School 'floods' students with literacy

New technique catches children who might slip through the cracks

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Debra Knott wanted the four students seated before her on Friday morning to ask what time it was.

But she wasn't planning on giving them an answer. She was more interested in how they pronounced each word of their question.

Knott, the first-grade teacher at South Routt Elementary, was helping the small group of first graders read "What Time Is It?" by Rozanne Lanczak Williams.

The four students, clutching a copy of the eight-page paperback with tiny hands, followed along as Knott explained each page.

"We take a picture walk before we read to give them some background," Knott said.

Three other groups of two and three children repeated the same exercise with instructors who sat at tables spaced throughout the classroom.

The small groups are part of the elementary school's push this year to encourage literacy among its students.

For 30 minutes four times a week, first through third graders gather in groups no larger than six and sometimes on an individual basis to work with teaching staff on their reading skills.

Teachers "flood" a classroom in order to break down the students into small groups that can be taught more effectively, South Routt Elementary Principal Troy Zabel said.

This "flooding" technique has just been implemented for the first time after a the groundwork was laid last year, Zabel added.

School staff has been trained extensively to help out with flooding, he said.

"Everybody in the building is trained, from the librarian to the lady who oversees the computer lab," Zabel said. "They all can go in and do this."

Zabel said he wants people to know that the flooding technique does single out slower readers or students who fall behind in class. Every child in the first through third grade will participate in a flooded classroom, he said.

Groups ranging from A to Z focus on specific reading skills that individual students need, and students are placed with other students who need practice on the same skills, he said.

The reading level not the ability determines how students are grouped, he said.

"They're leveled groups, not ability groups," Zabel said. "We're looking at where the kid is at, so we can being them to where they need to be."

Specific books like "What Time Is It?," which falls within the "C" level , are required reading for each level.

"They will be working in text that's not too difficult but not too easy," Zabel said."

Individual instruction will ensure that children are neither left behind nor bored, he said.

"This is better than saying to a whole group of students, 'OK, we're going to learn this,'" he said. "Fifteen of the kids might already know it; 10 might not be able to learn it, so you might actually be targeting only five kids."

On the one day during the school week that flooding is not used, Gay Linke, the school's Title One teacher, sorts out lesson plans with aides.

The larger emphasis on one-on-one instruction leaves teachers with a bigger workload, but the additional time and energy is a labor of love that teachers at South Routt Elementary are willing to make, Linke said.

Linke said she is as surprised as the rest of the staff that so much progress can be made in just 30 minutes a day.

"It's not a lot of frills and fluff," she said. "Save that for something else. We're teaching kids how to read."

In one half hour session, the previous day's book is reviewed, a new book is introduced and read aloud by the students, and an activity that makes a practical application to the text is completed.

While students complete the activity, which usually involves some writing, teachers assess each student's progress.

These "running records" are one of flooding's many strong points, Linke said.

"You can see students' progress every day," Linke said. "It provides very positive feedback and promotes accountability for teachers."

Daily and weekly assessments allow teachers to analyze why children might be reading incorrectly and find ways to help them avoid repeating the same mistakes, she said.

Linke said 135 assessments have already been made on 75 children.

"It's more work, yes, but the end result is worth the extra effort," she added.

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