Hutsonville Elementary School is changing how students learn to read, thanks to two programs the school started this school year.
Unit 1 has adopted guided reading and Reading Recovery programs, taking the school completely away from the previous system.
The change affects children in kindergarten and first and second grades.
Guided reading works with the whole class divided up into small groups about the same reading level, and the recovery program works with the students on the bottom of the skill level. Each group reads the same text selected for their skill level.
These groups are fluid, Title 1 teacher Diana Stephens said, as a teacher adjusts the goals to a student's level.
This could mean grouping together students who are having issues with understanding a specific sound, she explained, or those having trouble with a certain type of grammar.
This gives Sandi Brown, the second-grade teacher, "more focused and individualized teaching time" with her students to develop their reading skills.
This focus is a shift from "basal reading," which is the standard in much of the country. In that method, students read together as a class, working from the same text in a lesson plan developed ahead of time.
This works well for the two or three students in the middle of the range, Stephens said, but leaves out those above and below the average. Those with difficulty reading are often left behind, she said, while those ahead of the class are often bored.
Readers who are having the greatest difficulty are directed to the recovery program, where they work one-on-one or in small groups with a teacher.
Stephens leads them through their difficulties with reading. She said the goal is to get the students to where they are reading at grade level, so they can go back to the class and join other students. The program is 20 weeks long, she said, and the students see her for 30 minutes a session during the school day.
The understanding of English among these students is also developed with short writing exercises. The students in the program write about events and activities in their lives. Stephens builds an understanding of sounds, grammar and word use in their writings.
The projects require significant outlay in time and money. Teachers have to develop a plan for each student, as opposed to a class as a whole. And the library of useful books has to be selected, bought, stamped and logged.
The 440-book library was bought with $8,600 from a Mary Heath Foundation grant. Buckets of the books, joined by level or theme, were spread across two tables as teachers developed their plans.
And a teacher has to be trained in the mechanisms of the recovery program. Stephens went through a graduate-level course to learn the program, funded by a federal grant.
The buckets of books carry more than the plan of improving children's reading. They also will teach the students the goals the Unit 1 school board instituted in 2011. Students are now seeing more non-fiction than classic children's fiction. The board said that this will help children develop the higher-order thinking needed for "college, workforce training and life in a technological society."
For first-graders, that includes the ability to explain the text they read or connect two ideas. Stephens said connecting two books, such as one on the water cycle and another on blizzards, helps develop the skills the students will need as they develop.
This marks a distinct change from previous systems that worked primarily with fiction books like Frog and Toad Are Friends. They are great books, Stephens said, but are not as helpful for a modern society.
The 350 Illinois schools that used Reading Recovery from 2008-09 met or exceeded their AYP goals for reading, said Mary Ann Poparad, director of the Illinois Reading Recovery Center. This is the most recent data available, she said. Hutsonville currently has 75.6 percent of its students meeting or exceeding state standards, with an AYP goal of 85 percent.
"My kindergartners are very excited about the new guided reading series. They are all looking forward to reading each of these books and building their reading skills," said Lori Alspach in an e-mail.