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Poetry program targets reading


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As the third-graders read in small groups and on their own, nearly two dozen poems hung on the classroom walls around them.

The students had marked up the poems, identifying words they’d not seen before and needed to learn the meanings of, such as cruel and ravenous. Some of the words, zwieback for example, also prompted some adults to reach for a dictionary.

About 85 second- and third-grade Clark-Pleasant students have been in summer school this month, using poems, including “I’m Getting Sick of Peanut Butter,” “The Famous Flea Circus” and “Adventures of Isabel,” to develop stronger reading skills.

The hope is that students will be more likely to remember words they don’t know and will want to learn their definitions if they read them in poems they’re interested in, summer school co-principal Jarrod Burns said.

School officials also hope that the poetry-based reading program, which Clark-Pleasant is using for the second consecutive summer, will help third-graders who are retaking the IREAD-3 exam today. Last year, nine out of 10 students who had to retake IREAD-3 passed the exam, and those were better results than school officials expected, Burns said.

“We reached more kids and were able to close the gap with more kids than the first year,” Burns said.

Clark-Pleasant also identified about 60 second-graders who needed help becoming stronger readers and invited them to summer school for the poetry lessons, and some elementary school teachers have started using the poems in daily lessons, Burns said.

Johnson County’s six public school districts are all providing summer courses for the 165 third-graders who didn’t pass IREAD-3 in the spring. State law requires third-grade students to pass the exam before moving on to fourth-grade reading lessons. Schools gave the reading exam for the first time in 2012.

That year, Clark-Pleasant had about 60 students who didn’t pass the spring exam, and school officials had about a month to organize a summer reading program to help those students pass the retest.

Clark-Pleasant bought a reading program from a testing company to help students strengthen their reading skills.

That program’s lessons included stories on Egypt and art supplies so that students could make mummies, head dresses and other crafts based on the stories they read.

But the activities weren’t preparing the students to correctly answer the questions they would be asked on the retest, Burns said.

“That time could have been spent a little more wisely for the IREAD-3 test,” Burns said.

All but one of the students who didn’t receive IREAD-3 waivers passed the retest during the first year, but Clark-Pleasant officials wanted to create a stronger summer program for this year.

So they decided to use the poetry-based reading program.

Most students who don’t pass IREAD-3 miss reading comprehension questions, which ask the students about items they just read, Burns said.

Usually students who miss those questions have trouble because they don’t understand all of the vocabulary words they’re being asked about; or they think too long about what all of the words in the question mean, so they don’t

understand what the question is asking, Burns said.

So if students enlarge their vocabularies, they won’t spend as much time and energy thinking about what the questions mean, and they’ll be able to answer correctly, Burns said.

Students have a better chance remembering new vocabulary words if they want to know what they mean, such as when they hear them while reading about the atrocity of receiving a peanut butter sandwich for lunch every day, Burns said.

Each poem might have about 10 words that the students have never encountered.

So if they read one new poem each day during 15 days of summer school, they could go into the retest knowing 150 more words than they knew in the spring, Burns said.

Along with the poems, students in summer school also read on their own and work with teachers and aides, who make sure they understand the new words they’re being taught, Burns said.

Today, nine Clark-Pleasant students who have been through the poetry-based program will retake the test, and school officials hope the passing rate will be equal to or better than last year’s, Burns said.

“Our goal is to put us out of business, so fewer kids fail IREAD-3,” Burns said.

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