The school has begun a new program that provides daily, specialized reading instruction to all students in grades 1-5.

PIONEER PHOTO: KRISTEN WOHLERS - Colton Elementary students Lydia Brinkley takes a break from her reading work to smile for the camera during Walk to Read on Nov. 22.

In an effort to increase the number of students who are reading at grade-level, Colton Elementary is trying out a new approach to teaching reading called Walk to Read.

"Our kids were needing to improve their reading skills." -Principal Nathan Meik

In previous years, the school has approached reading intervention using a targeted model, which means that specialized reading instruction was given to a select number of students who showed the greatest need. This involved pulling those students out of the regular classroom at given times.

This year, Colton has moved to a school-wide model so that all students receive specialized reading instruction each day. With the new Walk to Read program, rather than pulling out certain students at reading time, all students in grades 1-5 walk to their specified reading class for 45 minutes each day. That amounts to 180 minutes of specialized reading instruction for every student every week.

"So rather than focusing on a select few students, we've decided to focus on all of our kids," Principal Nathan Meik said, "because there was a need for it. Our kids were needing to improve their reading skills."

He added, "We have to be really careful about how we pull them out, which is one of the reasons this reading model is really good because in the past, kids were pulled out during instruction to go to receive support from this one teacher. Now we have 45 minutes of designated time, and kids aren't missing anything in the class. Everyone's reading."

The change comes not only because more students showed a need for improved literacy, but also because the targeted model was burdensome for one reading specialist, according to Meik.

"It was a really heavy task for that one teacher to try to lift all those students, that needed reading support, by themselves," Meik said. "This year, I've decided that we're all going to lift together."

Walk to Read involves three leveled tiers of reading intervention. One is intensive, the next strategic and the last one grade-level and beyond, per Meik. To place students in the appropriate reading class, staff tested the students at the beginning of the academic year.

PIONEER PHOTO: KRISTEN WOHLERS - Colton Elementary student Zechariah Behrens works during Walk to Read on Nov. 29.

For the intensive instruction, teachers are using Horizons curriculum, which uses direct instruction techniques for early reading skills.

"It's a tried and true program," Meik said.

Students in the Horizons reading classes are tested every three weeks to gauge their progress and placement, and Meik said that they are making gains. In three weeks, one student went from reading 21 words per minute to now reading 27 and another went from two words per minute up to 22.

Meik noted that some of that progress may be a result of students refreshing their skills after a summer lag, but still, he is optimistic about the curriculum and Walk to Read as a whole.

"Those are huge gains, especially when you're at those smaller numbers and jumping up," Meik said. "It's a lot harder to get from eight words a minute to 30 words a minute than it is to get from, say, 65 words a minute to 80 words a minute."

For the next tier, teachers are using Read Naturally curriculum, which is focused on fluency—the ability to read with speed, accuracy and expression. Students at this level complete their individualized lessons on Chromebooks, which the booster club purchased last year for the school.

PIONEER PHOTO: KRISTEN WOHLERS - Colton Elementary students Payton Herbison (left) and Gracie Schneider (right) enjoy their Walk to Read time on Nov. 22.

At the third tier, for grade-level and beyond, students are participating in project-based learning. This is not a specific curriculum, but rather teachers are coming up with their own materials based on common core standards. Students participate in various activities that have a reading or writing component, such as making travel brochures or doing science experiments.

The overall success of the Walk to Read program to improve Colton Elementary students' reading skills is to be seen. To track progress, all students will take a benchmark assessment at the end of January.

Kristen Wohlers
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