Late-night TV offers steps to teach reading

The Education Beat

Series: MPT offers educators an overview of instruction in a program to air next month.

January 21, 2001|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

IT'S WAITING for you: everything you want to know (well, almost everything) about the teaching of reading, in one tidy video series produced by Maryland Public Television.

But if you want to see it for free, you'd better learn how to program your VCR or clear your eyes and mind at 2 a.m. Feb. 16 or April 6. "Teaching the Reader," a two-hour film to be shown in four segments, was shot last year on location in several schools across Maryland and at state Education Department headquarters in Baltimore.

The $80,000 production stars a half-dozen of the state's most talented teachers, along with state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. Commentary is provided by Richard Allington, a nationally prominent reading researcher and textbook author.

Expert reading teachers won't find a lot that's new, but those who lack expertise (and there are a lot of them) will get a good overview. In the segments, writer and producer Carolyn Projansky presents reading as a "developmental continuum" - kindergarten through third grade, reading by 9.

We begin on the "ground floor" with "phonemic awareness" activities in Gerri Bohanan's kindergarten class at Cross Country Elementary in Baltimore. In simple terms, phonemic awareness is the ability to take oral language apart, put it back together and change it. Most 5-year-olds can't tell you there are three syllables in "dinosaur," but they can clap them out. Most don't know the first phoneme in "mice" is "m," but they can remove the "m" and be skating on "ice."

Gradually, print is introduced, and children learn that those sounds they've been putting together and taking apart are represented by letters and combinations of letters. Soon they're decoding, or reading. But not really, if they can't put meaning to the words. "Merely decoding words doesn't make a child a reader," narrator Melissa Leebaert says. "Comprehension is the key, even in kindergarten."

"Teaching the Reader" covers the waterfront: how to maintain a "print-rich environment"; how to build a "word wall" in the classroom; how to conduct "shared reading," in which pupils read to each other; and how to keep a "running record" - a continuous assessment of each child that allows teachers to detect weaknesses and to form, and reform, classroom reading groups.

The teachers explain how best to combine reading and writing. Second-grade teacher Pamela Merritt of Montgomery County has her children writing their own "big books" - she's on her knees on the carpet with them.

The experts say that by the end of second grade and into the third, the kids are in transition from learning to read to reading to learn. They're becoming independent readers and writers. They're also coming up on Maryland School Performance Assessment Program testing, and there's plenty of MSPAP preparation in the film, too. MSPAP is a "language-loaded test," Grasmick says, "and you can't do well on it unless you can read and write."

So, for example, "Teaching the Reader" covers the three types of reading tested in MSPAP: reading for literary experience (translation: reading novels), reading to perform a task (translation: following instructions for programming a VCR) and reading to be informed.

At the end of each segment, there's a charming feature in which children are asked what, why and where they like to read. In the last segment - let's see, about 3:50 a.m. - a girl says she reads "in the shed with my dogs."

"Do you read to the dogs?" she's asked.

"Yeah, but they don't really listen. They just roll over."

"Teaching the Reader" is one of a series of programs due for airing this spring by MPT's Educational Video Service. State school officials hope schools, districts and schools of education will have recorders at the ready and use the tapes in the training of teachers. For those without VCRs or who like to sleep, MPT is selling the tapes for $19.95 for the series.

There's a need. Maryland requires 12 credit hours (four courses) in reading instruction for elementary teachers and teachers-to-be in the state's education schools. At the same time, the state is piloting a test that will allow teachers to "test out" of the four courses. "Teaching the Reader," tailored as it is for Maryland, would be excellent for prepping.

"It's designed for an audience of educators," says Suzanne Clewell, retired coordinator of reading in Montgomery County and consultant to "Teaching the Reader."

"But it could be for the general public, too. I wish it could be shown at least during the day."

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