Many youngsters get reading lessons in school before leaving for winter break. Some second graders at Earl Boyles Elementary are reading. Some are struggling.
Oregon officials say how kids read by third grade has a big influence on whether they’ll graduate - nine years later. OPB is following a group of second graders as part of our “Class of 2025” project.
Earl Boyles has students “walk to reading” which means second graders literally walk to the second grade room for their reading level.
“Be my partner,”says Logan. He’s in the room for the strongest readers. He wants Austin as his partner. They read a Paul Bunyan story independently, and discussed it as a class.
Logan recounts the story’s main points: “He pushed his crib into the ocean, and went off to the woods all by himself, then he helped people build a village, and then at the end, he defeated the people that were under the ground.”
“I thought he was pulling out the neighbors’ trees at first,” says Austin. “He was pulling out the neighbors’ trees, and that’s why he went off - so he wouldn’t cause any more problems.”
The Paul Bunyan lesson in Logan and Austin’s class is building comprehension skills - the top of the reading ladder.
The Paul Bunyan lesson next door is for students at the lower end of reading. Teacher Deb McGowan is focusing on word recognition and vocabulary.
These two classrooms just scratch the surface of the range of reading skills among Oregon second graders. It’s hard to know how big that range is statewide. Kids don’t take state tests until that critical third grade year. Teachers will tell you it’s a big range - and meeting the diverse needs is tough in classes of 25 students or more.
Earl Boyles’ intervention room, for students in the bottom twenty percent is where video game technology meets literacy.
Earl Boyles second grader Osvaldo faces a touchable screen that’s taller than he is. Words appear on floating asteroids. When the computer speaks a word, Osvaldo has to destroy the asteroid with that word on it.
“You have mastered these words,” the computer tells him in in a canned female voice.
This is the first year with such technology in the David Douglas district. “We’ll all get a turn,” teacher Lindsey DeFazio reassures one of Osvaldo’s classmates.
“This is like ‘excited, I want to perform, I want to show what I’ve learned today.’ DeFazio explains, referring to the kids’ eagerness to play the asteroid game. “I don’t know what the data is going to show. I feel like we have to give it some time.”
Osvaldo did a great job destroying asteroids. Then he took an assessment with animated lemurs, and he aced that, too.
But he has a little trouble sounding out a word from a video he’s watching, with reading specialist, Theresa DeMars.
DeMars: What’s that word?
Theresa: “Say it again?”
Theresa: “Yup. Is it describing what the substance is? What does it say it is?”
Osvaldo: “It’s saying it’s solid and hard.”
Theresa: “Solid and hard? OK.”
For some of these students, reading has been a struggle for a while. Osvaldo works hard, and is making progress, but he’s needed reading help since last year.
DeFazio says he’s not alone: “Yeah, a lot of them are the same kids. Sure.”
Oregon wants to get a head start on literacy, by reaching kids earlier - in kindergarten, and preschool. DeFazio says once kids fall behind, it’s hard for them to catch up.
“You just work with them and work with them, and hope that by the end of third grade, they’ve got it,” she says. I don’t have a sense of why. Just once they’re a struggling reader, they’re a struggling reader.”
For struggling readers, the fundamentals are like muscles that need regular exercise. Defazio’s likely hoping those muscles get a little exercise over the holiday break.