Enhancing reading skills - unconventionally


May 17, 2002|By Betsy Diehl | Betsy Diehl,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SOME BOLLMAN Bridge Elementary School pupils and parents recently got boxes full of shaving cream, sidewalk chalk, board games and magnets to take home. But the items were not for playtime or arts and crafts; instead, they were meant to enhance the children's reading skills.

"Anything that seems like play is really motivating," said Toni Pinkard, a reading specialist at the school.

Why use the same old pencil and paper to practice writing words when instead you can squirt blobs of shaving cream on a table and trace letters with your fingers? Tired of writing between those pesky blue lines on notebook paper? Go outside with some sidewalk chalk and write words bigger than you are.

The idea is to present reading skills in a variety of settings to give struggling readers a boost in tactics such as word recognition and finding patterns within words to decode new vocabulary as they read.

The six-week program, "Building Blocks for Reading Success," began in March and culminated with an ice cream social at Carroll Baldwin Hall on April 26, where the dozen-plus first-graders were recognized with certificates and photo-ops with Wendell the Beaver, the Bollman Bridge mascot.

The reading program, funded by a grant from the Maryland State PTA, was tailored to pupils and their parents.

"We wanted to do a parent-involvement program," said Assistant Principal Kim Pratesi, who helped design the program. Participation was voluntary, and parents were required to complete a training session at the outset to learn how to use the unconventional reading tools in weekly reading assignments. "We didn't want to just send it all home without any guidance," Pratesi said.

Pratesi and Pinkard worked with reading specialist Camille Washington to devise a hands-on approach that would re- inforce at home the reading strategies the pupils learned in the classroom.

"We let them choose the activities that worked best for them," Washington said. For some, it was flashcards or a board game; for others, it was a messier affair.

"The shaving cream did get good reviews," Pinkard said. "Some kids are really tactile. By touch, they seem to gain a lot more."

Melissa Ferraro said that her daughter, Madison, 6, enjoyed the hands-on activities. "It was like playing," Ferraro said. The shaving cream, especially, was a big hit. "We smeared it all out and had her trace a word out in the shaving cream," she said. "She thought that was a hoot." Madison's fourth-grade sister, Allison, even joined in, she said.

The children were tested before and after the program, and the results are being compiled, Washington said. "My gut feeling is that they're all so excited about doing these activities at home that they want to read more," she said. "We're really proud of them."

Forest Ridge artists

Five fifth-grade artists from Forest Ridge Elementary are featured in a book-design exhibit at Columbia Art Center in Long Reach Village Center. Mara Seibert, Yajaira Berna, Davonte Johnson, Becky Tun and Erika Koenig wrote the text, illustrated the stories and bound them into books under the tutelage of art teacher Lisa Vandervest.

"We combined the art process with reading and writing," said Vandervest, who also has a book of her own in the exhibit. "We showed them the process of book-making and taught about writing, combining skills that are extremely important in one art form."

The exhibit runs through June 2.

Also, Forest Ridge third-graders David Jenkins and Jenna Gallagher are among a group of artists from schools throughout the county to have artwork selected to grace the new pediatric unit of Howard County General Hospital.

Travel by Web

If the recent wild weather has you yearning for calmer climes, you'll want to sign up for the Savage library program, "Go Traveling on the Web," from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Participants will use laptop computers and "travel" via the library's new speedy T-1 line connection to Web sites that will help in vacation planning and bargain-fare hunting.

Information and registration: 410-880-5980.

Parting words

For Virginia Phelps, children's material selector for Howard County libraries, it was her mother who got her hooked on reading. "She got herself a job at a used-book store so she could bring as many books home for me as she could," she said.

When the time came for Phelps to learn to read, her mother took matters into her own hands. "She wrote little books for me, little primers," she said, recalling that her mother illustrated each one.

Phelps' mother went beyond teaching her to read - she cultivated in her daughter a lifelong love of books. "She's the whole reason I'm here," she said from the Savage branch.

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