Succeeding in reading

Carole Olsen introduces the Halifax Regional School Board’s new program to help students with reading challenges.

The classroom teacher is the first layer of support for children with reading difficulties.

Earlier this year, the provincial government eliminated the Reading Recovery program that supported struggling readers in Grade 1. This decision received considerable media attention and raised concerns across the province that students in need of additional literacy support would suffer.

To replace Reading Recovery, the Department of Education introduced a new early literacy framework called Succeeding in Reading. The framework provides guidelines for all school boards to follow in supporting our youngest students but it also gives flexibility in creating a new model of support.

Before explaining in greater detail, I want to acknowledge the efforts of our Reading Recovery teachers, many of whom will play a critical role in supporting our students under this new model. Through their efforts, thousands of students have improved their reading skills over the past several years. Thank you for all that you have done.

In the Halifax Regional School Board, our early literacy support model will initially focus on students in Primary and Grade 1, supporting kids when they enter school.

Our first layer of support is the classroom teacher. We are asking teachers to create learning environments that allow for instruction on three levels: the whole class, small groups and individualized. This is important because children enter school with varied experiences and at varied levels of development. Our students are not all the same and we cannot expect instruction to be one-size-fits-all.

Teachers will carefully observe students through ongoing daily assessments to see if they are learning what is being taught and, if not, provide individual or small group instruction to help each child. By tailoring instruction for each child, it is estimated that we can meet the learning needs of about 80 per cent of students.

Any students who have not reached expected achievement levels at the beginning of Grade 1 will be considered for individualized or small group support from an early literacy teacher with specialized training. This is the second level of support.

A planning team comprised of each school’s administrators, resource teacher, early literacy teacher and Primary and Grade 1 teachers will make the decisions around which children will receive support, for how long and the structure of that support. Support will be individualized for each student.

Early literacy support is structured in 12-week blocks, providing three blocks for each school year. We have established benchmarks for reading and writing so that we can ensure students are progressing. If a student is not meeting the benchmarks, the school planning team can change support throughout the block. The main goal is to get the student back on track and reading and writing at a comparable level to his or her peers.

The third layer of support allows for a school to bring a student back in for additional instruction if they are stalled in their progress. At this point, the school planning team may make a referral for some specialized intervention with a speech language pathologist or a resource teacher.

There are some definite advantages to our new model of early literacy support. It has tremendous flexibility. If a support does not work, a school has the ability to try something different. And, for the first time, students in the French Immersion program will be able to access support in their language of instruction.

Reading Recovery was a great program but I believe our new support model will benefit more students in the long run. We are firmly committed to making this work in the best interests of students.

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