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The City Journals

St. John the Baptist students become wordsmiths with literacy program

Apr 30, 2022 10:30AM ● By Julie Slama

St. John the Baptist literacy team member Monica Bathurst provides small group instruction of “Words Their Way” to kindergartners. (Photo courtesy of St. John the Baptist Elementary)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

This summer, St. John the Baptist Elementary students may be sitting down to read more for their enjoyment, thanks in part to both a summer reading challenge and the support they’ve received from the school’s literacy team.

“We always have some kind of reading and math challenge through the school and then, we’ll try to offer something for our striving readers as well,” Director of Student Support Services Becca Moore said.

The love of reading is instilled through regular reading opportunities throughout the school year.  For example, the kindergarten through second grade read and return program is where students check out a book on their level weekly and by the end of the week, they take a comprehension test based on it, Director of Curriculum and Faculty Development Gina Parker said.

With the upper grades, about 70 striving students pick a book from the collaboration reading room and their reading progress is tracked.

“Sometimes for these striving readers, it’s just mapping out the book for them, helping pick a book that they can read on their level that they’re going to enjoy and have success with,” Parker said.

The collaboration room as well as the collaborative literacy hour and program support are the successful outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

“Our teachers were working together to build these students back up. We knew they were coming back with learning loss,” Parker said.

To help overcome that learning loss during the pandemic, the collaborative literacy hour was implemented in fall 2020 for kindergarten through second grade. Last year, the need was identified, and third grade was added, she said.

Moore said that typically kindergartners through second-grade students learn how to read, but then in third grade, students make a transition from learning how to read to reading to learn and are introduced to subjects they read and learn about.

“There’s that shift, but we noticed with the pandemic, that some of our third-graders still really need reading instruction and learning how to read and that’s why we added third grade,” she said.

The idea behind collaborative literacy hour is that each classroom is assigned a teacher or paraeducator who provides small group reading instruction for 30 minutes during a set time. This educator implements “Words Their Way,” a word study curriculum that provides instruction in phonics, vocabulary and spelling.

Students are all assessed and organized into small groups by ability and then are given specific skills they need to develop, she said.

Moore said that students look at spelling word patterns so “they are learning not only how to read the words, they’re learning the word patterns and the phonics of them.”

Parker said they’re also listening for the sounds, to have the phonemic awareness versus “just memorizing a list of words for the test on Friday. We’re really trying to dig deep into understanding the principles as the way words are spelled.”

Students are tracked for their reading and assessments.

“We've seen a lot of growth in our students,” Moore said. “We track individuals and really ensure that they are making progress. When they’re not making as much as we’d like them to, then they come and work with my team.”

When those students are identified needing more support to master skills, they are pulled out twice per week during a non-core subject time and work with the literacy support program, directed by Moore. That team monitors students’ progress through assessments and collaboration with the classroom teachers. They also reinforce phonemic awareness, phonics, word study, reading comprehension, fluency and writing skills.

“Kids come into the program support, and I show them a sight word that doesn’t follow a word pattern, they’ll say that it’s an odd ball. So, I see lessons that they’re taught in collaborative literacy; it’s really cool to see they are grasping that words do have patterns and when they don’t,” Moore said.

Moore often will look at standards students are struggling with and incorporate what they’re learning in other subjects into her lessons. For example, they may be learning about the American Revolution, so she will “throw in vocabulary like revolution and taxation and words with that suffix. It reinforces what is being taught in the classroom.”

Moore said that the program and room full of resources came by the faculty and staff wanting to support each other and students after the pandemic.

“We all had been isolated and really wanted to come back strong and know that everyone has support,” she said. “We’re working together for our students’ success.”