’Booking’ Students: The Literacy Solution
Written By Guest Author: (Mrs.) Linda A. McFarlane
The office clock shows 6:50 on this blustery fall morning; daylight is still quite a few minutes away in this Kansas City locale. Headlights from a few cars punctuate the semi-darkness as children are dropped off for the school day at Crestview Elementary School in the Shawnee Mission School District. As the first rays of light sneak through the bare branches of the sixty year-old elms standing sentinel around the playground, a few more students arrive on bikes or in sibling clusters, walking down the hill from having dodged traffic on a main artery of the Metro. Teachers pulling into the parking lot notice the increasing numbers of students scattered around the building entrances, grateful for parents long since at jobs but concerned about the unsupervised safety of their children.
PBIS statistics clearly indicate that Arrival is charted as a hot spot on the schedule for student altercations and rule infraction at this building, even as teachers on duty appear to supervise students for another twenty minutes before the bell summons them inside. Alternate plans, including seating students along the interior hallway walls, have been implemented previously, but lack of adequate space made it just as unsafe and unwieldy. Students were once again relegated to waiting outside, except in severe weather when supervisory teachers resorted once again to sequestering students in corridors.
In his second year at Crestview Elementary School, Principal John Bartel had frequently revisited the plan for Arrival, which too often precluded a safe environment for latchkey students. Constrained by an aging physical plant scheduled for replacement within the next couple of years and staff numbers that had dwindled in number as a result of drastic funding cuts at the state level, Mr. Bartel, as often as possible, stationed himself outside with the large groups of children awaiting the onset of their instructional day and vigilantly organized the multi-age crowd to merge in an orderly fashion through the front doors of their school. Then ensued counseling, leveling consequences, and developing a plan for Arrival offenders that will be difficult at best to enforce during the mornings to follow. Dogged by his conscience, Mr. Bartel opted to implement a drastic change: Students would wait in the school’s gymnasium each morning until the bell rang, out of adverse weather conditions and in more closely supervised parameters. He presented the new plan to staff members, citing the safety of children as his motivation—the necessity of protecting our students from possible abductions and potential injuries. Not the first time this had been tried–unsuccessfully–by Mr. Bartel’s predecessors, but there was no recourse. The gym became a new supervisory post. Mine. Five mornings a week. Even with enlisting the help of two additional staff members, it loomed large as a daunting task.
As history reliably predicts the future, Mr. Bartel countered with an organizational scheme. Through PBIS stations at every grade level, students would be introduced to the new plan, and expectations would be clearly communicated. Individuals would sit single file in grade level lines. Six-inch voice levels would be appropriate. It would be a time to finish homework. When the bell sounded, a staff member would dismiss by grade levels.
The time was not productive for building relationships with students, and seemingly very little homework ever found its way out of backpacks. Our Master Schedule is a testament to every minute of every day dedicated to learning, and yet we teachers continued to lament the lack of time for anything “extra”. Watching the captive audience in the gymnasium, I began to strategize how these precious moments could be used to support learning. As the building Reading Specialist, a plan developed quickly.
Stopping by Mr. Bartel’s office to discuss a tutoring issue, I broached the subject of Arrival Duty in the gym. Mr. Bartel was open to suggestions, so I asked, “May I read to them?” His reply: “Yes, sure.”
I was so excited! Now to make appropriate book selections which had appeal to students in Kindergarten through Sixth Grade. Armed with a mircrophone and a copy of Because of Wynn-Dixie, I began reading (with prosody!) to about one hundred Crestview Cougars.
That was five months ago, and Mr. Bartel claims that this literacy project has been the single most successful strategy at Crestview during the 2014-2015 school year. Our students begin each school day immersed in literacy, and the change in our listeners is palpable, nineteen books later and counting. Some books are familiar, such as The Tale of Despereaux, Ralph S. Mouse, Thank You, Mr. Falker, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, but worthy of a repeated reading. Listeners may even, at the conclusion of each selection, choose to take an AR Test over the book to which they’ve listened. As each book is finished, students may submit their names for a drawing, and the winner is awarded that book for his/her very own personal library.
Special Arrival Time events are planned periodically. Before Halloween, a group of primary students voluntarily learned, recited, and acted out a short poem for the occasion. A similar activity was enjoyed before Winter Break. The day prior to Valentine’s Day, students participated in a “Kisses (Hershey’s) for ‘Korrect’ Answers” oral comprehension quiz. As an extension of Valentine’s Day, we observed “We LOVE Books” week by allowing each student to choose a free book to take home and keep.
On any given morning, oral reading is paused, and students are asked text-specific questions. “What is a synonym for the word I just read—sulked?” “What is the silent letter in the word I just read—wreck?” “What is the setting of this chapter?” “How many syllables are in the word I just read—custodian?” “Who is the author of the book we are reading today?” “What is the vowel combination in the word I just read—float?” “Make a prediction about what the preacher is going to do.” “What is the prefix in the word I just read—unexpected?” Who can spell the word I just read—vacuum?” “Explain how the Silent e rule determines the pronunciation of the word I just read—refuse?”
Research is clear and consistent concerning the benefit of reading aloud to children. From a very early age, they assimilate a sense of story and its elements: characters, setting, problem, and resolution of problem. They learn new vocabulary and language usage. They react with empathy, excitement, or enjoyment. Listeners can compare or contrast one story with another. In a lap or snuggled closely to a parent or grandparent, bonding memories are created that last a lifetime. Later, as readers, that early auditory memory is applied to the written words they encounter. The advantage is obvious. Even adults enjoy Audio Books; the love of Read Alouds is ageless.
It is amazing how much incidental learning can occur in just ten minutes a day while waiting for the bell to ring. Hundreds of pages later, students have become so engrossed with the stories and painlessly learned or reviewed a great deal of phonetic knowledge. Then the bell rings, and off troop Crestview Cougars to their designated classrooms, left to wonder what will happen to Edward Tulane, who lies helplessly under a heap of garbage at the dump. But that’s a revelation for tomorrow…in the gym…at Crestview Elementary School…during Arrival Time.
About: Linda (Keeley) McFarlane has recently retired following an educational career that spanned nearly 40 years as a classroom teacher, Reading Specialist, English-as-a-Second Language instructor, Kansas Accelerated Literacy Learning teacher, and Elementary Administrator in Kansas. Her credentials include a Bachelor of Science in Education, a Master of Science in Reading, a Master of Arts in School Leadership, and endorsements in English as a Second Language, Administration, and Reading. Currently, Linda teaches adult ESL and tutors privately. She has received recognition awards in Migrant Education, Special Education, and Kansas IRA, as well as local school and community honors.