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SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to getting ahead in life, educators know reading is the key to learning and success. That is why Midvale Middle School teachers and administrators were so worried last spring when they realized a majority of their students were still reading at an elementary-school level. Their solution to a tough problem has proven to be creative and it's generating positive results.
This year, Midvale Middle students jump-start each school day with a literacy block. It's a half-hour of intense training in how to be a good reader. Dan Ashbridge is an achievement coach at the school. He helped design the program and applauds teachers and administrators who have made it work. The real payoff, according to Ashbridge, is for students: "It puts them on the road to success, it puts them in the driver's seat."
The literacy block quickly generated greater student interest in reading and better understanding of what they're reading.
"Before I didn't read that much, but now I do. I'm starting to like reading more," said Haley Aminis, a seventh-grader at Midvale Middle.
Quintin Baldenegro, in the eighth grade, said, "The reading just makes me understand what we're reading more and I don't have to be, like, lost with what we're reading."
Teachers and administrators felt they were losing too many of their 826 students last spring when they saw the results of annual literacy testing. Karen Moore, a vice principal at Midvale Middle, said she was worried when she discovered that "56 percent of our kids were well below grade level last year in their reading."
A serious problem led to a creative solution — ask every student and teacher to use the language of literacy throughout the school day. Now, Ashbridge said, if you "put a text in front of a student, the student has the same language and the same skill set and it is reinforced throughout the entire day."
No matter what it is, they're reading and they're using these literacy skills and you're just seeing improvement across the board. It's been phenomenal.
–Kattie Dewald, English teacher
So every day all 48 teachers and the school's administrators teach the literacy block. And in every class, students annotate or mark up their reading. The marks show what they get and what they don't yet understand.
Pam Tafili teaches seventh-grade science and, of course, the literacy block. "I really see that my students are able to work hard to read a passage that they may not understand," Tafili said.
Students are also working hard to predict, clarify what they're reading, question the text and summarize the reading. In fact, these skills are boosting many students' literacy scores a full grade level or more in just half a school year. Teachers are amazed with the success of the program. Robert Violano, who teaches eighth grade science, said, "It's huge; it's awesome."
Half of the struggling eighth-grade readers Violano teaches have improved their scores by at least a grade level. So, Violano said, "If they keep on that pace, everybody is going to be growing two grade levels possibly."
In the sixth grade, science and English teacher Kattie Dewald is just as excited about the results. She said, "No matter what it is, they're reading and they're using these literacy skills and you're just seeing improvement across the board. It's been phenomenal."
Students who had been struggling say they've been inspired by their own progress. Jon Lopez is a seventh grader at Midvale Middle. He said, "I started getting my grades up, so I knew I could change. So I started reading more books."
In fact, even those students who are already reading at a high school level have found the literacy block challenging. Now, they're thinking more critically. Charlotte May, an eighth-grader, said, "I'm thinking more about what I'm actually reading and it's kind of improving the way I'm looking at different texts."
Ashbridge agreed with May's assessment, saying, "Critical thinking, it's an idea but it's an actual process, and seeing kids be able to perform that is what we're working towards."
The program is changing lives as it opens up opportunities. Tafili said, "We kind of have a motto in our class and it is literacy is the key to being what you want to be, and I think that's so important for our students."
Students credit their success to their teachers' passion and dedication to this unique program.
"You put the caring with the focus on skills together and that's going to be powerful," said achievement coach Sara Allen.
Moore agreed, saying, "It's been amazing to see what it's done for our teachers and our students."