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Wednesday, 29 June 2011 10:22

Balanced literacy program proves to be successful for Chinook

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By Chris Jaster

Eileen Hartman can’t believe the change she has seen in her grandson. A few years ago, the grandson of Ward 1 trustee for the Chinook School Division had no interest in reading.

Now that the Grade 7 student brings books home to read and he even wrote a poem because he wanted to write one on a topic that interested him.

As proud as Hartman is of her grandson for his newfound love of reading and writing, she gives a lot of credit to the Chinook School Division’s balanced literacy program.

For the last three years, Chinook has been focusing on getting 80 per cent of students in Grades 3, 6 and 9 to meet or exceed expectations in reading based on selected school division-wide assessments.

Chinook tried to accomplish this by creating a new method of assessing students’ reading abilities that gives teachers instant feedback, teaching the teachers new teaching methods and providing coaches to assist and support the teachers as they adjusted to the new program.

After all that work, Kathy Robson, Chinook’s literacy curriculum co-ordinator, informed the school division’s board at its monthly meeting June 27 that 78 per cent of students have met or exceeded the division’s reading standards at the conclusion of the 2011-12 school year.

Results showed 79.5 of Grade 3 students, 76 per cent of Grade 6 students and 77 per cent of Grade 9 students at the end of the 2010-11 school year met or exceeded reading expectations. Those three grades were used for baseline data three years ago.

Only 63.9 per cent of students were meeting or exceeding reading standards prior to the balanced literacy program being launched.

Despite falling just shy, Robson didn’t feel the results showed the division failed to reach the board’s target.

“I think we had so many areas to celebrate,” said Robson. “There was so much student growth that it really wasn’t about the 78 per cent so much when we started to break it down in the individual areas we saw such growth that there was reason to celebrate.”

A lot of the program’s focus was on elementary-aged students, and Robson was ecstatic over the improvement in the students’ learning abilities.

The division saw an increase of 15 to 21 per cent of Grade 2 and 3 students meeting reading standards between 2009 and 2011. It also saw 20 per cent more students attain reading standards in Grade 3 than in Grade 1 after spending three years in the balanced literacy program.

Results in the classroom, however, aren’t the only reason Robson is proud of the balanced literacy program. She has also noticed a change in the teachers’ mentalities since the program was implemented.

“I think probably the biggest change would be within the cultures in the school with teachers talking to each other about what they’re doing in their classroom, sharing ideas around balanced literacy and talking about student work and talking about how their students are progressing,” she said. “They’re talking to each other about what they can do. If this student isn’t progressing, what can they do to get them to where they want them to be?

“I think that whole collaboration is a huge change within the schools and the teachers are talking more about their teaching and balanced literacy.”

The end of the school year brought an end to the division’s focus on literacy. Next school year, Chinook will be implementing a balanced math program, but it will still be operating its balanced literacy program.

To do this, the division will pay for two literacy coaches, which will train and support teachers.

Liam Choo-Foo, Chinook’s director of education, is confident that with the program continuing, even though it won’t be the division’s focus, that over 80 per cent of students will meet or beat their reading targets next year.

Hartman agrees with Choo-Foo’s optimism and is glad she didn’t give into her doubts about the $2.26 million initiative when the board voted to implement the program three years ago.

“Since all the teachers are on board with this, I think it’s going to follow through (and reach 80 per cent) because they’ve seen results and they’re going to promote that,” she said.

“I was doubtful at the beginning. It was a lot of money, but the results are good for that.”

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