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A new way to learn to read

HANGING ROCK – Kayla Fultz reads over Nicky Blevins’s shoulder.

Wednesday, September 22, 1999

HANGING ROCK – Kayla Fultz reads over Nicky Blevins’s shoulder.

The fourth-graders start to smile, laugh, then turn a page.

"This one’s a fun reading class," Kayla Fultz says later, holding up a paperback full of jokes.

Sitting nearby, Mark Harmon, Deidre Travis’s most hyper but fun-loving reader belts out, "It’s better than all the other classes."

Mark likes picking his own reading lessons every day.

"You don’t have to pull out your book and read the same stories every week for a whole couple of weeks," he says.

Then, if his classmates find a word they like or don’t know, they learn it together – writing its definition on a "word wall" made from construction paper fish.

Next to the classroom door, "boisterous" and "fiesta" share space with "graceful," "mechanism" and "wintry."

Tough words in fourth grade, some might say.

But they’re not tough for these fourth-graders, especially not when they’re learning to read this way, Ms. Travis said.

"These kids are excited about reading this year," she said. "They want to skip recess and read and that’s exciting for me."

Young readers need a buildup of critical skills early, so Ms. Travis uses literature like Patricia MacClachlan’s "Sarah Plain and Tall," Jesse Stuart’s "Penny’s Worth of Character" or the students’ own choices to teach those skills.

"If they love to read it, they’re going to be able to pick it apart," she said.

It all started last year when Ms. Travis found the children were bored with the standard reading class. A summer seminar helped her realize what she needed to do this year.

In August, Ms. Travis began a new literature-based reading program.

Instead of the standard basal readers, although they are used on occasion, the class concentrates on classics like "Charlotte’s Web" or new novels like "James and the Giant Peach."

"The goal is to get them excited," Ms. Travis said. "If they’re interested in what they’re reading, or it affects them, then they become excited about reading."

The class also will read "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and a children’s book on the Underground Railroad this year, in addition to their own selections from the Briggs Lawrence County Public Library’s bookmobile that stops at the school every two weeks.

Students write difficult words on a poster, guess the definition and then look them up – that’s vocabulary, Ms. Travis said.

They also read with partners, and sometimes to each other – that teaches comprehension, she said.

"This week we’re tape recording each other so we can hear our fluency."

Also, the fourth-graders are encouraged to stretch out and read silently in class and they have book parties once a month.

In October, the class will read a favorite mystery or scary story and match the party’s theme to it. Sometimes the theme is other class subjects, because there are books and stories about history and even arithmetic, Ms. Travis said.

"Reading should be in everything you do and not just in a reading book."