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Literacy Instruction in the Early Primary Grades: One South Carolina School’s Experience

Literacy Instruction in the Early Primary Grades: One South Carolina School’s Experience

In Winnsboro, South Carolina, one Title I elementary school is committed to helping its youngest students become proficient readers. In this earlier blog post about Fairfield Magnet School for Math and Science (FMSMS), you learned about the action research study conducted by Dr. Latisha D. Lowery and her work to test the effects of the online reading program Reading Eggs among 2nd grade students. Guided by a statewide reading initiative and a relentless dedication to making instructional decisions steered by data, FMSMS is finding real results with this online learn-to-read program. This week, we’re talking to one of the 2nd grade teachers who participated in this study, in addition to the school principal and the district special projects director to learn more about their literacy program.

Proving Success

The verdict is in: Lowery confirmed in her study that the Reading Eggs program, when used as a supplement, was effective in improving reading proficiency scores. But the data really only tell half the story. In the words of Dr. Jennifer Etheridge, special programs director at Fairfield County School District, “I think it’s a fantastic example of data in action. So many times, we measure kids and measure them and measure them, but as everybody knows, it’s just numbers until you use it to change something.” And change the school did.

Lowery noted that after a six-week period in which one class of 2nd grade students used Reading Eggs for 60 minutes per week and another 2nd grade class did not, the pre- and post-assessment scores from The Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System 1 revealed a very telling story. “We discovered that [class A’s] kids experienced more growth because they were utilizing the Reading Eggs program,” said Paula Mendenhall, 2nd grade teacher in the control group of the research study at FMSMS. “So, of course, we decided that we would also implement that in my classroom as well.”

Following the six-week study, all 2nd grade students at FMSMS used Reading Eggs for the remainder of the 2016–17 school year. “We've come to the conclusion that the Reading Eggs program is a product in which the children, number one, enjoy,” commented Gale Whitfield, principal at FMSMS. “Number two, they are getting something from reading. They're learning skills from reading on the computer.”

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Meeting South Carolina’s Read to Succeed Initiative

Before we dive much deeper into how Reading Eggs is used, it’s important to understand the reading initiatives at the school and district level that led to this implementation. “Our school is trying to abide by what our state has put in place, that all children can be reading on the 3rd grade level by the time they leave 3rd grade, said Whitfield. “So, with [the Read to Succeed] act being passed, if a child is not reading on grade level at the end of 3rd grade, then we have to retain them, but not only that, if a child is not reading by 3rd grade, then there's no way they're going to succeed on the state assessment at the end of the year.”

With the end of 3rd grade representing a key turning point for these young students, the school leaders at FMSMS felt that an approach that focused on the formative years of literacy instruction was paramount to the school’s success. “Our goal here at our school is to make sure that we start in the earlier grades, like kindergarten, 1st, 2nd,” said Whitfield. “And, through the periodic assessments that we do, we know where the children are, and we know where we need to grow them to be before they even reach 3rd grade.”

In the words of Whitfield, becoming successful readers is also about much more than state mandates: “We have to make sure [students] can read and read fluently and comprehend what they’ve read and do word decoding to be able to figure out anything, even if it’s in math or if it’s in science or social studies. Reading does not stand alone; it is embedded into everything.”

Choosing Reading Eggs

Like many schools and districts, FMSMS had a variety of programs and tools at its fingertips—but with all of those choices, there wasn’t always clear direction as to what works best for students. “I think they really weren't being implemented with fidelity,” said Etheridge. “Not that they were bad programs—it was just piecemeal, if you will, and we were spending a lot of funds; a lot of people were investing time. It was actually at the suggestion of one of our principals that we started to look at Reading Eggs.”

Beyond teacher buy-in, it was also important to get students on board with using the program. “It was a piece of cake,” said Mendenhall. “We just presented it to them, and they played with it a little bit, and they just kind of ran with it, so it was pretty easy.”

When students use Reading Eggs to build their foundational literacy skills, they’re presented with a unique online experience. “Reading Eggs is more individualized,” said Mendenhall. “The students, of course, have to take an assessment in the beginning, and they have lessons that are catered to whatever that particular student’s needs are. They almost feel like they’re playing games and they’re just not really doing school work, so it’s interactive, and I think that made it interesting for them. They love it.”

Structuring a Successful Literacy Block

Even with finding an online tool that checked so many boxes, school and district leaders recognized that Reading Eggs was only one part of the equation. “I think [Lowery’s] study did a really good job of describing how [2nd grade students] used [Reading Eggs] along with the other interventions that they had in place as well,” said Etheridge. “I've never thought that any one thing was right for all kids, of course, so I think they have found a good place where this fits with the other interventions that they're doing.”

Both 2nd grade teachers at FMSMS use a balanced literacy approach to explore reading skills. “My students were participating in [the] Daily 5,” noted Mendenhall. “I had guided reading lessons daily, and the students were reading levelled books according to their Fountas & Pinnell score, and I also did one-to-one instruction as often as I could.”

In these 15-minute rotations, students successfully navigate independently through different stations, getting exposure to a variety of different reading experiences, while also giving the teacher the ability to simultaneously work with a small group of students. One of these rotations included working in Reading Eggs. “Of course, I’m not able to split myself to be able to cater to everybody at the same time,” said Mendenhall. “So that was one thing that I thought was helpful with the Reading Eggs program. I was able to get individualized help or instruction for each of the students.”

Driving Action with Data

Beyond the value of offering more personalized learning experiences, these educators additionally continued to come back to the value of the data gathered from Reading Eggs. “I’ve also been able to have some discussion with [Lowery] and her principal Gale Whitfield as well, and what impressed me the most about that [was] when they were talking about those kids who have moved on to the next grade level who still were not achieving at grade level, they were already talking in specifics about next-step interventions for them and exactly what [Fountas & Pinnell] levels they were reading at and exactly what was happening to continue that progress,” said Etheridge.

Not only was program data helpful for monitoring those learners still struggling, but it was equally beneficial for those learners working above grade level. “We can’t stifle the growth of these children,” said Whitfield. “We have to take them to the next level. So, by Dr. Lowery doing this study, it was just another piece of data that was absolutely wonderful that was geared toward our foundational grades.”

By charting the reading progress of students of all abilities, Reading Eggs became a widely accepted program that continues to be used in the primary grades this year as well. “I just think [Reading Eggs] is a good idea, and if it’s helpful, the data shows it, so I welcome it,” said Mendenhall.

Want to find out more about how Reading Eggs can support literacy efforts in your school or district? Check out our white paper on the complete research base behind this engaging, online, learn-to-read program!