The following is a case study, presented by Dr. Peter Dewitz, that demonstrates the impact of the Read Side by Side Reading Program on one struggling, priority school. Learn how they climbed the literacy summit and were awarded ‘School of Distinction’ in 2017.
At the foot of 14,411-foot Mount Rainier in Washington State sits Eatonville Elementary School. Up until 2015 it was a school of minimal accomplishments. It was a priority school, among the five percent of schools in the state with the lowest achievement, which means that for the last three years 40% of its students or fewer did not pass the state assessment in reading or mathematics. Since then achievement and spirits have soared at Eatonville and this is the story of that rise.
Prior to 2015 the teachers at Eatonville used the Houghton Mifflin reading program, Journeys, to teach reading and supplemented it with lessons and ideas from Teachers Pay Teachers. Journeys like most basal programs, has a traditional weekly lesson plan. Each week the students learn new reading skills, review old skills, read two short passages and one leveled reader. An analysis of Journey’s indicates that students in third grade will read a total of 77,000 words during the school year and accomplish this by reading a mere 15 minutes a day (Brenner & Hiebert 2010). In addition, the students will learn 23 skills and strategies over the course of the school year, almost one a week (Dewitz, Leahy, Jones & Sullivan, 2010).
The Read Side by Side Reading Program
Teachers at Eatonville recognized the dearth of reading in Journeys and an excess of isolated skill work, and began to search for alternatives. Their search led them to the Read Side by Side Reading Program. This program teaches a text structure approach to comprehension outlined by the acronym C. I. A., which stands for collect, interpret, and apply.
A few units were purchased and the teachers and students began to explore the power of reading full books. The students liked what they read. The novels gripped their imagination and the teachers liked the growing enthusiasm and confidence of the students. Prior to the 2015-16 school year Eatonville purchased the full reading program for grades three through five. The results speak for themselves.
Eatonville, like all of Washington, assesses reading with Smarter Balanced one of two national assessments designed to measure student progress in meeting the Common Core State Standards. The table below documents the test score changes.
The performance of Eatonville students has improved and so have their attitudes toward reading. Not all students passed the Smarter Balanced test, but it is a very demanding test, requiring close reading, writing in response to reading, and supporting answers with information from the text. It is safe to say that Smarter Balanced expects a type of performance that most adults rarely undertake in their daily lives.
The Read Side by Side Reading Program raised reading ability and motivation. Using the C. I. A. method, students learned to divide books into four quadrants and then prepare themselves for the thinking work demanded by each quadrant. First, they collected information about setting, characters, plot and problems. Next, they used that information to make interpretations about characters, traits, motivations and themes. Finally, they applied what they learned to their own lives and evaluated the themes of the book.
One Teacher’s Testimony
At first the students were skeptical and didn’t seem to believe that they were going to read a whole novel. I explained to them that I was going to read it and together we would discuss the book and write about what we had read. Then, once they saw the four quadrants, the C.I.A. Approach guided them through the novel. They started to see that there was a pattern they could follow while reading a book. The scaffolds that are built into the program and the format of the four quadrants helped them retain, recall and organize their thinking. Their comprehension improved and they gained confidence.
The C.I.A. Approach builds knowledge and that knowledge is essential to reading each book that comes along. Where other programs emphasize level, the Read Side by Side Reading Program focuses on knowledge development (see Hoffman, 2017).
We are starting our sixth book, Glory Be, by Augusta Scattergood, which is about a little girl who grows up in the South during the 1960s. This unique setting is familiar to students because the two books that precede it are a Martin Luther King, Jr. biography and a Rosa Parks biography. The beauty of the program is that they have started reading this complex novel with an advantage of having background knowledge. They know the setting and time period; they have pictures of the era in their head. As a result of this, they make incredible connections.
The program facilitates transfer. Students start with a read-aloud, where they learn principles of text structure and strategies, then they apply these very same procedures when they read a book club selection.
The principal at the school, Mrs. Heersink, reflects on the benefits of the Read Side by Side Reading Program.
What I like most about the program is that it evens the playing field for all students, those that have language and background knowledge and those that do not. I get emotional just thinking about it. Kids who don’t read, don’t watch the news with their families, or don’t have rich conversations with their parents, don’t have background knowledge. They enter school on unequal footing. This program provides equity and goes a long way to close that gap.
Eatonville Elementary Today
Today Eatonville is a school of distinction: one of few schools to demonstrate growth over several years. It has not achieved the summit of Mount Rainer, but it continues to climb. Several factors underlie the success of the program. You have read about how students build knowledge, learn strategies, transfer what they know and gain confidence. There is one more attribute. When the students finish a year in the program, they will have read four times the amount of text as a traditional basal reader.
Practice accelerates growth.
Written by Peter Dewitz, Ph. D.