Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Once Upon A Time, Carroll Students Found Some New Books…

Exciting changes have been taking place around Carroll ISD neighborhoods this year. Students are begging for later bedtimes, smuggling flashlights into their rooms at night, and asking to hang out at Town Square more often.  The impetus for these behaviors is different than you may think.  Bedtimes have been postponed due to kids begging to be able to read to the end of their chapter, flashlights have been traveling into bedrooms to enable sneaky children to read their books under the covers after the lights go out, and hanging out at Town Square is actually a way to shop for books at the Southlake Public Library or Barnes and Noble on the weekends.

A focus on literacy has been the theme for Carroll ISD this year with the “Once Upon A Dragon” program that has led to numerous literacy-promoting initiatives throughout the district.  These new reading behaviors have become much more prevalent in our town as the result of differences taking place in English Language Arts classrooms and around all of the school buildings in the district.

For several years, Carroll teachers in grades K-4 have been creating rich learning environments for reading and writing workshop instruction with their students.  During the past two years, students in grades 5-12 have started experiencing similar forms of workshop instruction as well. Teachers are keeping the strong aspects of the curriculum that have been a part of their successful ELA classrooms in the past and adding in programs that teach students not only to be able to read, but to LOVE to read.

Strong reading skills are critical for student success beyond their years in Carroll ISD.  Regardless of which career path students choose, being a fluent, comprehending reader can help to ensure success.  In order for fluency and reading skills to develop, students must spend significant time practicing the activity. For this reason, many secondary ELA classrooms are encouraging (and in some cases requiring) much more “choice” reading by students outside of the class day. It is important for Carroll graduates to see reading as a viable, desirable form of entertainment. Teachers have been describing numerous examples of students who have reported avoiding all reading in recent years, but due to the renewed focus on reading for pleasure in their English Language Arts classrooms, they are returning to reading and are pleasantly surprised by how much they are enjoying the new hobby.

The benefits of reading extend beyond success in ELA classrooms.  Research has shown strong links between the number of pages students read and their vocabulary development.  Students with well developed vocabularies and reading skills perform more successfully on the SAT, ACT, AP, and STAAR tests. These skills also translate into other content area classrooms.  Carroll social studies, science, and mathematics teachers are also seeing the benefits of the “cool” culture of reading that students are starting to create.  Historical fiction, biographies, and non-fiction texts provide students with insights and background knowledge that can help them succeed in all subjects.

The Once Upon A Dragon theme has spawned countless ideas and connections to literacy across the district.  Some of these include:

  • 40 book challenge initiatives for reading in some ELA classrooms
  • A “friendly” competition for number of books read between the freshman and sophomore classes at CHS
  • Dr. Faltys encouraging reading with our community’s pre-schoolers at the Southlake Public Library
  • The participation of hundreds of district employees in a book donation drive coinciding with Convocation last August
  • Teachers attending professional development and joining “book clubs” to learn new ways to encourage both a love of reading and strong reading skills
  • Librarians creating “speed dating with books” activities and other innovative ways to connect students to books
  • Teachers providing daily/weekly blocks of time for all class members to read any book of their choice
  • The recent addition of “What I’m Reading Now…” signs outside of classrooms and offices around the district

The effects have been significant.  Libraries have seen circulation numbers increase by as much as 60% over last year. Students can be seen tucked away in nooks of campuses reading books during down time. Teachers and administrators are observing a fresh enthusiasm for reading and writing across their campuses. So, the next time your child asks where the flashlight is, please smile and hand it to them.  In fact, grab a book and snuggle up with them.  You may be surprised by how much you enjoy it.