How we teach reading at our Kansas high school

Letter from Immaculata High School, Leavenworth, Kansas

Quad-peat! Yes, we have done it again. For the fourth straight year Immaculata High School, Leavenworth, Kansas, has achieved the Kansas State Standard of Excellence in Reading. What an achievement! We have tried many different avenues to help our students become better readers.

About ten years ago we installed a 15-minute reading period into our schedule on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. During the period we do nothing but read. And for the third straight year, one of the materials read is a newspaper. The students, faculty, and staff love to read it. And obviously, it has helped us reach our Standards of Excellence. Thanks to all of you at the paper, USA TODAY, for helping us reach our goal.

The creation of relevant, effective high school electives is a challenge principals often face. We aim to provide electives that complement the existing educational program, are meaningful to the students, and reflect the overall philosophy and vision of the school.

These considerations drove our efforts in creating the elective USA TODAY, which uses the newspaper as its primary text in an ambitious attempt to:

– Challenge all students at every level to become lifelong learners

– Make learning fun and practical

– Facilitate critical thinking

– Enhance students’ research skills and their ability to organize information

– Increase student abilities in reading, writing, and oral communication

– Facilitate the transfer of skills and knowledge to other disciplines

– Foster collaboration and team building through cooperative efforts and activities

– Increase student awareness of the global community

– Help the students become more active, knowledgeable citizens.

Schools and newspapers have been a powerful combination for many years. Research has suggested that newspaper-based instruction results in an increase in students’ reading interest, reading attitudes, reading achievement, writing performance, comprehension, classroom verbal interactions, and enhanced reading frequency in adulthood (DeRoche 1981; Stone and Grusin 1991; Wanta 1992; Palmer 1994).

Several considerations lead us to choose USA TODAY: It’s readily available and offered at a discount to classrooms; it offers a variety of educational programs including timely resources, support staff, interdisciplinary teaching guides, student supplements, and the Experience TODAY daily teaching system; it covers a wide range of interests, and its broad-based reporting lends itself to numerous activities and facilitates instruction across the curriculum; and most students prefer it to other newspapers.

Course Priorities
The course developed around three priorities:

  1. The importance of providing a process-oriented course that addresses the needs of students as they prepare for life in the workforce.¬†The American Society for Training and Development and the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (1988) identified seven skill groups most desired by employers: learning to learn; listening and oral communication; competence in reading, writing, and computation; creative thinking and problem solving; personal management; group effectiveness; and organizational effectiveness and leadership. Direct instruction and learning experiences designed to specifically enhance these seven skill areas do address the students’ future career challenges and advance the “school to work” initiative.
  2. The importance of maintaining a course that addresses the need for integrating the curriculum.¬†Curriculum integration has become a formidable force in high school reform. Although designated as a social studies elective, the USA TODAY course is designed to reach well beyond this single discipline by drawing in an array of discipline perspectives to investigate an “organizing center.”
  3. The importance of providing instruction that addresses the various intelligences of the students.Educators are changing their concept of “smart.” Thanks in large part to Howard Gardner’s work, it is becoming widely accepted that students demonstrate intellectual capacity in various arenas. In the USA TODAY course, lessons and activities consider the presence of the eight intelligences. And with a myriad of instructional methodologies, diverse learning opportunities, and varied experiences, the course design attempts to provide each student with the opportunity to operate in an area of strength and stretch beyond their comfort zone. Within this context, the students have visited the paper’s facilities, created an audio and video news broadcast, and interviewed a USA TODAY reporter via the Internet. The students have also established Internet “pen pal” contacts with students in England, Puerto Rico, Japan, and China. Students have played the stock market through a market simulation, created a USA TODAY cover page representing a day in the life of Pottstown High School, and have acted as climatologists charting weather patterns around the world.

The benefits of the course are numerous. Students acquire knowledge in a variety of subjects, enhance their interpersonal and communication skills, see themselves as an active part of a global community, and prepare themselves to be participating members of an active citizenry. The course also encourages networking among teachers – both within the school and among the schools. And the course connects Pottstown High School with a worldwide newspaper, opening numerous opportunities for the students to reach well beyond their school and community. With a supportive principal, invaluable input from colleagues, and the hard work of dedicated teachers and students, this elective will continue to be an invaluable part of the curriculum at Pottstown High School.

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