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How Does Imagination Boost Vocabulary?

Program Aligns with Reading Now Network


Godfrey Elementary School English language-learner teacher Jackie Wearing’s students were learning vocabulary during the Swoop reading intervention program. Their challenge: to end this sentence: “Chloe’s intention is…” while looking at a picture of a girl playing a guitar.

“Chloe’s intention is to be a country singer,” said one third-grader.

“Chloe’s intention is to be a successful singer and country artist,” said another.

Then things got silly. “Chloe’s intention is to sing ‘E-I-E-I-O,” said one boy, laughing.

In other classrooms throughout the third-through-fifth grade school, students worked in groups, taking part in the new 45-minute reading intervention program that serves every student in the school four days a week.

Jennifer Ramirez works on her reading
Jennifer Ramirez works on her reading

No longer are students pulled out of class for reading intervention. Swoop is a school-wide program (“swooping” in to classrooms) started this school year to meet the needs of every student, said Sara Dewey, reading specialist.

“Every student is receiving some kind of support to bring them to the next level,” Dewey said. “It’s all hands on deck.”

The program aligns with findings of Reading Now Network, a collective effort representing 13 counties. The study found that schools with third-grade reading proficiency rates above their peers with similar demographics have an uncompromising focus on reading. Overachieving schools studied by RNN field study members included Byron Center Public Schools’ Brown Elementary, which uses a model similar to Swoop.

Meeting All Students’ Needs

The formerly used model of pulling students out of class for reading intervention often resulted in their missing important class time, Dewey said. “Not all of the kids were getting what they needed, and it was disruptive to the teachers. Now, it’s ‘here’s your 45 minutes (of Swoop) and you don’t have to think about it for the rest of the day.'” Teachers have a separate classroom literacy block as well.

It takes the full staff to operate, she said. Nineteen teachers, five paraprofessionals, two ELL teachers and two specialists work with reading groups, from enrichment to one-on-one with students who need intensive support, Dewey said. Students track their own progress as well.

“We learn reading and try to reach our goals,” said third-grader Desiree Huitron, who is working to read 75 words per minute.

“I learn things I never knew,” added Adeline Monarrez, also a third-grader, while reading non-fiction. “I like these stories because everything I read is everything I learn.”

Swoop uses various strategies including computer programs and group reading. Many students, who speak English as a second language, need to zero in on vocabulary though they are already fluent readers, Dewey said. On a recent morning, one group was learning about idioms like “costing an arm and a leg” that don’t make sense in Spanish.

Oscar Ramirez learns what an idiom is, writing about “costing an arm and a leg”
Oscar Ramirez learns what an idiom is, writing about “costing an arm and a leg”

Godfrey-Lee Public Schools is a low-income district with a high percentage of English-language learner students. There is a high level of need, and traditional intervention methods focus on students who are below grade-level proficiency.

“It’s nice to see the students who would not be typically serviced gain the support they need, especially those enrichment kids,” Dewey said. “They are usually overlooked. It’s really nice to see them also receive support to continue to push on. They are already above-level students, but we want to keep them on that course. It’s nice to see every student getting exactly the prescription that they need.”

Progress is checked every two weeks to see if students are ready to move up to the next level. “Our enrichment group is getting really big,” she said.

Principal Andrew Steketee said he is seeing growth in reading proficiency. “The staff has really bought into it… Every student is being serviced, so there is no room for students to fall through gaps.”

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Kelloggsville’s New Intervention Program

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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