In new chapter, pupils face tough challenges

Reading: Midway through second grade, children tackle spelling tests, cursive writing and other steps on the way to literacy.

February 07, 2000|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,Sun Staff

They don't go into Room 8 much anymore.

Once in a while, a few stick their heads in for quick hellos and hugs. But for most, Room 8 -- and first grade -- are memories of long ago.

Those were the days of learning how to tell "b's" from "d's" and "p's" from "q's" -- of learning how to join letters to make words and words to make sentences.

First grade was the year to begin cracking the code, to begin learning how to read.

Last year's children of Room 8 at Cedarmere Elementary School in Reisterstown are now second-graders. After a year of struggles and successes -- documented from time to time in The Sun -- they're midway through the next stage of their journey across the threshold of literacy.

Chapter books. Compound words. Stories without pictures. Plays. Even cursive writing.

The 7- and 8-year-olds have moved up a step on the elementary-school ladder, and they're scattered among a new batch of classrooms. Room 2. Room 4. Room 6.

And in second grade, everything -- and everyone -- is bigger, including the challenges.

"I have a big word I know now," says Wesley Parker, who still has his infectious smile and never-ending laugh. "Champion. My mom had a cracker box, and I read the word 'champion' on it. I didn't know that word last year."

In first grade, Wesley was the smallest boy in Room 8. This year, in Room 2, he's not the smallest -- not because he's so much taller but because one of his new classmates is a tad smaller.

This year, Wesley's tastes in books are changing. Last year, animal books were in. Now, they're replaced by books about kids. The subject of Wesley's future first book? Not a big dog anymore, but Pokemon.

"I don't like books with pictures anymore, and I don't like books with staples," Wesley says. "I like chapter books, books with real bindings."

What about the Arthur and Clifford books, the favorites of Room 8? "Those are first-grade books," Wesley says, dismissing them with a wave. "Every time I go to the library, I always get a 'Goosebumps' book."

When the children of Room 8 began their 180-day journey through first grade, Wesley's classmate Tyler Brown had one goal. "I will learn to read," she declared at the outset.

Tyler is as mischievous, articulate and excitable as ever. But, just as her pigtails have been straightened, she's reached a new level. "I read a lot," says Tyler. "That's what we do in second grade."

Assigned to Room 4 with only two of her buddies from first grade, Tyler has more or less mastered many of the basics with which she struggled in first grade. But new this school year is spelling.

Spelling tests

Every Monday brings a fresh set of words. Every Friday brings a test. In between is lots of studying. Join. Foil. Enjoy. Spoil. Royal. Decoy. Memorize which words have "oy" and which words have "oi," even if they sound the same.

"I like the spelling tests," Tyler says, though she admits she's not so fond of the extra homework.

One thing that continued from first grade is working on reading in small groups. More of Room 8's pupils receive the extra tutoring in second grade, and for many the sessions are daily instead of two or three days a week.

That's because Cedarmere merged its four first-grade classes of last year into three second grades, increasing the size of each class by four or five pupils to about 23. So the school has increased the tutoring available to second grade, giving more children extra attention.

As was the case last year, Tyler's tutoring group has three pupils, including Austin Sauter, a classmate from first grade.

Tyler still competes to be first -- first to finish a work sheet, first to blurt out the answer, first in line. So she's disappointed when tutor Ann Pastorello says it's Austin's turn to read first.

" 'I'm having a New Year's party. I think it will be fun,' said Kim," Austin reads without a hesitation.

For Austin, reading that sentence would have been nearly impossible last year. Lots of extra work -- at school and home -- is paying off for a boy with a single-minded focus on getting things right.

The problem during this day's tutoring? Reading so quickly that "a" and "the" sometimes get skipped or mixed up. "Reading is getting easier," Austin says.

Reading reminders

Tutoring often takes place in Cedarmere's hallways. Pastorello works outside the music room, huddling over three desks pulled together. Though this is second grade, basic sounds and letter combinations still get reviewed.

A nearby wall bears a reminder -- "When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking. The second goes walking" -- with a list of such vowel pairings as "ai," "ay," "ea" and "ou."

With success, Austin and Tyler are quick to flash smiles, revealing what their teacher calls "the affliction of second grade": missing teeth. This year, no smile is unbroken. The more gaps, the more reason to be proud of growing up.

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