New reading effort targets pre-school, primary grades

Print More

To get a head start preparing young children to read, and ultimately be successful in school, CPS is expanding its reading initiative to include pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and 1st-grade.

The move stems from an analysis of the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills that showed younger students were coming to school with limited literacy skills. “In the primary grades, we found that word knowledge is a deficiency, so we want to make literacy a larger part of our younger children’s time,” says Albert Bertani, chief officer of professional development.

The district’s efforts to improve early childhood literacy skills will focus on teacher professional development, cross-training of faculty and coaching reading specialists.

CPS started its primary reading initiative in August, hosting a four-day literacy conference for early childhood teachers from 75 public schools and a half-day workshop on early literacy teaching strategies.

The latter was attended by 4,000 pre-K and kindergarten teachers from CPS and some state-subsidized early childhood programs.

Schools that participated in the four-day conference sent teams of pre-K, kindergarten and lst-grade teachers to learn how to cultivate children’s literacy skills through story-telling activities and integrating play and the arts. Back at their schools, the teams, with the assistance of a reading specialist, are expected to share the strategies with their early childhood colleagues.

CPS expects all preschool and primary grade teachers will be trained in three years. The primary reading initiative does not mandate a certain amount of daily reading instruction. (Grades 2 through 8 are required to teach reading two hours a day.) However, teachers are being asked to infuse their daily lessons with literacy skills, says Lucinda Lee Katz, chief officer of early childhood education.

Principals and area instructional officers will monitor reading progress at each school, and districtwide results will be tracked by the CPS Office of Curriculum Development.

Assessment tools that evaluate reading skills will be used to review progress, Katz says. And the district’s Early Literacy Framework, which focuses on goals like reading fluency, knowledge and comprehension, will guide teachers’ work, she adds. The framework was created last year by CPS administrators and teachers and emphasizes the Illinois Early Learning Standards, state benchmarks for what children should know at early stages of their development.

The district’s decision to target primary grade levels “is a good thing,” says Donna Ogle, a reading and language professor at National-Louis University and former president of the International Reading Association. “The first few years are critical, and there are so many things that can be done to develop literacy. Schools and teachers are now building on that.”