Even the slowest students make measurable progress Midterm: As students at City Springs Elementary make their Christmas wish lists, teachers take stock. What's worked? What hasn't? A year in two city schools continues.

December 18, 1997|By Debbie Price | Debbie Price,SUN STAFF

Everybody is working. Good job working. Brehon, you need to get to work. Now sound it out. Get ready.

City Springs first-grade teacher Robin Shaw sits at the front of her classroom surrounded by five students. She touches a word on the page of her open lesson book.

The only noise is the give-and-take patter of Direct Instruction. Question, response. Another question, another response.

"You know what we're going to get to do soon?" Shaw says. "We're going to get to read a real reading book."

Ooooh!

It seems like such a simple thing for first-graders to read a slim little book -- "That man has the mail. He is late."

But two months ago, these children could no more have read a little book than measured the distance to the moon.

This was the disaster class. All of the most challenging first-grade students were put into the same room with a brand-new teacher.

Shaw, with her Direct Instruction training in phonics and behavior management, could handle the load, it was thought.

Everybody now knows that it was a big mistake to put all the difficult students in an inexperienced teacher's class.

It won't happen again at City Springs.

Once,folks would have shrugged at the chaos and waited for the year to end, mercifully. But things are different now.

Since the first of the year, all the oars have been in the water, all the buckets have been bailing, and Shaw's class, instead of going under, has righted itself.

Three months and three weeks into the school year, teachers at City Springs are measuring the distance they've traveled, as are teachers at Lyndhurst Elementary School across town.

Both schools are striving to raise tragically low reading scores and to fight years of academic decline.

And both are beginning to see results -- in state test scores that went up this year for the first time and in what happens in the classroom.

At City Springs, some children who didn't recognize their ABCs in September now are reading single-syllable words.

Others have gone from barely writing their names to penning sentences, "Ron will sleep at night but Jill will sleep in the day."

Six-year-olds know opposite words and rhyming words, and they can fill in the missing letters.

Nowhere, though, are the changes more obvious than in Shaw's class, where much more than the passage of time has worked to make the difference.

Anayezuka Ahidiana, the Direct Instruction coordinator at City Springs, has worked with the class.

Principal Bernice Whelchel pulled consulting teacher Vanessa Merrick from another grade and put her into Shaw's class for a time, and a few students were transferred to make the class more manageable.

Shaw has observed the way Harriet Brown keeps order in her first-grade class across the hall. She is trying her own tricks, as well.

There are a thousand little things to think of. When are you going to sharpen pencils? When are you going to get books? When are you going to take bathroom breaks?

Consistency and discipline

Everything has to come at the same time and in the same way, every single day. Discipline and praise, too, must be uniform.

"Consistency," Shaw says. "You have to be consistent."

The children begin the day with the morning lineup and morning hugs to soothe whatever emotional hangovers may linger from the night before.

They eat their lunches in the classroom and then go outside to walk around the building or run on the parking lot, instead of

staying in the cafeteria where they were getting too wound up.

Good behavior must take first priority, for without it, there will be no learning.

L "What are we?" Shaw asks, warming them up to the work ahead.

"We're a TEAM!"

It's 9: 25 a.m. on a Wednesday in December and the aide in Shaw's class has not shown up. Again.

She hasn't called; she isn't returning messages left on her home answering machine.

She has just disappeared.

For the better part of the past month, Shaw has been alone with her 22 charges, awaiting a new aide who arrived this week. A few weeks ago, the children were jumping out of their seats, turning cartwheels, breaking into fights with two teachers in the room.

Now all is calm. Everybody is, indeed, working.

The children in the reading circle are tackling small sentences. The children at their desks have copied the assignment: 1. It is fat. 2. See me. 3. The rat is fat.

Now they are cutting and pasting and coloring. Quietly.

A little girl knocks her pencil box to the floor and looks to Shaw for permission to collect the scattered crayons. "Thanks for raising your hand. You may pick it up," Shaw says.

Teacher sees everything

Even as she leads the reading group, Shaw is scanning the room to make sure those at their desks are working and that they know she is watching them work.

"Diane, you're ignoring everything going on around you and doing your work. Good job!" she says.

And to those in the reading circle, she adds without missing a beat, "You guys are reading so fast we're doing more than one lesson a day. Way to go!"

Between lessons, they play "Simon Says!" to shake out the willies.

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