Two Denver schools try group approach to teaching reading
posted by: Guest Blogger
Once a week, for at least an hour, middle school students at two Denver public schools are working in groups to try a new way of reading.
“I have a clunk,” Martin Luther King Jr. Early College seventh-grader Brian Estrada told his group as they read a science passage. “Gnarled limbs. I re-read the sentence. It has to mean something like not working because it says deformities. Maybe limbs that aren’t in the right place?”
The technique, called collaborative strategic reading, is being tested this year at Merrill Middle School and MLK with about half the students. It’s touted as a better way to understand reading — in particular for those learning English and students with learning disabilities.
That’s what appealed to administrators at DPS, who juggle a diverse student body, including 40 percent English-language learners and 12 percent with learning disabilities.
Parents of about 20 percent of English- language-learner students decide to opt out of specialized classes designed to keep students on track while they learn the language.
That’s about five times higher than the national opt-out average of 4 percent to 5 percent, so DPS needed to find an alternative to make sure the students can still learn reading in English while in class with native speakers. And every student in the pilot program at the two schools is benefiting from the new reading techniques.
“Our parents always have a choice, but we know these students still have needs, so a program like this helps improve our ability to reach them even when working with all kids,” said Susana Cordova, chief academic officer at DPS.
Seven other middle schools have been selected to use the new reading program. Three of them will start using it next year.
If successful, the program may eventually reach all district middle schools.
In Lynette Welk’s class at MLK, Estrada sits with his fellow seventh-graders in groups of four, each one of them with a special task as leaders, clunk experts, gist experts or question experts.
After the leader reads the passage, students have a few minutes to work through clunks — phrases or words they don’t understand, and to come up with a one-sentence summary. At the end, students write three questions that make them think about the reading.
“They really are internalizing the process and are using it when they read even without recognizing that they did,” said Welk, a science teacher at MLK. Every teacher there, not just reading specialists, will eventually use the reading approach with students.
The strategy was developed by Janette Klinger, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She started the work in 1993 at the University of Miami, while working on the dissertation for her Ph.D.
“We really did develop it with English-language learners and students with learning disabilities in mind, and we’ve made changes to make it even more appropriate for them, but we’ve seen it helps anyone,” Klinger said.
The pilot and implementation of the strategy was funded in part through a federal grant — a branch of the Race to the Top funding — reserved for collaborations to work on improving or testing promising education programs.
DPS was the only grant winner that included parent engagement in the project by partnering with Padres Unidos, a group with members working to teach the strategy to parents.
“I see it as reinforcing everything we do in class,” Welk said. “Next year we can hit the ground running.”