BLOOMFIELD, NJ — First- and second-graders at Carteret Elementary School are learning to become better readers thanks to a new after-school literacy program. The effort, in its third year, is being taught by special-education teacher Beth Armstrong and third-grade teacher Banita Smith. Forty-eight students took advantage of the program, which this year expanded to include 42 third- and fourth-graders.
The program is called a “literacy camp.” It is in its third year and meets for one hour, three days each week, from April 24 to May 24.
“Mr. B came up with the name,” Armstrong said recently at the school, referring to Principal John Baltz. “It gets the kids excited that it’s a camp.”
The program was created because there were first- and second-graders who were not prepared for the next reading level. These students are first taught how to pronounce words; third- and fourth-graders are taught what they mean.
“We found that children needed support for developing reading strategies,” Armstrong said of the first- and second-graders. “They needed ways to figure out unknown words and to read independently.”
“You have to read fluently before you can read comprehensively,” Smith said.
Many first- and second-graders, Armstrong said, have not been exposed to letter groups and the sounds made by those groupings.
“First you make the sounds,” she said, “then you put those sounds together. Children have to be able to pronounce the word to figure it out.”
For the first- and second-graders, learning to pronounce a word is approached several ways. The first way is learning phonemes, or word parts. As an example, Armstrong said children in the earlier grades did not have enough exposure to long vowel sounds.
“They don’t learn them until the first grade,”she said. “But they needed to know it, though, in kindergarten.”
Having children practice pronouncing words one-level above their reading level is another strategy in developing literacy. And another is to have the children practice pronouncing sight words.
“These are words they cannot typically sound out, but what they see in their texts,” Armstrong said. “We talk a lot about vowels. You isolate the vowel sounds.”
“Words have a beginning, a middle and an end,” Smith said.
Armstrong said Baltz asked her to come up with a way to improve student readers. The goal for a reading teacher, she said, is to have your students become independent readers.
“Teaching reading is my favorite thing,” she said. “It’s my passion.”
Armstrong said it took her time to learn how to teach reading.
“It’s not an easy thing to do,” she said. “I was grateful to Mr. B. I work in just one classroom. This was an opportunity to help throughout the school.”
Baltz said one of the reasons the program is effective was because it paralleled the classroom curriculum.
“Ms. Armstrong and Ms. Smith have designed the program to support what is currently being taught in the classroom except that it is more intense and individualized,” he said in an email.
Students are placed according to periodic assessments and a pretest before going to camp. Student are placed according to ability, not grade.
“This allows teachers to really focus in and address deficiencies.” Baltz said.
And it seems to be working. A post-camp test and subsequent feedback by teachers indicated literacy growth.
“In addition to the curriculum, it always comes down to the delivery of instruction,” Baltz said. “We have an excellent staff at Carteret that supports our academic goals through effective program implementation and as a result we have been fortunate to experience positive results.”
And that is not all. Armstrong and Smith agree that most of the students enjoyed going to camp.