Reading His Way to the Future
Equipping teachers with the skills to teach reading
Meet Lavarey, an 11-year-old who likes to read.
It wasn’t always so.
As a first-grader, Lavarey had minimal reading skills. But, fortunately, he was in a school and classroom that were participating in the Hartford Haskins Literacy Initiative, which was funded in 2007 by the Hartford Foundation in a three-year, $844,000 grant to Hartford Public Schools.
Fifth-grader Lavarey, and his teacher, Patricia Wakefield
Educators agree that reading proficiently by the end of third grade is a crucial marker in a child’s educational development. Failure to read proficiently by then is linked to higher rates of school dropout.
Under the initiative, teachers and other school personnel at five Hartford elementary schools were trained by literacy professionals from New Haven-based Haskins Laboratories - a private, nonprofit research facility focusing on speech and language.
I like to read, especially imaginative books. I understand what they are saying.
Haskins literacy specialists provided teachers with weekly in-classroom coaching and mentoring and monthly workshops. Teachers learned to use continuous observation and assessment tools to gauge how each student is learning, and how to adjust groups and materials to focus on concepts that need attention. Approximately 900 students benefitted from enhanced professional development of their teachers.
The positive results show in the statistics:
- 65 percent of kindergarteners in participating schools reached proficiency compared to 54 percent of non-participating students.
- 59 percent of first-graders in participating schools reached proficiency compared to 40 percent in non-participating schools.
- 59 percent of second-graders in participating schools reached proficiency compared to 52 percent of non-participating students.
Then there’s individual achievement in students like Lavarey, now in fifth grade.
“I like to read, especially imaginative books. I understand what they are saying.” His favorite book is The Lightning Thief, a fantasy-adventure novel based on Greek mythology.
Lavarey’s teacher, Patricia Wakefield, agrees. She said Lavarey’s greatly enhanced literacy skills allow him not only to read more complex books but have also helped him improve in spelling, writing and even math.
His homework includes reading for an hour each and every night. “These are thick books, with long chapters, too,” says Wakefield. “Then he has to write a report on what he has read.”
Lavarey even volunteers to help tutor his classmates on difficult assignments.
Connecticut Mastery Tests results for 2010 showed that Hartford Public Schools enjoyed gains in reading proficiency. But third and fourth graders still lagged far behind the state average.
To help further close the gap, Hartford Public Schools has adopted several strategies from the Hartford Haskins Literacy Initiative and written them into the literacy curriculum for the early grades, which will be used by all teachers.
One of the schools that participated in the initiative is being developed into an “Early Reading Lab School.” The former Betances Elementary School is a multi-purpose, research laboratory that benefits teachers, students and their families. The focus is on teaching early literacy skills to students in Pre-K through third grade.
It also provides professional development in proven, scientifically-based literacy practices for the teachers of Hartford Public Schools, and provides families with the skills to support their children’s language development.
Hartford Haskins Literacy initiative staff and Hartford Public Schools teachers, with Linda J. Kelly, Foundation president, and Lavarey