A small audience gathered in the Hutchins Elementary cafeteria Tuesday, sitting in the dusky light as a slideshow was projected at the front of the room. The students at this evening’s lesson were El Campo ISD elementary school teachers, training for the Texas Education Agency’s Reading Academies pilot program.
“How can you help students understand that words are powerful?” Reading Academies Cohort Leader Shaina Freese asked her audience.
The program aims to provide educators with new approaches for helping students in kindergarten through third grade develop strong reading skills. One of the goals of the program is ensuring students not only memorize vocabulary words, but also learn how to use them in everyday life.
All Texas schools must begin Reading Academies training for their principals and kindergarten through third grade teachers before the 2022-2023 school year, thanks to a statute from Texas House Bill 3.
Freese showed the teachers an animated video summary of the book “The Word Collector,” by Peter H. Reynolds. The book discusses the power of vocabulary through the story of a young character who stockpiles new words and uses them to better connect with the people in his life.
“How might a child in your class become a word collector?” Freese asked.
The ECISD teachers were taught physical motions to use as visual cues when teaching students new reading concepts and were encouraged to place visual reminders of the concepts around the classroom. Other program focuses include establishing a literacy community for students and adjusting lessons based on student performance.
While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic delayed implementation of the program at ECISD, faculty and administrators have been receptive to the training, Assistant Superintendent Dolores Trevino said.
“Our teachers and principals are to be applauded for their openness and … commitment to literacy for all ECISD students,” Trevino added. “The Reading Academies provides teachers with many strategies and activities they can turn around and use in their classrooms immediately.”
The program is based on research conducted in 2001 by Haskins Laboratories researcher Hollis Scarborough. Through her study, Scarborough developed a “reading rope” model that shows how many different factors go into developing fluent reading skills.
“Teachers are taught how to weave together the strands of decoding and word recognition with language comprehension to build reading comprehension,” Trevino said.
Tuesday’s session lasted three hours, but it will not be the last of the year, as teachers will be expected to complete 60 training hours for the new program. The second training session for ECISD teachers was on Oct. 27.
At ECISD, kindergarten and first grade teachers will implement the program’s methods this year and second and third grade teachers will receive training next year.
“ECISD chose to start with kindergarten and first grade teachers to support a strong literacy foundation in the early grades,” Trevino said.