JCSD to implement new reading program

MIFFLINTOWN – One year after teachers at Fermanagh-Mifflintown Elementary School incorporated a new reading program into their classrooms, the literacy effort is being implemented district-wide.

Guided reading is a tiered curriculum, organized with the goal of meeting individual students’ needs and strengthening their reading skills and comprehension. Jessica Imes, kindergarten teacher at Fermanagh-Mifflintown, said the program’s design varies by teacher and grade level, but the base of the program is a collection of books organized into levels by text complexity and vocabulary.

Imes manages her classroom through a series of learning models called the “Daily 5:” Read to self, listen to reading, word work, work on writing and read to someone. During reading time, students break into groups and tackle each component several times per week.

On Monday afternoon, several students settled into chairs and read silently to themselves while others gathered in pairs to read with a friend. Some students engaged in listening activities on the classroom’s computers and others practiced writing.

While those students worked on their own, Imes gathered a group of four students who share the same reading ability. Together, the group worked from the same book on word recognition and repetition.

Through the design of the guided reading program and its components, district teachers said they’re able to better assess and address the needs of individuals.

Suzanne Lutinski, kindergarten teacher at Walker Elementary School, said she will implement guided reading into her classroom for the first time next fall.

“Kids go so far in a year, but now we feel they will go even further,” she said.

Lutinski said she looks forward to the individual attention made possible by the curriculum.

“You feel like you know the child a lot better,” she explained.

In the book room – or “book hallway,” as it’s arranged at Fermanagh-Mifflintown – reading material is organized by difficulty into levels A to Z, with A being the easiest and Z being most challenging. As students improve their skills, they progress through the levels.

Thelma Leister, second-grade teacher at Fermanagh-Mifflintown, said the goal is to have every student reading on grade level. However, teachers can assist those who are struggling with lessons specific to their ability.

“I like how I can meet all of my students’ needs,” said Terri Fulton-Smith, fifth grade teacher at the school.

Fulton-Smith said guided reading helps students stay encouraged and gain confidence because she can pull books to match their needs. That ability avoids unnecessary frustration from students who are reading below grade level, she said.

“(Guided reading) is a lot more work for the teachers, but we really believe in it” Imes explained.

The district still employs basal reading instruction to meet state and federal regulations, but Imes said standard lessons don’t reach all students.

“One of the things that helps kids with reading … is just reading,” she said.

Incorporating the guided program into standard instruction is a more direct effort to customize class work for individuals. Though the concept of guided reading is not new in education, Imes said it is an advancement to existing methods in Juniata County.

“The whole dynamic of the school has changed to promote reading,” she said.

In the first year, teachers who have implemented the program say they’ve seen marked improvement in students’ reading, writing and attitude toward their school work. Rather than waiting each morning in the hallway for school to start, students walk to their classrooms to read. Children also are permitted to take a book to lunch and read when they’re finished eating.

Funding for guided reading started with a grant at Fermanagh-Mifflintown, but the school board recently approved the purchase of supplies for every elementary school across the district.

“I’m just really excited and proud of our teachers,” Superintendent Richard Musselman said.

He praised district staff and faculty who, he said, researched and coordinated the program on their own.

“That (collaboration) is an extremely important piece moving forward for our district,” he said.