Front Line of Literacy: In the First Grade Room
by Lori L. Sikorski

The warmth of the morning sun feels good as I settle into the classroom of Derek McClure, a first-grade teacher at Patuxent Elementary School, to see how the children take to their new reading program.

Near my rocking chair for the morning is the reading corner, a place all its own with a bright rug that is actually a map of the United States and comfortable pillows tossed about.

There is no "math corner" nor "science corner" though many other aids for these subjects decorate the room. Just this cozy reading corner filled with shelves of books and a poster that says: Read to be informed. Read for literary experience. Read to perform a task.

The task at hand is Reading and Language Arts. The children's faces let me know that we are in for something new and exciting. The new part is Calvert County's reading program, Open Court 2000. It moves from sounds to sight, so it's a phonetic-based program. That's the excitement, for previous programs have worked from sight to sound.

Will the change make a difference to these five- and six-year-old students?

"The children love this program," McClure tells me.

The class first reviews the alphabet on flash cards, upper-case first, then the lower-case. McClure points to certain letters on large signs above the chalkboard, and the children fire off the sounds that each letter makes. Today they are working on the short vowel sound, and each student, all 19, has these sounds down.

McClure tells his students to give themselves each a big pat on the back. Little arms reach back past their shoulders and tap their backs.

Next comes a song with fingers and hand motions to help the children memorize their words. Not one child misses a beat.

Now 16 new words are introduced in a riddle game. When him becomes ham, several of the girls giggle. When McClure urges the class to replace the T in top with a P, there is a rousting sound of pop!

Next come silly sentences. One child raises his hand to ask "What will the initial consonant sound be, Mr. McClure?" Did a first grader just ask that question? We find out the initial consonant will be an N. Nutty Nellie nibbles nine noodles is written on the board. Replacing the N with a Z brings shrieks of laughter. Next comes B and then T and finally W.

McClure tells the children that changing the letters changes the whole word, because words are made from sounds. The children nod their heads and smile. I am beginning to see that they love this program because it makes sense to them.

"What comes next?" McClure asks. A hand is raised and a small voice says, "oral blending." Again I shake my head in amazement. For the oral blending lesson, McClure has help from Leo, a hand-held lion puppet. Together they blend an S with an LY and produce sly. More words are blended and, before the teacher can ask, "What word does that make?" the children shout out the answer.

Leo circles the room to give each child - and me, too - a pat on the back. Then Leo reads a story. He and McClure ask for help when they come to words they cannot read. The class is right on cue with their sounds. Leo also wants help to understand what he is reading, and the teacher breaks the sentences down. Subtly, he is teaching reading comprehension.

For homework, each student will take home a story book to read to parents. Parents will sign a reading log to return to school.

Today's story is Tim Spins. Its eight pages are filled with illustrations and four- to six-word sentences. Before reading, McClure and his students go over the four steps all good readers follow. Together they promise to 1. Browse; take a quick look at the book. 2. Visualize. 3. Ask questions. 4. Predict. Then all together they read Tim Spins.

Before the year ends, over 80 books will go home with each child. They get to keep each book and so they can read them over and over again.

The day's Reading and Language Arts lessons are done, but the learning is far from over. "We integrate this entire program all throughout the day," McClure says.

As the children put their books away, McClure tells me that the new reading program is "just wonderful."

"This class has made a lot of progress with this program. Usually they are not this far in reading yet. I had some students come to me at the beginning of this year who didn't know letters and sounds, and now they are reading. Not only reading, but also comprehending and understanding what it is that they are reading. I love this program."

Editor's note: This is the second installment in our monthly series on learning to read in Chesapeake Country.

| Issue 42 |

Volume VII Number 42
October 21-27 1999
New Bay Times

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