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Reading Now Network combats summer slide

RNW teacher reading with students.

Students reading in the classroom.

Children participating in the RNW reading circle.

A consortium of west Michigan educators who want to boost third-grade reading proficiency is utilizing its network to share ideas about combating the summer slide.

Reading Now Network (RNN) developed a flier that aims to sneak fun, simple literacy activities into summer vacation, or any time of the year. Six to Make It Stick outlines how reading at least six books can combat the up-to three months of progress that can be lost during the warmer months away from school.

The flier, created out of contributions from a team of literacy specialists and curriculum directors involved in RNN, is in its second summer of distribution. Dorothy VanderJagt, director of Teaching and Learning at Kent ISD, said it’s just one example of how putting the best minds in any field onto a single task can create great results.

“(The flier) was created for parents, but even teachers have embraced it,” VanderJagt said. “Some of them have used it as an incentive for their students or expanded on it with their own supplemental materials. This is doing so much more to get ideas out there than just those from Reading Now Network.”

VanderJagt was part of the development of RNN, a consortium of 13 counties and 100 school districts in west Michigan that aim to lift third-grade reading proficiency levels up to 80 percent or more.

Growing great ideas is what RNN has become known for in its relatively brief history. The consortium spent last year studying commonalities in reading success efforts and now is devising ways to implement those commonalities in other schools.

First, a group of curriculum leaders visited five schools that are overachievers on third-grade reading MEAP tests. The eight-month study sought to discover the instructional and other practices among these schools that led to the high scores.  
Schools studied ranged from urban to rural, with varying levels of poverty and each significantly outperformed their peers. They are: Brown Elementary in Byron Center Public Schools, North Godwin in Godwin Heights Public Schools, Lakeshore Elementary in West Ottawa Public Schools, Coit Creative Arts Academy in Grand Rapids Public Schools and Sunfield Elementary in Lakeview Community Schools.

Field study members said a few things became clear: the schools weren’t all using the same curriculum. There was no magic formula or teacher-training practice. But, common themes existed at each of the schools that were having the same positive, collective impact on students and teachers.
Though each school practiced them somewhat differently, the team found five significant commonalities among them:
  • An uncompromising focus on reading all day, every day.
  • They used relevant data deeply, most of them daily.
  • There was a sense of shared leadership and total commitment amongst the administrators and staff.
  • Classroom management focused on learning and engaged students as partners in the process.
  • Every adult in the building felt a collective responsibility for every child in the building, not just those in their own classroom.
At each school, expectations of high achievement are embedded into every part of the day. Teachers believe in their students, and students believe in themselves. There are no missed opportunities to grab a book. The school day includes a guaranteed time for reading -- as much as 120 minutes. There are many opportunities for students to receive whole-group, small-group and one-on-one reading instruction.

Videos with footage from school visits, including interviews with teachers, administrators and students, tell the story of common themes in each school.

"This (Reading Now Network findings) was coming from the teachers and real kids in real classrooms talking about what works. I think that is what struck my staff," said Pam Thomas, Kent City Elementary School principal, who’s shared the videos and findings with her staff to help improve their school’s reading scores.
Greenville Public Schools Superintendent Pete Haines, a member of the RNN steering committee, said his teachers are assessing how well each Greenville school is implementing the five traits in creating their school improvement plans.

"These findings are already influencing decisions on schedule, materials, methods and especially professional development needs," he said.

The Six to Make It Stick flier is available in color or black and white and in English and Spanish on the Reading Now Network site by clicking here.
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