Teacher training key to success Learning: Anne Arundel officials say the key to improving reading at any grade level is PTC educating the instructors.

December 23, 1998|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

For 25 minutes twice a week at Lindale-Brooklyn Park Middle School, there is "No talking. No writing and eyeballs are on print."

These are the only limits on students during "Proud to Read" time -- an effort at the Anne Arundel County school to shore up lagging reading skills.

Even though students can read anything that interests them -- including Teen magazine and comic books -- the reading period is "really painful" for some students, says Principal Judith Jenkins. "They are not good readers."

Thanks to a streamlined reading program in the elementary years that blends phonics with whole-language teaching methods -- or word decoding skills with literature -- Anne Arundel's third- and fifth-graders have made steady improvements on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests.

Poor eighth-grade reading scores on the MSPAP tests this year in Arundel and around the state have made clear that reading instruction can't end with elementary school. Anne Arundel educators say the key to improving reading at any grade level is teacher training.

"Our goal and focus now is on teacher training in reading from pre-kindergarten to grade 12," says Nancy M. Mann, an assistant county school superintendent. "What we want is every teacher to be a teacher of reading -- no matter what the content."

During the past year, several hundred of the county's 4,100 teachers have attended staff development classes on how to better teach such basics of reading instruction as phonics, vocabulary building and how to identify struggling readers.

"We are looking to refine our use of phonics in light of all the research," said reading coordinator Ruth C. Bowman. "This year, we are giving teachers explicit direction on how to teach reading with phonics."

Anne Arundel's elementary reading program is showing progress. County fifth-graders have made the biggest improvements on the MSPAP reading test in the last five years, with almost half of them performing satisfactorily or better this year compared with more than 30 percent in 1993. Results of a nationally standardized test, the California Test of Basic Skills, also show most elementary-school students are reading at grade level.

L Middle school is where students seem to need more attention.

Eighth-graders in Anne Arundel County had only a 1 percentage-point gain in reading scores during the past four years. Except for Howard County, where eighth-grade scores dropped almost 5 percentage points, Anne Arundel had the smallest gain in the Baltimore metro area.

While explicit reading instruction by trained reading teachers are offered in elementaries, that often ends in middle schools -- where it is assumed that children know how to read. But subject-area reading in middle schools is a big change for students who have read mostly stories and fairy tales.

"In middle school, there are social studies and science books to read,and that is not the same as reading a narrative," says Connie Hurtt, a reading resource teacher at Lindale-Brooklyn Park Middle School. "It's harder reading. I hate to say it, but there is not enough of that kind of reading instruction in elementary school. It's hard for the teachers to find the time for that."

Susie C. Jablinske, a former first-grade teacher who now heads the county teacher's union, says Hurtt's concerns are legitimate: "Elementary teachers know they have to help their students with content reading. And I have been told by teachers that they think the fifth-grade curriculum should be broadened to include more of that."

Middle schools often lack remedial reading programs. Eight of Anne Arundel's 18 middle schools have reading teachers to help struggling students, and Bowman says she hopes eventually to have them in all middle schools.

The Proud to Read program at Lindale-Brooklyn Park and remedial reading programs at other Anne Arundel middle

schools are set apart from English classes. These programs have grown out of recommendations to improve reading skills from a report issued last summer by Superintendent Carol S. Parham's Task Force on Student Achievement.

In these remedial classes, students get 50 minutes of vocabulary building, writing and other skills designed to help them catch up to seventh- and eighth-grade levels.

Good readers at Lindale-Brooklyn Park can join an after-school club called "Choice Readers." During the Proud to Read sessions, Choice Readers help their peers by reading aloud their favorite passages from books and magazines or putting on skits from stories and recommending books.

"We do this because we enjoy reading," says reader Hope Monskie, an eighth-grader. "We want to put an emphasis on reading."

The idea is to make reading fun, casual, something to talk to friends about and a part of everyday life for middle schoolers.

Succeeding at that remains, for now, a problem. "We are not pretending to have all the answers," says Jenkins, Lindale-Brooklyn's principal. "We are still searching."

Tomorrow: Reading in Howard County schools.

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