Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New York City Public Schools Teach Students to Read: Part 2

I spent the last week in New York City following up with administrators, teachers, and students at several public high schools that I visited the first week in January. The purpose of my visit this time around was to discuss the Reading Horizons pilot that is currently being conducted there. I visited one or two public high schools each day, riding the subways to various parts of the city, including Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan, and walking to the historical school buildings (some days in the rain and snow, which added to the adventure). In this blog post, I wanted to provide a snapshot of what I experienced there by including a highlight of each day:

Monday: At the first high school I visited, I introduced a teacher to the Haitian-Creole native language translation feature on the Reading Horizons software. He was very excited to learn about this feature since he has a student in his class from Haiti who is frustrated because he wants so badly to show what he knows, but his low level of English proficiency limits him. I watched the teacher enthusiastically activate the Haitian Creole native language translation for his student and then call his Haitian student over to show him the words and instruction translated into Haitian Creole. Then I watched a huge smile form across this student's face as he saw and heard his familiar mother tongue, recognizing that this tool would help to break down the language barrier that has impeded his progress and confidence since he has been in the United States.

Tuesday: I observed a couple high school ESL classes who are using the Reading Horizons software. I was impressed with how engaged and on task they were. I had an opportunity to do some model teaching of Reading Horizons direct instruction at the end of each class. I asked them about their experience with using Reading Horizons. They love it! I asked them how the Reading Horizons program helps them. They responded that Reading Horizons helps them with the following skills: reading, writing, vocabulary, pronunciation, and spelling. As the class ended and I dismissed them, they said, "Come again!" I would love to. I love their smiles.

Wednesday: When I visited this particular high school in January, I had an opportunity to do some model teaching of the Reading Horizons direct instruction method for a couple ninth-grade classes while ten or so teachers from the school observed. These students come from backgrounds with various challenges which impact their motivation to be in school, let alone their motivation to attend the remedial reading class that a stranger (myself) was teaching. Their body language upon first meeting screamed, "I dare you to teach me something." Needless to say, this was a challenging teaching experience for me (but I enjoyed the challenge). Since that time, the students have been using the Reading Horizons software, and I had the opportunity this visit to go back to the classroom to see how these students were responding to the software. Although these students had previously been very resistant, I was amazed at what I saw. The students were all on task. They were making great progress through the program. Their teacher has implemented a reward system for students as well, which an enthusiastic student (pictured here) oriented me to. Each student's progress through the Reading Horizons lessons is charted on a poster hanging on the wall. They are also awarded for coming to class on time and staying on task with a free day once in awhile. And when they all complete the Reading Horizons program, they get a pizza party. I was particularly impressed with one student who was previously resistant during my first visit (though he did start to soften up by the end of my class). This student goes online and works on the Reading Horizons program at home (out of his own free will), and then when he comes to class, he tells his teacher to update the chart with the lesson he has most recently completed. In addition, he has told his teacher that he doesn't want to go to the other reading class because he wants to finish Reading Horizons, and he doesn't want to take his "free days" because he wants to get through Reading Horizons software. While I was in the classroom, I asked him what he thought of the Reading Horizons program. His response: "It's cool."

Thursday: I spent the whole day at one particular high school on Thursday and was able to meet with several teachers and visit several classrooms using the Reading Horizons software. The Reading Horizons program is embedded into their school schedule during SSR (Silent Sustained Reading), which means that several teachers and students are using the Reading Horizons program. I was very impressed with the teacher collaboration at this school. These teachers have taken the Reading Horizons program and run with it, collaborating with each other, helping each other where needed, and teaching each other new things they discover that work well with students. I was also very impressed with their principal who is very supportive and wants to ensure that her teachers have what they need to be successful. She is a believer in professional development, and she is planning to provide Reading Horizons training for all the teachers in her school. 

Friday: I had the opportunity to go to the Board of Education building to meet with network administrators Janine and Geri who are helping to oversee the Reading Horizons pilot. (Susan, also a network administrator who I had also worked with during the week, was tied up in another meeting on Friday.) I enjoy working with these experienced leaders which allows me to witness their contagious passion for what they do, unafraid of change and the unpopular and taking initiative to make things happen to remove impediments and move things forward.

A couple additional highlights of my trip included meeting with a friend Dani Shurtleff, volunteer coordinator for Rising Star Outreach, to reconnect and discuss the summer volunteer program that I am training on the Reading Horizons program. 

I also was able to meet with a friend Shaun Parry, Broadway performer, as I was heading out of town. I met Shaun in India in January. He is the founder and director of Promethean Spark, a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching life skills through the performing arts to impoverished children throughout the world, including India, Africa, and Central America. He had just barely flown in to New York City the day before after being away for three months in India and Kenya. It was great to reconnect with him. I am impressed with his contagious passion and sacrifice.

I'm grateful for all the good that goes on in individual classrooms in various corners of the nation and the world. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to witness some of this good that often goes unnoticed. 

Do you have an experience with witnessing unrecognized good being done in the classroom, in either a traditional or a non-traditional context?

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