Cedar Grove elementary school educators have been working throughout the summer to prepare for a new program they say will “create good habits and ultimately great readers,” according to North End Elementary School Principal Traci Dyer.
“Good Habits, Great Readers” is a program that has a balanced approach to teaching students literacy skills, according to Dyer. Being that the program is new to the district, teacher training extended beyond the school year and in to vacation days this past summer, Dyer said.
“We did this for six weeks. And over 40 teachers in both elementary schools took part. Much to their credit, I just think what a wonderful testimony to us and to our teachers that they gave so much of their time over the summer to this,” South End Elementary School Principal Lynn DiMatteo said.
Both principals said the program began as an attempt to have their language arts curriculum align more closely with Common Core Standards, a set of high-quality academic models for English and mathematics. Common Core outlines what students should be learning and doing by the end of each grade level, according to a site dedicated to standards (corestandards.org).
Although GHGR is a new program, DiMatteo said the district has been using different aspects of the program for years through the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA).
“What DRA does is test each child separately and gives you their independent reading level. We’ve used that in district before to really hone in on those individualized skills that kids need. And so that is a big part of ‘Good Habits, Great Readers,'” DiMateo said.
According to DiMatteo, Common Core standards mandate that districts introduce fictional and non-fictional reading to youngsters to provide a “deep, reach academic vocabulary” and to ensure that students comprehend the stories through evidence taken from the text. Being that the initial literacy curriculum was somewhat out of date with the current standards, DiMatteo and Dyer came together to guide their staff in a new direction.
Both elementary schools have 135-minute literacy blocks comprised of three 45-minute long periods. The teachers used this past summer to identify ways in which they can maximize the time spent going over the GHGR.
“The more learning time the better students receive them,” DiMatteo said.
Currently in her second year as a principal at South End, DiMatteo said that GHGR takes all of the components mentioned above and creates smaller groups of instruction so that each child is being attended to based on their specific needs.
In order to occupy the entire literacy block constructively, the administrators brought in a structure to help teachers maximize their time covering language arts. The structure was comprised of two texts taken online by the teaching staff throughout the summer. Titled “The Daily 5/CAFÉ (Comprehensive Accuracy Fluency and Expanding Vocabulary),” the program provides a novel structure based off of research, according to Superintendent of Schools Michael Fetherman.
The daily five specifically takes students through five rotations that they are expected to build up to. These rotations are reading to themselves, reading to someone, listening to reading, working on writing, and working on work study, according to DiMatteo.
DiMatteo said, “135 minutes seems like an enormous amount of time. I was introduced to The Daily 5/CAFÉ three years ago at a workshop and realized that if you have this huge literacy block, that structure really helps us. And so Ms. Dyer and I from North End were very much on the same page.”
The structure involves teachers starting off a lesson with a shared group, where the whole class is together. The students will then break off in to smaller groups based on their needs, “since some kids get the strategy right away, and some may need extra help” DiMatteo said. This will then give the teacher an opportunity to focus on every individual child’s needs. “So it really tailors instruction through the specific needs of each student in that class,” DiMatteo said.DiMatteo, a Cedar Grove school administrator for 12 years, and Dyer both feel that GHGR will be more student centered rather than teacher dependent, allowing kids to take ownership of their learning.
“This kind of balanced literacy program is a way to really give kids a comfort so we don’t have kids getting frustrated because the work is too hard, or because the work is too easy. We call it ‘the just right level,'” DiMatteo said.
With all the effort and training put into the program, one would assume the staff is ready for the year to begin.
“Whether we’re ready or not, our children are coming Sept. 3rd. But that’s always the part that’s most exciting. The first day of school seeing their faces and they’re excited, it’s my favorite day of the school year,” Dyer said.
In 2012-13, the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJASK) for language arts proficiency at North End was 81 percent, and 59 percent at South End, according to the New Jersey Department of Education Performance Reports. While performance was high compared to other schools in the state, it lagged when rated against schools with similar demographics, the report continued.
Fetherman is confident that the new reading series will help to bring the schools’ scores to a more balanced figure, and that the staff’s training will follow through with great results. “Our teachers are excited about the new series and format and are eager to put them into practice,” Fetherman said, “it’s going to take us to the next level.”
Cedar Grove elementary schools plan to look into similar programs and training for mathematics next year.