When the Reading Recovery program was eliminated in Sioux Falls to save the school district money, some parents were worried the education of their children would suffer. But, some administrators and teachers we spoke to say the new Literacy in Action program might actually be better for the kids.
"Research supports the use of three kids in a group to one as well as it does the one to one. And partly, the reason for that, is if you have a little block of time you can work with kids. If I'm working with three students, I can set these two to reading together, practicing their fluency, while I work one on one with this one. While I can still check in on these two," Sioux Falls School District Curriculum Coordinator Sue McAdaraga said.
"One on one is always going to give that child so much more attention. However, on the flip side of that we also get the opportunity to increase their independence away from, so they don't become dependent on the teacher. And they become more independent as the reader," Reading Specialist Karen Lukens said.
While the students who are in the program might be getting the right kind of attention, what about those who aren't in a school with a reading specialist? Only half of the schools in the district have a reading specialist in the building.
"I serve students either two, three or four times a week, depending on the need and the schedule. So, right now I've seen about 20 students today already," Lukens said.
"I think more teachers is a big need that we have. I mean, we're very fortunate here to have two due to a grant. But in time, I know that I could send half my class with her. That's just kind of the needs we have," First Grade Teacher Kelsey Alberty said.
Alberty is happy that she can collaborate with Lukens about what is being taught in the classroom, as well as in the reading circle. That collaboration is one of the things teachers like about the Literacy program over Reading Recovery.
"The relationship between the reading specialist and the classroom teachers. Those 'on the fly kind of conversations' that happen when the reading specialist says, 'oh you've really got to talk to Johnny today because you should see what he did.' And then that classroom teacher has the heads up of what to look for and what to emphasize and what to support Johnny in," McAdaraga said.
Another aspect of the Literacy program that seems to be working is the fact that more than just first graders are now using the specialists.
"Quite a high population of students in our district that are English language learners. And some of them don't come into our classrooms until they're in second or third grade. They need some extra reading support. And that wasn't available to them when we had Reading Recovery," McAdaraga said.
"With Reading Recovery, it was more isolated to the one child and they still gained and they still grew. But with this program, I know there are just more students being, having their needs met," Alberty said.
While there are still students in the schools without a specialist who might be struggling, there are things parents can do with their child's teachers to help their child grow.
"The most important thing I think parents need to know is that the school can do a lot, but we can't do it all. And we need the support of all of us working together, the student, the families, as well as the school. Working together is what's really going to help solve our reading dilemma that we have in our school, and in our country," Lukens said.
All three women said if you don't have a specialist in your school and your child is struggling, you should speak to your child's teacher and try to find books that are easier for them to start practicing with. The schools who receive a Reading Specialist each year are selected based on Developmental Reading Assessment scores that are compared each fall and spring.