Literacy initiative focuses on early years

Nanaimo school district aims to ensure young students have reading skills.

To succeed in school, one must first know how to read.

And a new  pilot project in Nanaimo school district this year aimed to ensure this important prerequisite for academic excellence is in place.

Shelley Beleznay, the district’s coordinator of literacy and learning, worked with Grade 2 teachers at five elementary schools to focus on early literacy initiatives as a team.

A provincewide goal in the education sector is to have all children meeting expectations in reading by Grade 4, so district officials decided to focus on Grade 2 students at Bayview, Brechin, Fairview, Georgia Avenue and Mountain View elementary schools.

“These teachers all had a high number of kids who weren’t meeting expectations at the end of Grade 1,” said Beleznay. “You don’t want to intervene too early because some kids developmentally aren’t ready to read in Grade 1.”

The teachers met several times to discuss different strategies they use to get kids reading more.

“Just getting teachers together in one room is awesome,” said Beleznay. “Any time that you work together and think hard, you’re bound to make some headway. Sometimes when you’re so busy working, you don’t have time to reflect.”

She said teachers tried to keep students reading and writing for 50 per cent of the school day and used various strategies to do so, including word games, morning messages and singing exercises, where students were given the words afterwards.

While the results from all schools aren’t in yet, data from Brechin shows major improvements – some of the struggling students had tripled their reading comprehension levels between the start of the year and the end and every single one was meeting expectations for their grade level or better.

Beleznay said teachers learned the importance of providing students with a constant influx of books on a wide range of topics that matched their individual reading levels and as a result, educators at the district resource centre have rearranged the book bins available to teachers to meet student needs better.

Kids are not going to progress as well if they are given books above their level, so it is important that teachers have access to texts written for a range of different levels, she said.

Beleznay said next year school officials hope to continue with the focused support for Grade 2 teachers, including a greater focus on incorporating more technology and peer reading initiatives as well as getting teachers together to problem solve.

Another spinoff of the literacy project is that educators are working on a district-wide literacy framework that details how to create the optimal learning environment and ways the district should support teachers.

Chris Southwick, assistant superintendent, said this initiative is important to boosting student achievement levels.

“If a child isn’t reading fluently by the end of Grade 4, their chances are greatly reduced in terms of academic success,” she said.