Some schools with disadvantaged students are closing the achievement gap writes Karin Chenoweth in U.S. News. One common element is a do-whatever-it-takes attitude.
In Virginia, Graham Road Elementary found its immigrant students weren’t able to decode words, despite the “balanced literacy” program.
. . . many of them (80 percent speak a language other than English at home) were still too unfamiliar with the sounds of English to decode words fluently. So the kindergarten and first-grade teachers focused on helping students recognize the sounds within words. Students play rhyming games, learn nursery rhymes, and play the occasional game of “I’m packing my suitcase, and in it I put . . .” where every item needs to start with a particular letter.
Similarly, in the older grades, teachers noticed that many students didn’t have the background knowledge that would allow them to read anything more complex than simple stories. The teachers set up classroom computers where they cue up short documentaries on specific topics as preparation for specific readings. If the class is going to read a book that mentions earthquakes and dump trucks, students watch films on both before reading the book.
Other schools have made collaboration work for their students.
Of course, these schools all have very strong, capable principals, who are in short supply.