Md. panel issues reading guidelines Task force suggests instruction methods

June 24, 1998|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

Calling for "a deep professional understanding of reading" among Maryland's teachers, a new report by a state task force gives teachers a detailed guide for setting up reading instruction.

Elementary school teachers should spend at least 30 minutes a day planning reading lessons, 15 to 30 minutes a day teaching the structure of words, including direct instruction in phonics, and 30 minutes a day attending to low-achieving readers, the report says.

The recommendations, part of a preliminary report presented to the state Board of Education yesterday, will be finalized in an extensive document expected to be released this summer. It will elaborate on a range of issues including classroom instruction, student motivation and school-family contact.

"This is not a first-grade problem," task force member John Guthrie, a reading expert at the University of Maryland, College Park, told the state Board of Education yesterday. "This is a K-12 problem."

The 25-member task force, appointed by state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and made up largely of representatives of colleges and local school districts, has consulted more than 1,500 studies on reading since April 1997.

The goal is to identify the best "research-based" methods and improve reading performance in a state where nearly two-thirds of third-graders scored below satisfactory on the state's reading test last year.

The report will be reviewed by nationally recognized reading experts before it is completed and sent to the board for approval. Because local school systems have great control over curriculum, the document will serve not as a mandate but as a guideline to schools for enhancing reading instruction across the state.

Yet Grasmick hopes the recommendations will go hand-in-hand with proposed new requirements for teacher training -- a controversial plan scheduled for a board vote today.

Under that proposal, Maryland teachers would have to pass four courses in reading to be certified for elementary school, two courses for middle and high school. Currently, Maryland certifies teachers with only one course in reading, though some colleges require more.

Recommendations

The task force's report deals largely with classroom instruction. Among the recommendations for elementary schools:

* Children should spend at least 120 to 140 minutes a day in reading and language arts instruction, at least 85 percent of that time reading, writing or discussing what they've read. Some schools devote that amount of time to reading instruction, but many do not, task force representatives said.

"We have to find a way to provide teachers with large blocks of instructional time," said task force Chairman Patricia Richardson, schools superintendent in St. Mary's County.

* For struggling students, schools should supplement reading instruction with 30 minutes a day of one-on-one or small-group instruction. All too often, Richardson said, schools give remedial help by pulling children out of class, so they miss regular-class instruction.

* Students who need them should get lessons in phonemic awareness -- how to recognize the individual sounds of the language -- systematic phonics, structural analysis, and origins and meanings of words. Spelling and vocabulary should be emphasized at all grade levels.

* Training in the mechanics of the language should be balanced with meaningful literature through such activities as reading aloud and reading in pairs, as well as solo reading and writing.

* Teachers should repeatedly assess and document each student's reading ability and intervene before children fail. Within a school, teachers at various grade levels and in different subject areas should collaborate to tailor instruction for individual students and ensure consistency.

The report also suggests that primary-grade teachers integrate reading instruction with subjects such as social studies and science. Schools should stock their libraries with at least 20 titles per student and encourage students to choose books of interest. Also, schools should collaborate with families, communities, businesses and government agencies to promote literacy.

Assessing ability

For secondary schools, the report emphasizes methods that boost reading comprehension and motivation, and notes the importance of continually assessing students' abilities. The report says that each secondary school should have at least one full-time reading specialist.

The panel also says that an "action plan" needs to be developed to disseminate the report to educators, families and communities throughout the state.

Board member Morris Jones praised the report but said the task force needs to persuade lawmakers to provide the necessary funds.

"What you're recommending is not only profound change but it also costs money," he said. "You are talking lots of time. If you spend time, you spend money. Who's going to spend time with all those other children when some children are getting [extra] help?"

Pub Date: 6/24/98

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