Teachers, students returning to classroom

Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Photo by Clint Confehr Literacy coaches Meri Bigham, left, of Cornersville Elementary School, and Tammy Lewis, right, of Marshall Middle School, display one of the new text books they have to help teach reading.

Students are returning to Marshall County schools on Friday, but the system's 380 teachers have been in class since Thursday for in-service training.

And much of the instruction for teachers concluding today is to familiarize them with a new program that comes with a literacy coach at each of the system's schools.

"The driving force, more than anything this year, is the accountability standards mandated by the Tennessee State Department of Education," Marshall County Curriculum Supervisor Sandy Lee says, shifting to acknowledge "individual students' needs" are to be addressed for the sake of the child.

Literacy coaches have been added this year to the faculty so students with various abilities may get help they need to improve, she said.

Tammy Lewis, the literacy coach at Marshall Elementary School, put it this way: "Instead of teaching to the average student's level, we're going to differentiate. That is, push the top student forward and do more to help the struggling reader."

"This way," says Meri Bigham, the literacy coach at Cornersville Elementary School, "every student shows improvement."

A new series of reading books is available for teachers as they implement a three level system. The state calls it a three-tier system, which was adopted to meet Tennessee goals as well as those of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

"No Child Left Behind is a federal mandate that requires adequate yearly progress in all subgroups" of demographic categories that consider poverty, race, gender and whether the student is learning to speak English instead of, for example, Spanish, according to Lee's explanation.

Research shows that students who are strong in reading skills will be more likely to graduate from high school and succeed in life, Lee said.

"Therefore, we are addressing reading in the Marshall County school system by implementing the three tier reading model," she said.

It's a plan set forth by the state to help students before they fail. It also helps good readers do better.

"Funding for our textbooks is from our county commissioners," Lee said. "The county commission is critical to the success of our program."

Bigham and Lewis have been teaching in the classroom for years, but as literacy coaches, they will be helping teachers with their students on all levels of proficiency.

Together, the experienced teachers reported the three tiers for reading instruction includes: 90 minutes of reading instruction in class for all students; 30 minutes more for those who need the additional help, and; 60 minutes on top of that for those in tier two who need more help during a two-week period.

Sometimes there are benefits for everybody when students learn to read better than before.

The new program "will help a student's self esteem and, in the long run, we'll have more adults who will be more productive citizens," Bigham said.a

"And a lot of times, the problem students are those who are struggling," said Lewis. "So, to take attention away from that, they act up."

Helping those students achieve may also maintain peace and tranquility in the classroom and the youngsters' own neighborhood.