Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Reading Program Project

Even though the reading fluency program we've begun integrating into the curriculum at the middle school is more formally called the Six-Minute Solution, I'm going to start referring to our attempts as the Reading Program Project, mostly because this is the first year the school has attempted to integrate such a program, and I think everyone involved has come to the conclusion that we're going to be doing many things wrong as we work out the kinks. It feels like A Project.

My co-worker, another assistant by the name of Tomi, has had experience working with this program at the elementary school level, but apparently she quit after a number of years because it became too labor intensive; this does not bode well, especially since we seem to be going down that same path. At the beginning of the year (and indeed, three times throughout the year), all the students in the school are tested for reading fluency and comprehension. Based on their scores, someone from on high (possibly a combination of the program used and the English teachers) ascertains at which level each student is; we have students whose test scores indicate that they are on the first grade level when it comes to fluency and comprehension, and we have students whose scores are only a grade level or so behind.

(Fluency and comprehension are two different things; I can read at a fairly normal speed in German, but I don't necessarily understand everything I'm reading; knowledge and understanding of vocabulary is integral.)

The Six-Minute Solution (SMS) is a program by which students work with a partner who is, theoretically and under the best circumstances, at the same fluency level; each partner has one minute to read a passage aloud to her partner, who, the minute has elapsed, tallies the number of words read and subtracts the number of words said incorrectly, at which point we have at least an approximate number of correct words read per minute. The whole process is supposed to take six minutes, but this is 7th graders with whom we're working, so often it takes longer.

In any case, while J., one of the two 7th grade English teachers, may be doing this with her students in class, as often as not either Tomi or I (sometimes both of us) pull kids out of class to do this project with them. There are several reasons why the kids may not be reading at grade level; like many skills, the thinking is that the more the kids read, the better they'll do, so we're doing this at least once or twice a week with them.

Tomi and I are limited in how much time we're permitted to work at the school; we're each only paid for up to 17 hours a week. Even if we wanted to do this program with the kids every day, we couldn't; there are days when we need to make photocopies, or collate papers, or go through the students' folders to actually ascertain how they're doing - essentially tracking the studets' progress.

And that's where we're running into problems: There's not enough time to do all the tracking. It was hoped that we could do this program with the students several times a week and also look at their scores and figure out the next step. It was hoped that Tomi and I could go through all the students' folders every time we do both the SMS, which if that's all we were doing, we might have a chance of doing.

However, we're also integrating what's called the Rewards Program, which helps with reading comprehension, which means we spend pretty much the entirety of each class period working on these things. We don't have time to implement both these programs and do the tracking. So at the moment we're trying to figure out how we can both do all this work in 17 hours a week.

Well, we would, if it was in the budget to hire one of us full-time, or at least permit more than 17 hours per week. Of course, this won't happen, budgets being what they are. If we work more than 20 hours per week, we have to be offered benefits - sick days and the like. (17 hours a week doesn't even equal three full school days; it covers perhaps two and a half.)

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