A new reading approach

U.S. taps teacher to share methods, such as special staff

Education Beat

December 25, 2005|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Louisa Hogan, the special education leader at Jones Elementary School, was working with several pupils who were having problems reading.

"For some reason, their brain does not process the sounds the way normal children do, sequentially," she said.

But with the help of Bernadette Grizzell, the county's special education resource teacher, she was able to bring to her pupils a national program called Failure Free, which uses "sight words" - ones that can be taught whole, without the use of "sounding out" - and repetition.

"It's been wonderful," Hogan said. "It's been absolutely life-changing for these students to have these programs."

Grizzell, a speech and language pathologist by training, was recently chosen as one of 70 educators nationwide for the U.S. Department of Education's Teacher-to-Teacher Training Corps. She will travel around the country sharing her strategies with other educators.

"I'm going to talk about the model we've developed here in Anne Arundel County," Grizzell said.

The key practice that Grizzell will share is Anne Arundel's use of para-educators, who work with special education and reading teachers in the schools to help pupils who have not responded to routine reading help.

Grizzell's team includes three women - Kristy Nogar, Debbie Brockmeyer and Dyan Rosdail - known as "technicians," who visit the county elementary schools on a regular basis and make sure that the reading programs are being followed and that they are working.

"What we've done in Anne Arundel County is to develop this model of using para-educators to facilitate the implementation of reading intervention," Grizzell said.

"They were teaching assistants, but we started looking for individuals who had potential."

These para-educators don't have teaching degrees, but they have a background and interest in education. Rosdail, for example, is a former instructional assistant at Maryland City Elementary School who is working to get her bachelor's degree and hopes to become a special education instructor.

"When I became a support technician, I just went out with Bernadette and the other technicians and kind of shadowed them for the first few months until I could take over my own schools," said Rosdail, who started the job in the fall.

"We get the reading interventions going in the school," Rosdail explained. "Then we go out and support the school, help out the teacher in any way we can, make sure we're there to answer any questions, give support to the teacher and give support to the students."

The team now sees pupils and teachers in about 30 of the county's elementary schools, Grizzell said. The technicians' schools are divided by geography. Each technician tries to visit each of her schools at least once a week.

The pupils in the program are in special education classes or otherwise need help with reading. Grizzell and her team work with the reading teachers and special education teachers to find the right programs for those children.

"Not all programs are right for all students," noted Hogan, who works closely with Nogar. Hogan said Grizzell and her team are good at finding what works for each pupil, and then following up to make sure the programs achieve their goals.

"I enjoy working with Bernadette," said Rosdail. "She's full of energy and has a lot of knowledge."

About 1,000 educators nationwide applied for the Teacher-to-Teacher Training Corps. The 70 chosen will attend two days of training next month in St. Louis, and then will accept invitations from school districts interested in their subjects. The teachers in the program represent a range of grade levels and subjects.

"There's no minimum or maximum commitment," Grizzell said. "I don't know the logistics yet, but it sounds like they really work with you and they try to meet everybody's schedule."

She anticipates visiting schools perhaps once every other month, she said.

Her expenses will be paid, plus she will receive a stipend for her preparation time, she said. And her home school district is sure to benefit.

"I think I'm going to bring a lot back to Anne Arundel County also, because I'll be talking to people around the country and bringing back their ideas," Grizzell said.

Being chosen to share success stories is a feather in the cap for Anne Arundel schools, said Diane Black, director of special education. And she said Grizzell deserved the recognition.

"There isn't anyone who is more passionate about teaching students to read than Bernadette Grizzell. She always has a positive outlook," Black said. "I mean, the passion just exudes from her. You can see it in her eyes; you can see it in her body language, the way she talks. She is just such an advocate for teaching reading. She never gives up on any child."

ksnitkin@comcast.net

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