Thursday, September 20, 2012

My experience in a literacy program


In order to finish my masters in literacy and my endorsement as an administrator of reading programs I would need to immerse myself in a reading program.  There is nothing in Vermont that compares to the HOSTS program in Santa Fe at a public elementary school.  My grandmother volunteered for this program for her 15 years in Santa Fe. I volunteered twice and was in awe of its accomplishments.   The organization of one to one volunteer reading mentors to each student is unmatched. The organization of the lessons, assessment of student progress and development of individualized education plans for 92 students  has been successfully run by one literacy teacher since1998.  Nowhere in Vermont is there a successful model literacy program that serves a bilingual population.  65% of the population at this school isEnglish Second Language.  Many students have yet to communicate in English at all. The entire school has implemented a dual language curriculum that offers all lessons in English and Spanish.  Most of the teachers are dual language certified. It is humbling to observe this knowing that this could be the expectation for a career in teaching.

It took the administrator of this program five years to get the HOSTS program running in the school. Helping One Student To Succeed was a federal program that folded. It originally offered a structure and management system and resources to trained individuals. Using HOSTS as a foundation, allowed the literacy program to redefine itself meeting this school’s particular needs and expanding to utilize other available resources.  It began serving 6students per ½ hour session, ten times a day. It grew to its current size of 98. The literacy administrator collaborates with each classroom teacher to determine which students will be recommended and accepted for the program. The program must be supportive of the classroom teacher if it is to work. The whole school follows one curriculum and one structure (dual language) in order to implement individualized planning with greater efficiency.  Referred students received 30 minute,individual diagnostic tests which were assessed and organized into 7 reading levels.  Student profiles identify recipients for  special education services separate from HOSTS.  Teachers confer to make final decisions for students receiving classroom instruction and whether students with emergent skills or with fluency will attend the program.  The program is differentiated purposefully to remove the stigma of being a remedial program only.  Each classroom is affected daily with one pull out time for all selected students, minimizing disruption. Weekly lesson routines must be written to fit pull out times for each class.  Volunteer mentors must be scheduled to fit this schedule.  Each mentor will serve each student for 30 minutes. In order to waste as little transition time as possible, mentors give a minimum of an hour, students must be trained to arrive and leave on time.  Everything the student needs, including pencils is provided and organized in the classroom.  Students arrive together on schedule.  Each student independently finds their folder from a file box organized by the time of day and moves quickly to meet with their mentor.   The administrator must organize both the school calendars and the volunteer’s time to fit perfectly around year long events, planned vacations or unplanned absences.

world wall
All of this must be accomplished within the first four weeksof school.  With scheduling in place each reading level must have its own weekly lesson plan and assigned literacy skill with the appropriate, applicable worksheets or vocabulary lists.  To allow for changes in skill development, the lesson plan is built around routine activities.  Students always begin with oral reading atwhatever level they are assigned.  The readings are organized on each desk and color coded by level. Students can choose their reading, record the title in a log and then read to their mentor or their mentor’s pet. (Pet Outreach involves volunteers with licensed therapydogs). The next task is always vocabulary review.  Which words reviewed can be changed to fit the students skill needs, but vocabulary must be reviewed and defined with the mentor.  All vocabulary terms are organized into pockets on a wall by content area and by skill level.  They are numbered, laminated and can be switched into student folders quickly. All of the walls of the room are designed for access to all necessary materials for lessons without assistance.  The first 20 minutes of work with the mentor is necessary and must be completed.  The mentor will need the additional time to model reading and thinking and to engage in conversations that help build rapport. Enough routine tasks are included for session so that those who excel will continue with tasks that challenge their skill development yet are not necessary for completion should a student be struggling at a level of frustration.  Two days a week, students bring a completed worksheet home. One day a week students engage in gaming with their mentor. The game is the incentive for task completion.  Students and mentors know that being engagedin developing language skills is the goal of the program.  The overall time together allows for some choice in activity, routine accomplishment and meaningful conversation. Homework is not a piece of the program. Students enjoy being selected for this experience but no one is forced to attend;  parents must give their signed consent.

Orientations are organized for mentors and are mandatory for students.  The work to prepare the program was seemingly endless but each detail is crucial to building a program that runs itself. Mentors must be trained in confidentiality and given the school reports of statewide testing from the previous year. Students need to practice their use of routines and simple rules for behavior. This first week had not one problem.  While some instructions were misinterpreted  the repetitive nature of the lessons allow these issues to resolve themselves.  The program runs only four days a week to allow for an entire day of assessment and reassignment of skills on Fridays.  Students who accelerate through a level can be reassigned and students struggling with a particular literacy issue receive a repeat opportunity for development. Within the first week bilingual students seem to struggle with consonant pairing and sound recognition.  They confuse Spanish pronunciation of J or with the English and this takes more practice in order to develop fluency.  First graders in the same reading level as 3rdgraders might struggle with silent e while the 3rd graders tend to forget how to spell or pronounce words with an “ou” or a “gh”.   Ideally each student has an individualized plan while being engaged in routine activity. Repetition and practice gives both the mentor and mentee opportunity to celebrate progress and at the same time develop rapport.  This rapport is important as the challenges put before students grow. Testing results for 84% of students involved improved.  Students who did not see improvement remained at a reading level were re examined by outside literacy coaches who determined a more specific response to intervention. 
Every volunteer loves their time.  They take their role as teacher seriously knowing that they rely on the educational administrator to organize and determine what is to be taught to the student. The relationship that mentors have with the school is strong.  Their advocacy brings donations but most of all, more volunteers.  Nuclear engineers, CEOs, medical professionals, even the former governor of New Mexico  involve themselves because the reward of promoting reading and writing skills is priceless.

word lists


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