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Beyond nursery rhymes
Curry programs aid state in improving reading skills
Curry School programs help new teachers learn the best methods for teaching their pupils the joys of reading.
Photos by Jean-Claude Lejeune
Curry School programs help new teachers learn the best methods for teaching their pupils the joys of reading.

By Anne Bromley

Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss make the list, of course, as do more recent titles, like “Hunches in Bunches” and “Street Rhymes Around the World.”

They are among books recommended by the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening program, a Curry School of Education initiative that helps children learn the basics of reading. Due to the strength of PALS and related programs, Curry has earned a major role in implementing Reading First, a grant-based initiative that is part of the 2001 federal legislation “No Child Left Behind.”

The state of Virginia has received a Reading First grant of almost $17 million to boost youngsters’ reading skills – especially good news amid the gloom of recent state budget cuts. Under the grant, the Curry School will receive about $2.2 million a year for five years to offer Virginia teachers advanced training on reading instruction and to help evaluate their students’ progress.

child readingThe state selects school districts to apply for Reading First funding based on the percentage of students with low scores on the third-grade Standards of Learning test in English. Previous federal and state programs “have been rolling along under different names, but there are more requirements [in Reading First], and schools are being held accountable for their implementation,” said Marcia Invernizzi, the Curry professor who directs PALS.

Of the 21 states that have been awarded Reading First grants to date, Virginia is one of few that works with a university to implement its program, said Curry professor Mary Abouzeid, who directs Teaching Educators McGuffey Practicums Off Grounds — the outreach arm of the McGuffey Reading Center. TEMPO, which began offering graduate courses in 1984, is administered by U.Va.’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies at regional centers throughout the state.

As required by the Reading First grant, TEMPO will provide reading institutes for teachers. The institutes will call for an expansion of TEMPO — “a huge-scale effort,” Abouzeid said.

child readingThis summer, reading institutes will be held for almost 1,000 kindergarten and first-grade teachers in three locations — Charlottesville, Richmond and Hampton Roads. Enrollment will increase to as many as 4,000 during each of the next four summers and include second- and third-grade teachers. Special education teachers, principals and other administrators also are encouraged to attend the reading workshops, said Abouzeid.

Assessment of the grant’s success requires participating schools to use PALS as a way of charting pupils’ progress in learning to read and assessing where they are having problems.

Teachers who attend reading institutes will have more tools to help their students improve. In this way, the Reading First initiative aims to evaluate how teachers’ professional development influences children’s learning.

“Targeting teacher knowledge is the missing piece” in improving literacy, Invernizzi said.

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