Grand Haven Tribune: Literacy efforts highlighted at Griffin
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Literacy efforts highlighted at Griffin

Krystle Wagner • Feb 27, 2019 at 1:00 PM

Griffin Elementary School students quietly read as community leaders visited their classrooms Tuesday morning.

Throughout the year, Grand Haven Area Public Schools provides community leaders with opportunities to visit district buildings as a way to learn firsthand about ongoing efforts and initiatives. The purpose of the tours is to give an inside look and dive deeper into topics, explained GHAPS Superintendent Andy Ingall.

Literacy efforts at Griffin were highlighted during a recent tour of the school.

Efforts surrounding literacy have changed through the years as they work to have students reading by third grade.

The Grand Haven district is in its second year of a new reading curriculum. Kindergarten and first-graders are also in their first year of a new phonics curriculum.

The district’s literacy specialists have transitioned into literacy coaches as they work to build capacity throughout the building to intervene with students, said Mary Jane Evink, director of instructional services for GHAPS.

Student progress is tracked through balanced assessments.

The efforts stem from the Essential Instructional Practices in Early Literacy, which narrowed their focus to doing the most “powerful” things to help students read by third grade, Evink said. 

The classroom libraries have also served an important role. The Grand Haven and Spring Lake school districts received a grant from the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation for classroom libraries. It equated to about $1,000 per K-4 classroom for digital, audio and physical books, Evink said.

Literacy coach Kara Endsley noted that all libraries play a role in meeting their goal to help students become critical thinkers and informed citizens.

The ways reading is taught has changed over the years. Griffin Elementary School Principal Debra Mann noted that when she started reading, everyone used the same book and answered questions. 

Now, teachers give a mini-lesson and demonstrate a reading strategy. The students then select a book and begin reading. As students read, the teacher goes around the room conferring with them about their reading goals and giving them feedback to grow.

Students can select the book they want to read from ones that are “just right” for their reading level. Endsley said they want students to read books that are “just right” for them but also challenging enough to work.

Endsley said research shows it is important for school libraries to have a variety of between 300 and 1,500 books, as well as recently published books. She said they are working on organizing the selections.

Funding for the libraries include parent-teacher organization wish lists, school book fairs, parent donations, Scholastic Book Clubs and the community foundation grant.

After visiting the classrooms at Griffin, the group reflected on what they experienced. The feedback is an important role in the school improvement process, Evink said.

Hannah Olechnowicz, executive director of the Grand Haven Schools Foundation, said she noticed students at different reading levels, and the work educators must do to keep track and up to date.

While visiting a first-grade class, Nancy Manglos, director of talent and leadership development for the local Chamber of Commerce, spoke with a student about sticky notes in a book. A face drawn on the note indicated it was a new fact to the student, and an exclamation point was something the student liked. Manglos said the notes provided a way to ask about the story, but also lead to more discussions about the topics in the book.

One woman wondered if the school has opportunities for parents to learn about the techniques teachers use so they can also use them at home. Mann said they’re in the process of creating video clips to help parents learn and understand, which they plan to send out in newsletter emails.

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