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Enriched learning: Pilot program lets children choose what they read

POSTED: April 2, 2013 12:45 a.m.
/For The Times

Third-grade teacher Susan Minton listens as a student reads at Spout Springs School of Enrichment.

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In Susan Minton’s third-grade reading class at Spout Springs School of Enrichment, children eagerly file in and select the book of their choice from the shelves filled with colorfully bound stories at the back of the room.

In a reading pilot program, children are actively engaged in literature. They not only read the stories, but later critically analyze the text.

“The reading program is based on student interest and exposure to a wide variety of texts along with higher-order thinking skills incorporated into each lesson,” Minton said. “Each of my students has taken an interest survey to determine where their interests lie and I help them find appropriate quality literature for their independent reading time.

“As an avid reader myself, I understand that I am drawn to read in my interest areas and the same holds true for my students. By encouraging them to read about what interests them, they become self-motivated to read.”

Minton follows a program of student enrichment, from University of Connecticut education researchers, that not only gives the students choices in reading selection but provides progressively more difficult questions designed to encourage their critical thinking skills.

“My goal is to build your stamina as a reader,” she said to the students.

“They tried this out in inner-city schools,” she said, and it was successful. “Our kids have made phenomenal progress.”

In addition to self-selection of books, Minton introduces a new text each day, reading only a bit of the story called its “hook.” She and the students then discuss where the story might go and how characters might react. She doesn’t finish the text.

In this way, students retain choices, but are also exposed to interests beyond their own, “to get them thinking; get them interested,” she said. “Then I put the book up.”

They can choose to pick it up or not.

The questions, in the first phase of the student enrichment model, are built upon an appreciative inquiry, focusing on the strengths of the literature versus its deficiencies; this is a skill that can be used in all aspects of learning. It is beyond rote; it cultivates analytical skills and encourages fruitful change.

“We’re asking these kids to be global thinkers,” she said. “We’re asking these kids to discuss the author’s message.”

Minton noted one particular student, who was below grade level in reading and frustrated by the classroom experience. Her absences increased, which decreased performance.

In the course of the pilot program, Minton asked the student about her interests. Once she began reading books based upon those, her progress soared. Now, “this child is a little above grade,” Minton said.

Minton and a teaching peer work together to group students for better and more productive team teaching.

Students who are weaker in math, for example, might be placed in that class first thing in the morning while still fresh.

Previously, Minton taught first grade for five years using a basal method, which organizes books as story anthologies and were all of the same reading level. “Dick and Jane” books are examples.

“It hit the “middle-of-the-road” student,” explained Minton, but didn’t accommodate students at a higher or lower level.

Minton seeks to reach students where they are and, focusing on their strengths, encourage them to stretch toward a greater level of analysis.

“In our global economy, they need to be able to grow and think and reason, and explain their reasons for it,” she said.

In the final phase, students are required to create a project discussing a piece of literature.

The projects range from essays, to dioramas, to designing a cereal box, depending on the way they prefer to translate information.

“It’s very self-directed. They start researching and investigating. You have to show me some evidence of what you’ve learned,” she said.


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