(Banner Graphic/JARED JERNAGAN)
With its longer reading blocks and small group instruction time, Tzouanakis Intermediate School has undergone a major change in its reading program in the last year.
Facing the Department of Education's new standards that students must pass the IREAD-3 test before advancing to fourth grade, the Greencastle School looked hard at how to make an even stronger emphasis on reading.
"The way reading instruction is happening is a major facelift," Tzouanakis Principal Jon Strube told the Banner Graphic.
The first part of that facelift came in finding a long, uninterrupted block for reading each grade level at the school that serves grades three through five.
The result is a 100-minute morning reading block in third grade, a 100-minute afternoon block for fourth-graders and a 90-minute afternoon block for fifth grade.
The first 30 minutes of reading time is class instruction as a whole. Thereafter, though, the class breaks down into groups of 6 to 8 students grouped by ability.
The small groups give teachers a chance to concentrate more closely on individuals, but also present the challenge of having reading activities for the rest of the class.
These "literacy centers" also require extra work for teachers outside of class, coming up with activities the students can perform independently.
"It does require a lot of extra time for teachers to seek out the literacy station activities," Strube said.
The entire process has been a demand on teachers to rethink the way reading is taught. Work with Smekens Education Consultants and professional development sessions have moved the project forward greatly.
Some signs of progress are already showing, as the current Tzouanakis fifth- graders have shown some very high scores on their ISTEP language arts assessments.
The current fifth grade is the first class at Greencastle to have full-day kindergarten and to have worked within the corporation-wide literacy framework from day one.
It has paid off with a 90-percent passing rate on the ISTEP language arts in third grade and an 88-percent rate in fourth grade.
Change has also come in the materials used to teach reading and how teachers get those materials.
Instead of one big set of text books or chapter books for the entire class, teachers now need a half dozen or so books, with instructional materials, to teach the small groups.
This is where the new Tzouanakis "book room" has come into play.
Unlike a traditional school library, the book room is for teachers only, with books grouped together for instruction and sorted by ability levels.
If a teacher has a group of six students grouped together a particular level, she can go to the book room and, ideally, find multiple options for instructing the group in question.
An electronic system allows teachers to search both by content and ability level and even find out what other teacher might have checked out the set of books in question.
With the focus on content as well as ability level, teachers can also five students instruction in subjects whose time was reduced by the larger reading blocks.
"Because we have less time for science and social studies now, we can bring some of that into our reading block and into our writing block," Strube said.
It will also be of assistance to teachers as education moves away from the traditional textbook.
"We have to look into ways to deliver that curriculum content and one way is through our guided reading," Strube said.
While the book room is operational, it also remains a work in progress. One part of the process was to ask teachers to donate books from their own rooms so they could be utilized elsewhere in the school.
These books still need to be categorized and sorted, added to the collection of new books that came pre-sorted.
It's a process that has required outside help -- in the form of financing and labor.
The financial assistance has come from a number of places, cheap shelving units from Walmart, grants from both Dollar General and Walmart and a large donation from the Tzouanakis PTO.
Much of the labor is physical work is being performed by parents, who volunteer their time grouping, sorting, categorizing the stacks of unsorted books.
The school's goal is to have 10,000 books in the collection when it is complete.
"We will get there," Strube said. "It's just a work in progress."