Local Schools Focus On Reading, Writing, Group Work To Reach 40-40-20

East Oregonian | Dec. 10, 2012 2:35 a.m. | Updated: Dec. 10, 2012 10:35 a.m.

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Daily Astorian

Group work is one method Yolanda Westerberg told local teachers Thursday can help prepare their students for state testing changes and life after graduation.

“Turn to your partner and tell them one thing you learned,” she instructed the crowd of 28 teachers and administrators as they sifted through a short article on the Titanic.

The exercise was part of a two-day reading and writing instruction seminar that teachers and administrators from La Grande to Hermiston attended to prepare for a new state test for grades 3-8 and 11, which in 2015 will focus more heavily on reading and writing.

The new assessment involves a computerized math session that requires students to explain in writing how they did their work, computerized reading and writing tests, and a separate written version of each section, said Liz Durant, InterMountain ESD school improvement specialist.

To prepare for the 2015 test, teachers will need to more heavily include reading and writing aspects in their social studies, science, and technical classes such as business and home economics, she said. It’s all part of Gov. John Kitzhaber’s plan for 40 percent of high school graduates to attend college and 40 percent to attend a post-secondary trade school, Durant said.

“Students won’t be able to pass these tests unless they can write,” she said.

Group activities are just one example of how educators have to change the way they teach to meet the higher standards, said Marie Shimer, vice principal for Riverside Junior-Senior High School. Teachers in her district, and in Pendleton and North Powder schools, use the “talk to your partner” method Westerberg offered Thursday to make their students more engaged in the changing curriculum, Durant said.

“In order to get to the higher level of thinking skills, you’re going to have to have that level of participation and engagement,” Shimer said.

InterMountain ESD and several other local education service districts with schools from La Grande to Hermiston hired Westerberg to give training sessions at the Pendleton Convention Center Thursday and Friday. Westerberg, a 20-year education veteran based in Spokane, Wash., teaches educators nationwide how to improve their students’ reading and writing.

Some of the educators she worked with Thursday — ranging from math to English, science and social studies teachers — responded with murmurs of “I didn’t know that” when she gave tips from how to edit sentences, how to highlight and underline reading assignments and organize their thoughts before writing an essay.

John Christy, a junior and senior social studies teacher at Riverside, said teaching students those analytical reading skills prepares them for college.

Westerberg said a more rigorous reading and writing curriculum is necessary to better prepare students for college and any career beyond high school. Many students who leave high school labeled “good writers” have to relearn basic skills in higher education, she said.

“We have kids going to college who do not know how to write, who do not know how to note take, who do not know how to read,” Westerberg said to the group. “We have to stop the madness and we have to start somewhere.” 

Contact Chris Rizer at crizer@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.

This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.


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