Three HMS teachers reading up on best practices

Three HMS teachers reading up on best practices

June 28th, 2012 by Katie Ward in Local Regional News

New York City offers some of the best restaurants, museums and entertainment; for three Hunter Middle School teachers it will impart some of the best teaching methods to help young readers achieve their goals.

"If you can read well you can do anything you want to do," said Hunter Middle seventh-grade reading teacher Lori Thacker. "So many students struggle in reading because their parents don't encourage reading at home."

From left, Hunter Middle School teachers Lisa Powell, Lori Thacker and Dana Whisler are preparing to attend the Columbia University Reading Summer Institute in July to learn about the latest and greatest reading initiatives to take back to their students.

She said students can't read "Twilight" or "Hunger Games" when they are at the level of "Junie B. Jones." So, the reading teachers at Hunter try to take them to the next level of reading through using Columbia University methods.

That is why Thacker is spending July 2-7 at the Columbia University Reading Summer Institute with colleague Dana Whisler, who also teaches seventh-grade reading at Hunter Middle, as well as Hunter eighth-grade reading teacher Lisa Powell.

"Columbia's method of teaching reading is growing and getting better and better," said Whisler. "New York public schools have had great success with it."

She said the Columbia University reading methods are already put into practice at Hunter Middle School.

"Columbia University's Jerry Maraia has inspired me to be more individualized in teaching by asking students to build more on their reading through writing," said Powell. "We want them to be critical thinkers and readers."

Columbia University professors visit Hunter a few times each school year to offer mini half-day reading workshops to reading teachers. Whisler, Powell and Thacker said they want to enhance their understanding of the reading methods by going to the five-day training.

Both new to Hunter for the 2011-2012 school year, Whisler and Powell said this will be their first trip to New York. This will be four-year veteran Hunter teacher Thacker's second trip to Columbia University's reading workshop. She will take advanced class sessions while Whisler and Powell take beginner sessions.

Whisler said Columbia's teaching strategy is put into play at Hunter through a mini lesson with a specific teaching point. For example, the reading teachers built a fantasy lesson around "Harry Potter." Teachers asked students to describe the setting in the book and how the setting interacts with the characters, plot and theme.

Hunter Middle School reading teachers allow students to read independently for about 30 minutes per class, while students struggling at their reading level meet in a small group with the teacher to work one-on-one. Advanced students also meet in a small group to receive material to expand their reading to keep them engaged in the class.

Whisler, Powell and Thacker also read aloud from books in their classrooms to keep reading a priority. Every student at Hunter is required to read for a few hours each week outside of school; Powell posts what she's personally reading on a list outside her classroom door to encourage them.

All Hunter Middle School reading teachers have large in-class libraries so students can check out books, according to Thacker.

The teachers are using a $6,400 grant for their upcoming trip, courtesy of Funds for Teachers and the Public Education Foundation, which is also funding Tyner Middle Academy teachers Lonna Henriquez and Lora Aycock's ongoing educational trek through Costa Rica.

To learn more about Fund for Teachers visit www.fundforteachers.org. To learn more about the Public Education Foundation visit www.pefchattanooga.org.