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Balanced Reading at NES. Mary Sue Mulligan Rosemary Slocum Reading Specialists Narragansett Elementary School. January 2002.

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balanced reading at nes
Balanced Readingat NES

Mary Sue Mulligan

Rosemary Slocum

Reading Specialists

Narragansett Elementary School

January 2002


Narragansett Elementary School strives to have a balanced reading program. Balanced reading instruction emphasizes both meaning and the code. Because of the whole language movement, many teachers had not learned to teach phonemic awareness and phonics (the code) in a systematic and explicit way. Reading tests indicated that children who were having difficulty reading were unable to decode.


Learning the code requires learning to separate the speech sounds within words, and learning how those sounds are represented by letters. Here kindergarten students segment words using Elkonin boxes.


In Systems for Change in Literacy Education, authors Carol Lyons and Gay Su Pinnell state that “To be effective, staff development must become a way of life in our schools.” The book describes staff development as a “spiral of learning.” The Early Reading Success Initiative has brought this kind of professional development to NES.


Lyons and Pinnell believe that the school principal plays a major role in achieving a school culture of collaboration that supports teacher learning. At NES, Dr. DeFrances secured the Early Reading Success Initiative for kindergarten and first grade teachers to help build that culture.


The Early Reading Success (ERS) Initiative brought classroom teachers and reading teachers together at the kindergarten and first grade levels last year (second grade is included this year) to examine NES’s reading program. Now, reading teachers are modeling phonics and comprehension lessons at all grade levels. The steps in the “spiral of learning” process here at NES are:

2. Provide the basics: (materials and mentoring support) These children are using magnetic letters and whiteboards to make words and to take them apart.

3. Demonstrate the process: As part of the ERS grant, Mrs. Mulligan, a reading fellow, has modeled lessons in kindergarten and first grades. Here she teaches a blending lesson to kindergarten students while the teacher observes.


4. Engage the learners:Teachers need to understand why learning new skills is important. Dr. Susan Brady discusses reading research at a second grade teachers’ workshop.


5. Try it out: Teachers need the opportunity to try out new procedures.Mrs. Choiniere teaches kindergarten students to count sounds in words - a phonemic awareness skill.


6. Coach for shifts in behavior:Observe the process and give feedback to teachers.

Mrs. Gardner, a reading teacher, teaches first grade students a phonics lesson about blends while the classroom teacher observes.


Mrs. Goudailler, a reading teacher, reviews syllable types in a first grade classroom. Phonics instruction teaches children how speech sounds are represented by letters and letter patterns.

Mrs. Cook teaches syllabication via the “spot and dot” method. The children check that they have labeled the syllables correctly.

In addition to phonemic awareness and phonics instruction, a balanced reading program must include instruction in:•understanding how print works •vocabulary development •comprehension


Mrs. Crowther, a reading teacher, teaches a “concepts about print” lesson to a kindergarten class.

Mrs. Kenny, a first grade teacher, is guiding children to read for a purpose as they continue to move towards independence.

7. Extend learning:Teachers need to reflect on the effectiveness of new practices in their classrooms. Mr. Sylvia and Mrs. Zilly discuss their students’ spelling at a second grade workshop.