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Reading and writing alive and well at Kelso Elementary

'The Daily 5' provides individualized structure to learning
by: Garth Guibord, First grader Sydney Hutchings, 6, left, reads the book "Up in a Tree" to her classmate, 6-year-old Cooper Vincent.

In one corner, a girl who didn't like reading just a few months ago hopes to finish reading another book. In another corner, a girl reads a book to a boy, and the boy then shares what he heard in the story with the girl. In a third corner, a young boy eagerly continues to write a story in his notebook - one that has only a few blank pages remaining.

'I wrote this story called 'Fire Boy,'' said second-grade student Aaron Park, 7. 'There's this kid (and) he has the power of fire. Once he went sledding, he tripped and made a hot tub on the mountain.'

These scenes may seem like a teacher's dream, but they're happening every day in a few classrooms at Kelso Elementary School. And it's thanks to a new class structure introduced this year called The Daily 5, which fosters literacy development.

Each day, students take turns choosing from five activities: reading to yourself, reading to someone else, word work, writing or listening. Teachers gather the students in between sections for a little group work before sending them back on their own to continue their studies.

'Writing and read to self (are my favorites),' said second-grade student Tana Eri, 7. 'You can learn a lot more words.'

While the program isn't a change in the curriculum, it provides each student with a more individualized learning environment than before.

'We've always known the kids need to be doing these things, but we've been busy teaching little groups,' said second-grade teacher Kate Gordon. 'In essence we were giving kids a lot of packets of worksheets to keep them busy. This isn't just keeping them busy, it keeps them engaged in meaningful activities.'

'I can meet with kids one on one, and I can individualize their needs,' said first-grade teacher Jennifer Johnson. 'I think it's important to have the ability to choose within the structure we provide as teachers.'

Students are clearly responding to the format. Teachers track student development over the course of the year, and the results are impressive. One student gained approximately one year's worth of growth in writing over the course of two months. Another had a similar jump in reading during the same period.

'The amount that the second graders are writing, it would compare with what I would expect out of a third or fourth grader sometimes,' said Kelso Elementary Principal Pat Sanders. 'And what they're writing is good, it's quality.'

'As a first-grade classroom, I'm just totally amazed at how much these kids can do,' said Johnson. 'I never could imagine before this program that they could do this.'

The program also transforms the classroom from the traditional model with rows of desks to a more open format, with sofas, comfortable chairs, tables and carpets that make a more inviting environment for students.

'A kid will come in here, and they'll feel relaxed and calm,' said Gordon. 'It's a place to unwind; they feel like they're home. In essence, we've become a little family.'

Sanders noted that he hopes to bring the program into more classrooms during the school next year and that other schools in the district are also interesting in it. Seeing how kids at Kelso have taken to their reading and writing, it's easy to see why.

'I don't know, I just like (writing) for some reason,' said second-grade student Evan Goebel, 8. 'It's just become a part of my life.'