Fathers tell tales to boost pupils' skills

Plan: Educators at Ellicott City school believe that `Reading Dads' will help children learn and improve test scores.

June 13, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Henry Henline reaches into a cardboard box on the floor and pulls out two versions of J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit," one in novel form, the other a comic book. A group of curious third-graders is gathered cross-legged on the floor around him.

"One thing I like about this," says Henline, holding up the original novel version, "is I had in my mind what a hobbit looked like. What all the characters looked like -- I had it all in my mind."

Henline, a computer technician, was visiting Manor Woods Elementary School as a member of its volunteer team of "Reading Dads" -- a cadre of fathers who help teach the school's third-graders about reading.

"Reading Dads" is one part of a reading campaign at the Ellicott City school that has resulted in 160,000 minutes of reading time among the students.

The "Dads," besides reading stories to Manor Woods' third-graders, discuss facets of reading specific to the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, such as reading to inform, reading to perform a task and reading for literary enrichment.

So far, they have taught children about reading maps, e-mail and graphs -- even X-rays. An accountant brought in parts of a contract, and a minister talked about another kind of reading -- "reading emotions."

"We're constantly reading to perform a task," Davis said. "A lot of dads brought in [material on] how to build a deck, how to change a tire."

Davis said the "Reading Dads" idea stemmed in part from findings in recent MSPAP scores: Third-grade boys were lagging in reading, and the school believed male role models might help.

"We just basically put a note out that said, `Dads, we're looking for people,' " said teacher Jonathan Davis, third-grade team leader at Manor Woods, noting that in one recent week, "we had 43 presentations with 41 dads."

"I think it's going to have a big impact," Davis added.

Henline's session went beyond fiction.

After talking about "The Hobbit" and books about Sherlock Holmes and Encyclopedia Brown, Henline held up a technical operations manual that he uses at work.

"This is definitely reading to perform a task," Henline told the children.

"All this reading that I've done and all of this reading that you can do, it will help you to write better," Henline told them.

Perhaps to prove his point, Henline read a story that he wrote about a winter day in 1964. It didn't take the children long to figure out that the piece, which mentions "frozen fire," was a tall tale.

In the next room, fellow "Dad" Larry Peaco, a medical consultant, shared his personal journal and talked about how books allow the reader to imagine something without seeing it.

"Moving from one class to the next, the reactions from the kids are so different," said Henline, who has three children at Manor Woods and has given four presentations.

"I just enjoyed it."

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