You won't see the children sitting in rows while listening to teacher Beth Swenson in her second-grade class at Lincoln Elementary School in Brainerd.
The students will be in small groups either reading a book, writing a letter or working on an activity.
This year she is following the practices for literacy instruction and staff development through a national program called the Literacy Collaborative. Swenson said most students will leave the classroom reading and writing well above the second-grade level.
Lincoln is the only site in the state that is piloting the program.
Students spend more time reading, writing, practicing skills and assessment reading than on authentic reading and writing activities. Students learn how to write full sentences and stories as well as how to write lists, prices, menus, science lab reports and newspapers.
Swenson does not use the standard textbooks for science and social studies because the books are too advanced for some of the students. Swenson said she uses reading books to help students learn the same facts.
"The books allow children to learn different facts about the same topic through reading at their own level while increasing their reading ability at the same time," she said. "Each becomes an expert in the information and presents it to the class."
Swenson has already seen students advance academically. One student would not read and couldn't concentrate on books the first day of school. She finally asked the student some questions and found out that he liked dinosaurs. Now the student reads as many books on dinosaurs as he can and it has helped him with his reading and writing.
To help another student, Swenson found out that he lived on a farm. Swenson gathered all the books she could on farms and farm animals and it sparked his interest to learn to read.
One of the differences with the practice of the Literacy Collaborative is there are no worksheet assignments. Students focus on reading more books and then they write about the book. All the curriculum is focused around reading and writing.
Beth Swenson discussed the day's agenda with her second-grade class at Lincoln Elementary School Sept. 12. She is following the practices, including teaching her students in small groups, for literacy instruction and staff development through a national program called the Literacy Collaborative.
One day a week ago the students met in small groups. In one area the students sat on colored video rockers made for children and read books independently. Others were writing letters and a few were illustrating poems.
Students also took turns at the listening center. At the center, a teacher read directions for the students to focus on their listening vocabulary. The students used crayons and a color worksheet for this activity. At the listening center, students do a wide range of activities, including listening to music while following along with the words in a book.
Second-grader Eric Anderson-Schroeder said he has learned a lot so far in class.
"I read about seven books a night," he said. "I'm better at writing and I learned new words like 'firefighters,' 'mourning,' 'best friends' and 'switch.'"
Classmate Sammy Olson said she also has learned a lot.
"I learned quite a bit of firemen and other cool stuff," she said. "I read every day and I can count up to 113."
Aprilleena Stethem said her favorite book is "Catherine likes to Count" because it taught her how to count. She can count up to 124.
"It's fun," she said about class. "We're learning about firemen today and yesterday we learned more about Sept. 11."
Second-grader Elexa Attewell said she has learned 42 new words since school started.
Cody Caughey, another classmate, said that beside learning how to read and write that he is better at drawing and he can count "all the way up to 10 hundred."
Josie Smude (right) reacted to a page in the book as classmate Angelea Gerdes looked on in the reading center of the class.
The Brainerd School District received a $100,000 Best Practice grant to help pilot the program. Half of the grant pays for a year of training for Swenson, who is the literacy collaborative coordinator. Books also are purchased with grant funds.
Swenson said next school year the rest of the teachers at Lincoln will be trained for the Literacy Collaborative model in grades kindergarten through fifth-grade. The teachers have already completed two book studies and will complete 11 mini-classes taught by Swenson this year.
The Literacy Collaborative also helps special education students. Special education students stay in class with the other students to learn.
"The collaborative shows teachers how to reach every student on their own level and quickly pull them up to grade level and beyond," she said. "One of Lincoln's goals is to reduce special education referrals and meet all students' learning need in the classroom using the collaborative model."
Swenson said research shows that students scored 50 percent higher on their state comprehensive assessment tests if they were taught through the Literacy Collaborative.
"Lincoln has 291 students and represents a higher at-risk population, and in the past, students have scored lower on the (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments) tests," said Swenson. "Lincoln School will raise its MCA reading scores to meet and exceed the Brainerd average."
Swenson said the program is well-rounded and can help students whose literacy skills are at different levels. She said of the 45 students who entered kindergarten this fall, 18 percent receive some special services.
Brainerd has established a five-year relationship with Purdue University in Indiana for Literacy Collaborative training.
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