strategies was for students to write about the book they read the day before.

From January to May, Clementine progressed from reading at the kindergarten level to reading at the second grade level. One of her classmates, Carmello Schumaker, began at a first grade reading level and ended where he should have been, at second grade. “It was fun,” Carmello said. “It was good. I did a lot of writing.”

The rest of the Whitehead staff thought it was good, too. As many as 90 percent of the teachers participated in eight hours of voluntary professional development after school, learning about the reading instruction of national expert Jan Richardson. The four, two-hour sessions were presented by Whitehead’s own Guse and Hughes, based on their experience and what they had learned in Wisconsin.

Soon, teachers from four other schools in the district visited Whitehead to observe the intervention team.

The buzz wasn’t only about a successful approach. Teachers were learning from their colleagues about how a PLC identifies a problem, comes up with a solution, tries it, and measures the results. It’s called Plan-Do-Study-Act, or PDSA.

“This is what we want a PLC to do,” said Susan Fumo, Executive Director of School Improvement. “A building invested manpower, time and money to train everybody” and saw good results, she said. An intervention helped students catch up to their peers and not only that: They learned to love reading. The school is expanding the reading intervention to the third grade this year.

Like Fumo, Principal Miner was proud of her staff. “This is a classic example of PDSA – a team of educators working together to solve a serious problem about our children who are struggling readers,” she said.

Clementine is struggling no more. She was asked what the best thing about teaching would be. “Because I could read books to kids.”

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