The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 29, 1999


Carlisle School's summer reading program sets an example

The summer reading program has become so much a part of the Carlisle School culture that 95 percent of all students in grades one through eight participated this year. The program asks students to read at least five books during the summer. Younger students may have books read to them. All students bring a list of what they have read to their teacher in September. In some grades, a related small project is also assigned. While this is not unusual here, apparently most schools do not have any summer reading expectations.

Carlisle language arts (LA) curriculum coordinator Steve Bober presented some pertinent statistics to the Carlisle School Committee at their October 19 meeting. He noted that he had been contacted by the Concord middle school language arts coordinator for advice on how to get students to read over the summer. She was wondering how Carlisle did it. Bober said he sent her the entire packet that is sent to Carlisle parents about summer reading.

An important part of that packet is the recommended reading list that includes hundreds of titles and authors that are categorized by reading level and genre to help parents and children find good books. The middle school list was totally revised last year. Bober explained that sixth-grade language arts teacher Carolyn Platt was instrumental in developing the new list. In the process, both teachers read hundreds of books and sought feedback from the middle school students. The recommended reading list for elementary students is being revised this year, he added.

Committee chair David Dockterman said that he realized how unusual this program was after speaking with teachers in many other school systems. Most school systems have nothing like it, he said. Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson noted that there was some resistance from parents when the program started seven or eight years ago, but it has become part of the culture and the participation rate reflects that.

Bober also mentioned that other educators come to Carlisle all the time to observe teachers. "We do things differently from other places," he said. He estimated that about 200 people a year come to observe at the school. Many of them are in graduate education programs, according to Bober.

Language arts goals

Bober also reported on the LA curriculum goals for the year. Reading instruction at the elementary level has been a focus for the past few years. This year, the goal will be to create for the fourth grade the same sort of list of reading skills and teaching strategies that have been developed for the lower grades. First-grade teacher Sue Helenius LaPorte, formerly the reading specialist, worked with classroom teachers to develop strategies and materials to teach reading. Now, Bober explained, the teachers share ideas and materials that they have developed and continue to add to the collection.

Teachers in Carlisle use the "writing process" instructional method, Bober said. New teachers can take the writing process course at Carlisle College (professional development courses offered on campus) to learn the method. Teachers and students then develop a common language to use when talking about writing.

Students had been learning how to write answers to open-ended questions even before the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests were administered, Bober noted, and they will continue to develop this skill. Students also write in other subject areas, such as math, science and social studies. In middle school, all teachers are writing teachers, Bober said.

This year, Bober's goal for writing will be to work with Jane Herrmann, the social studies curriculum coordinator, to look at how the social studies curriculum and writing curriculum can be aligned.

Another goal is to upgrade the status of poetry, Bober noted. Although poetry has been taught in many classrooms, there has not been a coordinated curriculum. Bober would like to make sure that certain poets are introduced, that students learn about poetry and that poetry is used to teach a concept.

Improving students' dictionary skills is a goal that will cost about $2,000 for the purchase of dictionaries, Bober said. Currently, the third grade has 63 dictionaries, but the fourth and fifth grades have only 28 each. To teach dictionary skills, the whole class needs to be looking at the same edition of the same dictionary, he said. The $2,000 would buy a set for each classroom in grades three through five, plus one classroom set each for grades six through eight.

Spelling is an area that needs an audit this year, Bober said. There are many spelling programs in use, but there is not a standard program throughout all grade levels. Bober would like to settle on a standard program. "Everyone learns to spell differently," Bober said, so students need to be exposed to a range of strategies, as well as all of the rules. However, he was not sure he would want to spend money on more spelling workbooks.

1999 The Carlisle Mosquito