David Chatman licked his lips and focused on the page in front of him as he practiced reading with a teacher Tuesday.
It’s the middle of summer and Chatman, 4, hasn’t started kindergarten yet, but he was eager to show off his ability to sound out words.
“We go to the park,” he read aloud from a book, pointing at each word with his finger as he said it. Flipping the page he read, “We go to the zoo.”
Chatman is one of many students helping Hamilton County educators improve their craft this week at Orchard Knob Elementary School, as about 100 teachers, principals and assistant principals are voluntarily attending the district’s new Literacy Lab.
Jill Levine, the Hamilton County Schools system’s chief academic officer, said data showing nearly 60 percent of the district’s third-graders are not reading on grade level is “haunting” the school system. She said principals at some of the district’s middle schools report just 15 percent of their students are where they need to be when it comes to reading.
“We’re now starting to tackle this,” Levine said.
The Hamilton County Department of Education is hoping to take a more hands-on approach to literacy this upcoming year, Levine said. Plans are being developed to provide teachers with more professional development opportunities like the Literacy Lab, and to bring additional training and support to teachers at the school level.
The Hamilton County school board also recently voted to approve 15 new literacy positions at several middle and elementary schools across the county that have large shares of students struggling to read, hoping to give schools extra support to boost literacy scores.
Levine said programs like this allow educators to practice and be coached in how to better teach guided reading.
“Teachers have to be able to practice with real kids,” she said. “That’s what makes for good professional development.”
And that is exactly what teachers attending the Literacy Lab did Tuesday. They received training from some of the district’s literacy coaches and practiced what they learned with students attending Orchard Knob Elementary’s summer Jump Start program.
Heather Modrow, a special education teacher at East Ridge Middle School, said she chose to participate in the Literacy Lab because the program provides her the opportunity to learn how teachers in general education classrooms are teaching reading.
“This helps me be on the same page with the other teachers in my building,” Modrow said. “I’m now able to better support my kids.”
She said that often her students will move between her special education classroom and general education classes, and she wants to help make the transition between classes as smooth as possible for them.
Sitting around a table in one of the school’s classrooms, Modrow and a group of educators began compiling data they collected during the previous session with Chatman and other students. Then the teachers, with the help of a literacy coach, developed lesson plans tailored to the needs of the students and prepared to teach the newly designed lesson later in the day.
Ellis Ann Edwards is a new kindergarten teacher in Hamilton County and will be at Orchard Knob this year. She said at her previous job in Georgia she never received professional development.
“This is awesome,” she said Tuesday. “I’ve been aching for it.”
She said for years she learned about teaching specific reading techniques online, and now she gets the opportunity to learn from a professional and also be coached throughout the year.
And for Chatman, he and his Jump Start classmates benefit this week from extra instruction, which he enjoys.
“I just really like words,” he said.