Education News

Houston Teachers Go Back To School For Reading

Teacher training is a key part of Houston’s new literacy plan.


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About a dozen teachers are sitting at kid-sized tables and chatting. Their trainer Tina Goss gets their attention.

“Ok so remember, now we’re putting on our student hats. You’re students right now. I want you to see this through the eyes of an early childhood student.”

Goss is going to read a book. But first she asks some questions.

“When I look at the cover I see a big cloud and then I see those animals on the bottom. I wonder why those animals are right there … What do y’all think?”

Thinking is exactly what these questions are supposed to trigger. Goss thinks out loud herself.

“They’re fluffy like the clouds. You know what — I hope the author explains or we find out why those animals are on the cover.”

This is called a “read aloud.”

You might remember a similar reading session from your school days. The teacher reads out loud in the front of class. The students sit in a circle on the floor and listen.

But this “read aloud” is different. It’s geared more towards instruction.

“Basically a model of how to think critically and actually having kids interact with texts and being able to have those discussions among themselves where they have to think critically,” Goss says.

Teachers in the room are eager to learn new techniques. Brittany Vasquez teaches first grade. Some of her students come to school not knowing their ABCs.

Vasquez says she feels for those kids. Back when she was in second grade, she got tutored all year to catch up on reading.

“So I know what it’s like to struggle and to be behind and be embarrassed that you’re not reading like everyone else — you’re scared to be called on to read in class.”

And then when one of her students makes a breakthrough … “I definitely get chills. I definitely have cried. It makes everything worth it,” Vasquez says.

Thirty-three percent of third grade students in Houston schools failed the state’s reading test last school year.

So the Houston school district is launching a new literacy plan.

It’s set an ambitious goal to have every third grader reading at their level by 2019.

That’s just five years away.

“Teacher training is a huge part of the plan. It is actually the bedrock of the plan.”

That’s Cindy Puryear. She’s the new literacy director for the district and oversees the new plan, called Literacy By 3.

“Our goal is for every kindergarten, first, second and third grade teacher to go through the training. It is a massive undertaking.”

Susan Neuman at New York University agrees teacher training is important. She is the former U.S. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education and focuses on early literacy.

“Reading aloud is an important building block and it’s especially important for those kids who may not have rudimentary skills because it sort of scaffolds for them what they can’t read on their own.”

But Neuman says “read alouds” can’t be the only part of a reading program.

She says it’s also important to make sure children are learning basic skills in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten.

In fact, that’s another part of HISD’s literacy plan: to start universal pre-K.

It’s also buying $8.5 million worth of books for classroom libraries.

Back at the reading training the teachers take a break, it’s time for door prizes.

Trainer Tina Goss shakes people’s names in a box.

“So we are ready to pull some names. Remember what you have to do when you come down the aisle — you have to dance!”

A cell phone blasts some dance music.

“Jasmine! Go Jasmine! Go Girl!”

The winners dance down the aisle to pick up their prizes.

The prizes are, of course, books.


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