When Davis elementary school children open up their reading primers next fall, they will no longer find the short and almost nonsensical sentences about Dick and Jane and a dog named Spot but full color drawings and words crafted by top writers of children's literature.
The new reading program recently approved by teachers for 44 of Davis district's 45 elementary schools will emphasize more writing and thinking skills, said Veloy Richards, supervisor of elementary language arts."The program is literature driven," said Richards who notes that the language used in the new reading books sounds natural to children. Take for example the first line of the Dick and Jane series used for first graders for more than 30 years and the first line of the new book by author James Marshall.
The old books often sound funny to people who learned to read from them.
"See it go," said Dick. "See it go. See it go up."
The new books sound like normal speech.
One day a rabbit came to the beach. "Wow," he said. "I must paint a picture of this."
Richards said both books are designed for the same reading level, but the effect is much different.
"It used to be teachers would teach vocabulary words and then they were included in the short, choppy sentences. Now they will read the story and tie words and concepts back into what they have already read," Richards said.
Richards said most people during the past 30 years remember little of content of the early books they learned to read from. Educators hope the new program, based on suggestions from the recent National Academy of Education report "Becoming a Nation of Readers," will change that by not only teaching reading but values and stories that can endear young readers to good literature.
More important than just reading will be other activities that will connect reading with other skills. The Davis program will remove most workbooks from the classroom and force students to compose their own reports and give prepared speeches.
"This is whole language program. It will use the natural language and will teach them how to write. They will write their own stories. They will learn early on how to code the language. It will force them to read the language and get involved in reading, writing and speaking," Richards said.
Time students spend reading alone will also be expanded. Now most students spend only about five to seven minutes a day in school reading groups and then are given assignments in workbooks. Now reading time _ in groups and alone _ will be expanded to 45 minutes a day.
Terms for asking questions before reading, "thinking ahead," and asking questions after reading, "thinking back," will be used while teaching other subjects. Therefore, a reading exercise in science will also involve reading skills.
The program will also involve local libraries and parents. During each reading unit, parents will receive a flyer listing activities that will strengthen class instruction. Parents will also get a list of library books that match the ability level and topics being covered in in-class reading. School and local libraries have begun stocking those books.
Richards said that the new books will cost $775,000 and be funded through of shift of money now used for reading workbooks. The average cost per student will be about $25. The program will be used by about 31,000 students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
Older books will be kept by the schools for supplemental and take-home assignments, she said.