By Teachers, For Teachers
When the music came on in Amanda Wren's kindergarten classroom on a recent December morning, students perked up as they started to sing new vocabulary words they were learning instead of reciting them.
Using the analogy of an engine at the front of a train, they practiced identifying the sounds at the beginning of words.
"Map, the engine says mmmm at the front of map," they sang in unison. "Mouse, the engine says mmmm at the front of mouse."
Cleveland Elementary School is one of 21 Chicago public schools employing Reading in Motion's Benchmarks program that uses the arts to help at-risk students learn to read.
"Our philosophy is if you can make that really fun and engaging, then kids will attend to it, they'll pay attention to it and they'll want to do it over and over," said Karl Androes, the group's executive director.
Reading in Motion is one of many organizations supported by Chicago Tribune Holiday Giving, a campaign of Chicago Tribune Charities, a McCormick Foundation Fund.
Androes co-founded the group 29 years ago. Although it used to work with a wider range of ages, it has zeroed in on kindergartners and first-graders.
"At the end of first grade, if the kids are where they should be, 88 times out of 100 they're going to be that kind of reader for the rest of their lives," Androes said.
Teachers who use the program, which is available in English and Spanish, do so about 40 to 50 minutes a day, five days a week. Reading in Motion reaches 3,800 students per year and is striving for 10,000 by 2017, Androes said.
In the most recent effectiveness study, the group looked at reading scores for 10 kindergarten teachers' classrooms before and after having the program. The study found 63 percent of the students were reading at grade level in 2010 before the program was implemented and 92 percent were at grade level the following year after using the program. At the end of last year, all of Wren's kindergartners were reading at grade level.
"Reading in Motion makes it very easy to differentiate them (students), and also it's highly motivational with the songs and the rhythms," Wren said. "They really enjoy that."
After singing several songs with the entire class and using flash cards to practice the sounds that two letters make when combined, Wren sent small groups of students to stations where they each worked on different activities like shaping letters with Play-Doh, cutting out pictures and drawing.
In the meantime, Wren worked directly with five students on reading "Tam and Sam in the Orange Grove." As they dove into the story on their own, she encouraged them to use the visual clues in the book as well as their knowledge of the sounds letters make to help decipher any unrecognizable words.
"The more you practice, you know those words and you can just read quickly and smoothly because you've already gotten over all the trouble words," she told them.
Through the Benchmarks program, Wren gets coaching too. Teachers in the program go through training in the summer and during the school year to learn the program's philosophies and activities to use with students. Reading in Motion coaches stop by the classrooms once or twice a month to provide support and guidance as the teachers implement the program.
"They just like the support of someone coming in and saying, 'Oh, I noticed this,'" said Little Tom Jackson, who has been a coach for 24 years. "They don't really have that because they're teaching at the same time their peers are teaching. So this additional person coming in and partnering with them (means) they have a lot of confirmations, a lot of building up of themselves."
For more information on Chicago Tribune Charities, go to chicagotribune.com/holidaygiving.