Weaving reading through the school

Process: For Cedarmere first-graders, learning to read is a part of every class and subject.

April 09, 1999|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Wesley Parker learns to read in art. He learns to read in music. He learns to read in the computer lab. He even learns to read by walking though Cedarmere Elementary School's halls and looking at the writing posted on walls. "We learn to read everywhere," he says.

For Wesley and other first-graders in Room 8 of the Reisterstown school, the path to cracking the code of reading weaves through every one of their classes and subjects. It has to, because more and more their journey has become a race against time.

With just 180 days in the school year, only a few children would be far enough along by the end of first grade if reading instruction were limited to their 1 1/2 or two hours of directly labeled "reading time" each morning.

At Cedarmere, that means every classroom has to be a reading classroom and every teacher has to be a reading teacher.

These days, this is supposed to be the case at every elementary, middle and high school in Maryland. The state now requires that all teachers take more courses in reading instruction, regardless of their subject areas, the ages of their students and how long they have been teaching.

So if Room 8 teacher Sheri Blum is these first-graders' lead guide, then every other adult at Cedarmere also has been asked to provide footholds up the mountain of reading.

From the moment they pick up mallets and play bell sets, kindergartners in Gil Meerdter's music room begin learning letters -- or at least "A" through "G," the letters of the musical scale.

Music-reading connection

The connection between music and reading continues for Room 8 first-graders.

By the middle of this school year, Wesley's classmate Heather Coffey sits on the colorfully carpeted floor of Meerdter's music room, staring at words on a bingo card. Head down and long brown hair slipping into her eyes, she strains to make out the lyrics to "This Land is Your Land" -- trying to match the words she hears with those on her card.

She finds "from" and "as" as she hums along, putting pennies over the words. Then it's on to the next tune: Take me out to the ball game, take me out to the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and

Wait! There's the word "buy!"

Even here in music class is another reminder of the many twists and turns in learning how to read: the word on Heather's bingo card is not "buy" but "by."

"What did I do wrong?" she asks, a wounded look spreading across her face.

"Nothing," Meerdter says gently. "It's just that `by' is a really hard word. The `buy' in `buy me some peanuts' is b-u-y. The word you have is `by,' like in side-by-side.

"And then when we say `bye-bye,' it is b-y-e. We have so many `buys.' "

"Oh," Heather says quietly as she takes the penny off her card. "You're right. That is hard."

As Meerdter's lesson moves on to rhythms, music and reading seem more connected -- in a class competition to be the first to identify the long notes of "Ta" and the short notes of "Tee."

Ta, Ta, Ta, Tee-Tee.

Joshua Bennett and Heather stare at cards printed with the sounds of the notes, aiming to match them with what they're hearing. Joshua sees the right one first, grabbing it and racing to the chalkboard to be first to set it on the board's chalk ledge.

"Music is kind of like reading," says Joshua, at age 7 Room 8's oldest and tallest student. "With music, you just mix up the same notes, but in different order. That's how words are, too."

Daily goals

Every time Room 8's first-graders file into a new classroom -- always in two lines, boys and girls separated -- they're confronted with another opportunity to put to use their growing reading skills: The daily goal.

In elementary schools, no lesson begins without it. It's always written on the chalkboard and read aloud by the students.

"Today we will continue to cut rectangles of different heights and widths in order to make rows of buildings" is Room 8's project in one recent art class.

With a little help on such tricky words as "heights" and "widths," Wesley reads the goal aloud to the class.

Then it's off to work with scissors and paste. Scraps of construction paper become colorful buildings, with windows, doors and faces drawn in with markers. Wesley, an animal lover, adds a couple of dogs to the sidewalks.

Often, each day's "special" -- that's how first-graders refer to their art, music and gym classes -- does little more than reinforce their reading lessons.

In Cedarmere's computer lab last fall, typing began as some of the first-graders were struggling to master all the letters of the alphabet. As the lessons in Room 8 moved on to words with short vowel sounds, letters for such simple words as "cat" and "fat" had to be found on the keyboard and typed again and again.

Sentences now are expected, so the children are typing cards, letters and even stories now and then. Misspellings are still as common as with their printing, but that doesn't strictly matter in the minds of Blum and most other first-grade teachers.

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