Joliet students get boost in meeting state standards
By Catherine Ann Velasco email@example.com December 1, 2010 7:34PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
JOLIET — When her students are reading in her classroom, teacher Alessandra Teodori Jensen makes sure they aren’t pretending.
“Pretend reading is reading fluently, but not thinking about what you are reading. You’re thinking about something else. I’ve done it before,” said Teodori-Jensen, a fifth-grade bilingual teacher.
To wake up from pretend reading, she encourages critical literacy where she teaches students to think about their reading, relate it to their own personal experiences and ask questions.
“They are able to think more deeply about current events and write about it and speak about it,” she said. “They have to realize, too, that they do have their own opinions. It’s OK not to agree on the same things.”
For example, many of her bilingual students could relate to the book, “Esperanza Rising,” by Pam Munoz Ryan, which is about a Mexican girl’s fall from privilege and riches after she immigrates to California in the 1930s.
Students went home and talked to their parents about their experiences about crossing the border and the issue of immigration.
“It opened up the floodgates and emotions,” she said. “Students could really relate.”
Teodori Jensen is one of 39 teachers at Cunningham Elementary School who is bringing critical literacy into their classrooms as part of a partnership with Lewis University to bring up test scores and make reading more relevant for students.
Cunningham Elementary School is in its second year of Academic Early Warning Status for not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress on its Illinois Standards Achievement Tests. Last year, 59.7 percent of its students met or exceeded standards in reading while 81 percent did in math. The state target last year was 77.5 percent.
To help teachers boost students’ reading skills, the district is working with Consultant Robin Danzak, a visiting assistant professor in speech-language pathology at University of South Florida Sarasota Manatee through the Lewis University partnership.
Lauren Hoffman, director of the educational leadership doctoral program at Lewis University, said it was a bonus that she found Danzak whose specialty is in bilingual critical literacy.
Critical literacy is a way of thinking and engaging students differently so they do question and challenge, Danzak said. Critical literacy is more active than isolated reading in school. If students read something and think what they read was unfair, they need to explore and question those issues through multi-media opposed to the standard text book.
“Critical literacy is really encouraging kids to begin to question power issues in society, social issues in society, political issues in society,” Hoffman said. “It’s not only helping them to read … but also to help to understand their world.”
Not just apples
For example, it’s common for students to have a lesson on apples each fall. But when using critical literacy as a platform, the teachers at Cunningham came up with a different approach, looking at how some communities don’t have fresh fruit at their grocery stores, Hoffman said.
That issue could lead students to interviewing community members on what kind of access they have to healthy food and fresh fruits which could lead to students becoming activists and talking to community leaders on what can be done, Hoffman said.
Teachers want students to make those real-life connections and help them grow into compassionate and engaged life-long learners who will question the world, using literacy to solve problems, ask questions and possibly create solutions, Danzak said.
Students learn that reading and writing is not something that they do to pass a test, but it’s an activity that they can do for the rest of their lives, Danzak said.
“If they can do that, they can pass the test,” she said.
“We are thrilled to have a new partnership with Lewis University to assist our Cunningham teachers and students,” said Sandy Gavin, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Joliet Grade School District. “Recently, Dr. Robin Danzak conducted an all day in-service with our Cunningham teachers. The emphasis was on critical literacy and academic language development for bilingual learners. Teachers were very excited to implement all that they had learned in their classrooms.”
The district is sharing the cost of hiring Danzak as a consultant, paying $3,300.
Cunningham Principal Maria Arroyo is excited to work with Danzak and Lewis University.
“I like the fact that we are focusing on literacy which is our weakest area across the board in the district,” she said. “Critical literacy is taking what the kids are learning in the classroom and taking it beyond the classroom and make it more meaningful. …It helps them beyond just the textbook, pencil and paper. It’s more project-based learning.”
Arroyo said they are developing units that focus on the critical literacy philosophy. They hope to create a community project that would be linked to critical literacy.
The partnership also includes five education students from Lewis who work in the classrooms at Cunningham as an extra pair of hands.
Diane Stein, a fifth-grade teacher with 32 students, appreciates the help.
“It helps to have an extra set of hands to work one-on-one with the kids. It’s a large classroom,” she said. “There are a lot of kids who need a lot of attention.”
Her job is a tough one because she needs to help some students who are at a third-grade reading level get to a fifth-grade reading level by the end of the year. She did it last year so she’s confident she can do it again by working with students in small groups, analyzing student data and finding out where they are struggling.
Andrea Grundon, elementary major at Lewis, started helping out in Stein’s classroom in October.
“It’s been really interesting to work in here and see how the students have grown even in the short time that I’ve been here,” she said.
She works with students to show them how to make literature meaningful to themselves.
“When they do it and are able to make the connections they are able to understand and their comprehension goes up, she said.
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