Reading flurry sweeps the area Activities: Teachers learn skills for instruction, while volunteers teach children at SuperKids camps.

Education Beat

June 28, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

THIS IS TURNING out to be the Summer of the First R.

In Northeast Baltimore, 3,200 teachers are going to summer school to learn how to employ the city's new elementary reading curriculum.

Community activist Sally Michel's SuperKids camps open this week for about 1,500 children, some of the more than 4,000 city second-graders who tested below grade level in reading in September.

Their instructors, trained over the past few weeks, will work at 19 sites around Baltimore. Most are delightful reminders of the idealistic 1960s -- young college students participating in the America Reads program.

That's not the extent of the reading flurry this summer. All around the metropolitan area, there's heightened interest. Elaine Davis, principal of Edgewood Elementary School, for example, found the money to keep her staff for a week of training after the West Baltimore school closed for students.

Freda Tidwell, the first-grade teacher, and Sandra Watt, the master teacher, were there. But so was Gregory Horne, the music teacher. Everyone can teach reading. That's one of the lessons imparted by Ora Sterling King, a Coppin State College education professor who conducted the Edgewood training.

King, who's been a reading teacher since 1954 -- "longer than I want to talk about" -- wants the teachers she trains to thoroughly understand the skills of reading. That might sound simple-minded, but it's specific skills -- as opposed to strategies -- that are often neglected in teacher education, she contends.

She invites me to scan one of the popular books used to train teachers. My task is to find, if I can, significant instruction in the skills children need to read. I see immediately what she's talking about.

"There are lots of strategies but very little on the actual skills," King says. "And that book is typical. There are lots of reasons teachers aren't teaching reading, and that's one of them -- the failure to teach skills."

King's complaint is echoed by reading experts. "The most popular instructional materials in our classrooms are strong on literature, pictures and motivational strategies for children," says Louisa C. Moats, a nationally recognized authority. "But they're very weak or simply misinformed on the structure of our language and how children actually learn to read."

Teachers in the SuperKids camps were trained for a week this month in direct instruction, another ghost from the '60s. Direct instruction is so highly structured and concentrated on skill-building that some educators say it's too rigid.

Baltimore is spending $1.4 million on the seven-week summer training institute, a veritable bonanza in a city that, in recent times, hasn't found two dimes to rub together for "professional development."

Three days of the training will be conducted by the textbook publishers, Open Court for the early grades, Houghton Mifflin for grades three through five.

But are three days enough to learn the specifics of the programs that will affect every teacher and every student in the city's elementary schools this fall?

Perhaps everyone needs to repeat the "National Service Oath" that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke administered Tuesday to a band of volunteers about to disperse to the four SuperKids camps coordinated by Baltimore Reads:

"I will get things done for America to make our people better, smarter, healthier

"Faced with apathy, I will take action

"I am going to get things done."

Enthusiastic about algebra 'story problems'

Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, talks about algebra "story problems" with the enthusiasm of an Orioles fan discussing Brooks Robinson's play at third.

You know algebra story problems: "If a train leaves station A at 10 a.m. traveling at 40 mph, while another train, blah, blah, blah, at what time do they meet?" You probably hated them -- unless, like Hrabowski, you loved math with a passion.

Here's what Hrabowski had to say last week about algebra story problems:

"You give me a child who can read well, and I can teach her or him to solve story problems. Most people don't like story problems. But what is the SAT? Look at the math part. Besides geometry, it's just algebra, it's just story problems. There's a very strong relationship between reading and math. The better a person can read and think, the more effective that person will be in solving story problems."

Pub Date: 6/28/98

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