Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers
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Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers

Sharon Walpole

By Sharon Walpole, Instructional Coordinator at the Johnson School in Charlottesville, VA.

Excerpted with permission.

Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers
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Article 2:
Johnson School's School-Wide Reading Effort

Staff at the Johnson School in Charlottesville, Virginia, developed its reading program in response to teachers' concerns about the range of reading achievement of students in their classrooms. The program, called RISE (Reading Initiative for Student Excellence), represents a strong commitment to research-based reform, to assessment-driven instruction, and to site-based staff development.

The RISE reading program aims to have students read successfully and widely. RISE maximizes instructional time and manipulates instructional teams so students can read instructional-level texts in small groups. The program features extended instructional time for all students, team teaching and staff collaboration, the use of a broad range of authentic texts, and a set of research-based instructional procedures. The program carefully monitors student achievement and supports teachers with extensive professional development.

Lessons learned at Johnson School

  • Data analysis is essential to reading reform

    A continually evolving data set guides important decisions at Johnson School. Assessments help place and re-place students in the most challenging instructional groups they can handle. Data guides intervention decisions, program refinements, and staff development, and unifies the work of the school to increase student achievement. Data must be collected, analyzed, and interpreted at the building level.

  • Site-based staff development works

    Data trends are analyzed by the Johnson administration and guides staff development efforts. Teachers at the school remain committed to learning more about how students learn to read. They work together and with the instructional coordinator to keep abreast of new research and to refine their classroom instructional programs. The teachers engage in professional development as a team because they need to work as a team.

  • Research-based reform takes a commitment over the long haul

    Six years of growth and change have informed Johnson School's reading program. Looking back with pride at the accomplishments of those years does not mask the challenges that still face the school. A strong framework, however, provides the support through which the staff views challenges and new ideas for helping students learn to read.

The RISE program depends on assessment. Assessment drives instruction. Generally, the assessment system at Johnson School has evolved to take less teacher time and provide more specific information. It includes different types of instruments including formal assessments, informal assessments, and anecdotal notes that teachers collect during instruction.

Teachers at Johnson learned how to collect and use assessment data together. They began by learning how to administer and interpret an informal reading survey. Collecting accurate, running records for assessing a student's instructional level provides teachers with important foundational skills. Although this data collection took a great deal of time in the first years of the program, the instructional schedule now easily incorporates the collection of assessment data. Because teachers learned to assess together, they learned to trust the data they collected and to use the data across classrooms and grade levels.

Instructional time
RISE aims to maximize the effectiveness of instructional time for all students at Johnson School by using the available assessment data. The RISE program also protects uninterrupted time for small-group classroom reading instruction. Additional time for reading intervention comes from time devoted to science and social studies instruction or from extensions of the school day and year. The program protects reading time in different ways for different grade levels.

  • Kindergarten

    In the full-day kindergarten program, all students have at least two hours of language and literacy instruction each day. Struggling kindergartners have an additional 30 minutes of small-group instruction with a reading specialist four days each week. A family literacy program, with evening sessions, targets kindergarten students and their families.

  • First grade

    First graders have at least two hours of reading instruction each morning, including time in a reading group, time with an instructional assistant, and time in independent reading and writing. The first graders with the lowest achievement spend an additional 30 minutes, four days a week, in small-group instruction with a reading specialist. Thirty of the first graders also have two 45-minute sessions with a Book Buddy each week. At the end of the year, the school invites first graders still struggling with reading to attend a four-week summer session that includes 80 minutes of small-group reading instruction each day.

  • Second, third, and fourth grades

    All second, third, and fourth graders have 90 minutes of reading instruction at instructional level and 30 minutes of interactive read-alouds from quality children's literature. Teachers assess, group, and re-group students by instructional level rather than by grade level. At the end of the year, the school invites rising second graders who are struggling with reading to attend summer school and invites third and fourth graders as space permits.

Instructional team
Collaboration among teachers and specialists at Johnson School prevents fragmentation of the curriculum. Staff members collaborate to provide the smallest possible groupings for the longest possible time each day. The school accomplishes this goal by including all specialists and instructional assistants in classroom reading instruction.

Instructional texts
Generous district and state funds, and the careful use of those funds, have provided a well-stocked book room with leveled and phonic-controlled little books for beginning readers, narrative and informational paperback trade books, and basal readers. The book room and the school library organize texts by reading level. Students read books at their instructional level with the assistance of an adult and at their independent level when reading on their own.

The kindergarten and first grade team hopes for a progression: from predictable books to decodable books and then to narrative and informational literature written for beginning readers. The teachers use a basal reader to anchor their work, but they do not march the students through the basal. Rather, they monitor progress, beginning with the basal, and then integrate many other texts into instruction.

All kindergarten and first grade students go to the library every day. They select books to take home for read-alouds to foster vocabulary development and a love of literature.

Instructional tasks
Instructional time, instructional teams, and instructional texts all set the stage for appropriately challenging instruction at Johnson School. Teachers construct their own lesson plans and they interact with one another to reflect on and refine their craft. An instructional diet that guides teachers' use of time and that shifts as students gain literacy skills is the only constraint on teachers choices among a large number of instructional tasks.

Symbol: The cat is black.
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