Early Childhood Center takes novel approach to help kids read

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The students and faculty of Johnston’s Early Childhood Center (ECC) are taking literacy to the next step by embracing the Information Age and are already seeing the benefits in academic achievements.

Last Tuesday, the ECC held a family Literacy Fair Night for about 100 parents and students to explore the classroom curriculum changes, technological integrations and strategies the district has implemented to make reading and learning fun and more rewarding for the town’s youngest students.

“We want to demonstrate what our children experience in the classroom,” said Julie-anne Zarrella, principal of the ECC. “It’s a blended learning model, meaning how children are learning now is a combination of face-to-face instruction with a digital learning piece where children now have control of the pace of their learning.”

Under the blended learning program, which first began during the 2015-16 school year, measurable gains in reading and writing are already taking place. Assessment tests in literacy and numeracy have shown marked improvements in the students’ understanding and development.

According to Zarrella, during the fall of 2015, 31 percent of students were at or above national benchmark standards for literacy, which improved to 46 percent by the fall of 2016, and jumped to 52 percent by the winter. Projections show that by winter of 2017, 58 percent of students will be at or above national standards.

The presentation armed parents and guardians with tools necessary to help their children get the most out of learning. Included were helpful homework tips such as providing children with a quiet work area adequately supplied with pencils and materials, establishing a set time for completing homework.

Parents were encouraged to read to their children nightly or have the child attempt to read, and then asked the children questions and to have them tell what’s happening in the story in their own words. The expo presented reading strategies such as helping children identify clues in story pictures, pointing to words as their being read aloud, rereading sentences and have kids predict unknown words, clapping out sounds and syllables, and consistently rereading stories.

A special segment of “sight words” – words that children will encounter frequently in print and while writing – were also discussed. Tools such as flash cards, clapping out sounds, singing words to a familiar tune, or simply taking time and reading slowly were shown as effective means of improving literacy through face-to-face instruction.

Following the presentation, participants visited workstations set up throughout the Ferri Middle School cafeteria, with a technology station lined with Chromebooks that parents could watch their children manipulate like professionals, along with a bookmark making station and a complete book fair, with hundreds of educational books and school supplies for sale.

“Have your child show you what they can do,” said Zarrella, “It’s amazing what they’ve learned.” 

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