Lighthouse materials get mixed reviews

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The Lighthouse program has no shortage of instructional materials. For the students, there are reading books, phonics books, reading workbooks, reading lab kits, take-home books, math workbooks and test-preparation books.

For the teachers, there are daily lesson plans for the 3rd, 6th and 8th grades, where children face the threat of retention if they don’t hit test-score targets. The plans were written by language arts experts in central office and teacher volunteers, according to Mattie Williams, manager of language arts support. They are based on an analysis of questions on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and on the Summer Bridge curriculum, she says.

So far, the commercially produced materials have received rave reviews, but the lesson plans have gotten a mix of thumbs-up and thumbs-down. The main complaint about the lesson plans is that they’re aimed over the heads of many youngsters.

Elaine Watkins, a 3rd-grade teacher at Morse Elementary in Humboldt Park, says the curriculum is too advanced for her students, all of whom are repeating 3rd grade.

For example, a reading lesson plan written for early in 3rd grade suggests teachers have their students describe the mood of a particular story; it then suggests that students explain how the mood changes as the situation changes. The plan also suggests students read together in groups of three.

Watkins chooses instead to have her children read, first silently and then aloud as a group, a story about a young girl losing her dog. In the discussion that follows, it appears as though the children have more fundamental things to grasp than mood.

When they have finished the reading, she asks: “What is this story about?” No response.

Later, she asks if anyone knows what an antelope is. “A fruit?” “As insect?” her students call out.

Says Watkins: “I’d rather work from my own curriculum.”

Demetri Smith, the Lighthouse coordinator at Morse, says most of the schools’ teachers set their own course. However, Smith likes the lesson plans.

“[Lighthouse] is not just for kids who are functioning at lower levels,” she says. “If a teacher has students that are on grade level, but she wants to push them further, the material addresses that.”

Patricia Kent, Principal of Penn Elementary, says her teachers have made adjustments, too. “Yes, I have to say most of my teachers are modifying the lesson plans. But they do like them, because they provide some guidelines,” she adds.

Rita Mitchell, principal of Carter Elementary, says her teachers think the materials and the lesson plans are very good, but they also modify them.

“All good teachers adjust the material for their kids,” she explains. “They may realize they have to explain something in a different way, but that doesn’t mean the plans are no good. My teachers like them. If they want to follow it step by step, they can. If they don’t, they don’t have to.”

Teachers’ reaction to the Lighthouse curriculum parallels those to the curriculum of the Summer Bridge program for low-scoring students.

Like Bridge Program

In a brief study released in October, the Chicago Panel on School Policy reports that “nearly all teachers stated that the curriculum content moved too fast and was geared toward higher-learning students.” Even so, the study notes, the lowest-performing students posted the largest average gains in both reading and math.

“We think the lesson plans are very good,” says Schools and Regions Chief Blondean Davis. “When kids are tutored in a specific area, it has to be very focused. With this curriculum, if a teacher wants to teach a certain concept, she can pull the lesson plan on that subject.”

However, she says she has no problem with teachers using their own methods, as long as children’s needs are being addressed.