Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Literacy Specialists in Schools

Hey everyone,

This article is part of a series in the Toronto Star. I posted a previous article from the series HERE.

Also of interest is this article in the Star last week. Provincial Premier Dalton McGuinty did a "State-of-the-Union-like" address at the close of the provincial legislature for the fall and listed "Ontario's challenges for '06" - one of which was addressing the large number of high school drop-outs.

Quoting the Premier "There are still far too many young people dropping out of high school. We still have to get class sizes down."

Appears to be on the right track.

That's all I have for now!


PUBLICATION: The Toronto Star
DATE: 2005.12.20
BYLINE: Tess Kalinowski
SOURCE: Toronto Star

Guiding kids to read; More Ontario schools adding literacy specialists to help hone students' skills A key weapon in province's fight to raise standards, writes Tess Kalinowski

The Star is visiting a Grade 7 class in Northern Lights Public School regularly to see what Ontario's push on literacy and math looks like on the ground. This is the third of our monthly reports.

Teacher Cathy Martino-Porretta isn't just an important ally to her colleagues at Northern Lights Public School.

She's a key piece of artillery in the Ontario government's fight to raise the standard of reading and writing in the province.

One of three special education resource teachers at the Aurora school, she's also the lead literacy teacher, which means she's a key support to all the students and teachers there.

The role of literacy teacher is being added to more Ontario schools as an additional support for struggling students and busy classroom teachers.

In addition to working directly with students in Grades 7 and 8, it is Martino-Porretta's job to co-ordinate special literacy initiatives and make sure classroom teachers have the time and expertise they need to hone students' skills.

The job also extends to the community. This fall she organized a family literacy night in which 280 parents and their children got a crash course in effective reading strategies directly from the experts - Northern Lights teachers.

Along with a team of teachers, Martino-Porretta helps develop new ways of engaging kids in reading and writing.

One idea she's been looking at is making car manuals available in the classroom and school library because research shows boys often enjoy non-fiction more than traditional classroom materials.

"It's non-traditional reading but it's still reading," she says.

But to teacher Nadia MacKinnon, it's Martino-Porretta's day-to-day help as a special education resource in her classroom that is key in preparing her Grade 7 students for higher education

"Collaboration with your colleagues just makes our individual teaching so much better. You feel supported and the students are getting the same message," said MacKinnon.

Martino-Porretta helps MacKinnon deliver a daily 20-minute dose of Guided Reading, a teaching technique that the York District School Board and others use at various grade levels to make sure students have the skills first to decode letters and then to understand what they're reading so they can communicate the ideas to others.

"It is not the old round robin," says Martino-Porretta, referring to the way previous generations learned to read with a class full of children following along in a book and taking turns reading words, sentences and paragraphs aloud.

By Grade 7 and 8 most students can decode the letters, so Martino-Porretta's Guided Reading sessions focus on comprehension.

While she's working with one group outside the classroom, MacKinnon will work with another inside the class. Every student gets Guided Reading instruction, not just struggling readers.

Earlier this month, Martino-Porretta worked with five students on a parody of the fairytale The Frog Prince. The students have already read the piece and discussed the story's plot and themes. Now their task is to write a summary showing what they took from the previous reading and discussion.

After reviewing the elements of a summary, including plot and characters, Martino-Porretta helps the students formulate a potential opening statement for their summaries.

"This is the story about a frog and a prince," suggests Connor Allen.

Gently the teacher helps the group build on Connor's idea. "This is a story about a frog who many people see as different than he is," says Brendan Henderson.

While the five students are busy writing their summaries, Martino-Porretta checks on each individual's progress.

"This is a good summary. You've got key ideas without giving too many details," she tells Dayna Star.

Reading is at the foundation of everything Northern Lights teachers do, says Martino-Porretta. All MacKinnon's students keep a reading log. They're expected to read for 30 minutes every evening and their parents have to sign off on that work.

Each month the students focus on a different genre November was non-fiction; December was picture books and January will be poetry. At the end of the month there will be a related activity such as writing a comparison between fiction and non-fiction books, or explaining the features of a picture book.

Because students may not have a selection of interesting reading material at home, MacKinnon makes selections from the school library.

"There's incredible research how about reading improves your writing skills," says MacKinnon.


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