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Improving literacy proficiency goal of workshop

June 30, 2001|By LAURA MACKENZIE, Staff Writer

Junior high and high school teachers and administrators from throughout the Imperial Valley participated in a daylong workshop designed to increase students' literacy proficiency on Saturday at Southwest High School in El Centro.

The workshop, sponsored by the California Reading and Literature Project, is funded by the Governor's Reading Professional Development Institute. The keynote speaker was Anita Archer of Portland, Ore.

The CRLP is one of nine California subject matter projects managed through the University of California's Office of the President.

"The CRLP considers improving student achievement as its central goal, and the CRLP believes teacher leadership and quality professional development are the primary means of reaching this goal," said Jennifer Busskohl, institute director for the CRLP.

Busskohl, a teacher at Calipatria High School, said the focus of the workshop is to "teach the teachers how to engage our students and address the problem of kids reading below grade level."

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"Because so much is printed about the API scores and SAT 9 scores, we just want to let the parents know that we know there are some problems," said Busskohl.

She added, "The Imperial County Office of Education rivals other county offices in providing training to teachers."

Busskohl said there are several reasons for the low reading scores and abilities in students.

"If they don't have the base by third grade, it's a huge problem," she said.

"The problem for high school teachers is they haven't been trained in phonics, or reading training techniques," said Busskohl.

She added, "High school teachers are aware of the problems, but they're not sure what the best way is to go about (fixing) it."

Said Donna Schoneman, reading coordinator at ICOE and a teacher leader for the CRLP, "For high schools to rethink how they help kids is a new concept."

She stressed, "It's not too late" to help students with low reading abilities in high school.

"It is very common that kids languish in high school. … They go through classes they don't fully comprehend … and that becomes very frustrating for everyone, students and teachers," said Schoneman.

She said, "There should be a consistent curriculum kindergarten through 12th grade that builds upon each other."

Archer has done research on teaching study skills to students and teaching "decoding and fluency with intermediate and secondary students."

She taught at the University of Washington, University of Oregon and San Diego State University, and now is an educational consultant.

Archer said the importance of reading has significantly increased with the advent of technology.

"Technology demands reading comprehension and vocabulary skills," said Archer.

"You can't be a custodian who is illiterate today," she said.

Archer said the amount of time students spend reading has declined in recent years.

"The amount of recreational reading that students do increases in all areas (vocabulary and comprehension). It is a critical thing, and where parents are most likely to make a difference," said Archer.

Busskohl and Schoneman suggested parents help improve their child's reading ability by encouraging them to read.

"The message to the parents is they need to encourage their kids to read this summer," said Busskohl.

"Read, read, read, and not just magazines. It needs to be a book," she added.

She suggested parents read books with their children.

Said Schoneman, "the best thing for parents to do to help their kids read widely is to have a home where books are valued."

The workshop offered the school teams to discuss the strategies they planned to implement to improve student reading and comprehension.

"We're focusing on four different components to reading," said Archer, listing "advanced decoding skills — the ability to pronounce long words — fluency — being able to read material fluently and quickly to understand it — vocabulary and comprehension strategies" as the areas of focus.

Kathie Francis, an English instructor at Imperial High School, and a teacher leader with CRLP, said by the time a student is a senior in high school, he is expected to read 2 million words in recreational reading.

Francis suggested the Accelerated Reader program and "book lists" for teachers to use to encourage students to read outside of the classroom.

"If there is one strategy to teach, it is to get the students to read outside of class," said Francis.

Schoneman said the workshop was designed to "help teachers develop strategies to help the kids who do need help that any teacher would find useful, for example vocabulary or comprehension building skills."

The workshop was attended by about 85 teachers and administrators, said Busskohl.

"What's neat about this conference," said Schoneman, is "the interdisciplinary team-building aspect. They're thinking as a team, ‘What can we do?' and focusing on ‘How do we help these kids?'"

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