Reading rituals in Russellville

Literacy Nights open up a world of reading

Cameron Larimore and Carter Epema search for words at a Literacy Night activity Tuesday at Cole County R-1 Elementary School, while Michael Larimore listens in.

Cameron Larimore and Carter Epema search for words at a Literacy Night activity Tuesday at Cole County R-1 Elementary School, while Michael Larimore listens in. Photo by Michelle Brooks.

RUSSELLVILLE, Mo. — Teachers at Cole County R-1 Schools include fun and technology in their attempts to share a love of reading with elementary students.

“I’ve always loved reading and wanted to help other kids understand it — since first grade,” said Erin Tellman, who has taught at Russellville the last seven of her 12 years as a teacher.

When a position in the Title 1 program became available, she moved from her fifth-grade classroom and soon was at the University of Missouri-Columbia completing a master’s degree in reading.

“Reading opens up so many worlds,” Tellman said. “You can get lost in a story or learn more about a subject.”

At home with her own children — first-grader Seth and Hannah, who will start kindergarten in the fall — reading is an essential part of their routine.

“We read books all the time,” Tellman said. “We take turns reading and we talk about the words.”

The reading rituals were passed down to Tellman from her father. Her copy of “The Best Nest” by P.D. Eastman fell apart, she loved it so much.

“I carried a book with me all the time,” she said of her childhood. “The only time I got in trouble in class was for reading when I wasn’t supposed to.”

With such a heritage and passion for reading, it can also be a challenge to teach reading skills to those who struggle, Tellman acknowledged.

“Reading is a complex process and different things work for different kids,” Tellman said.

Phonics, sight words, fluency and comprehension are the primary areas where students need help.

“We’ve all learned these skills,” Tellman said. “Once we’re proficient at it, we may not realize we’re doing it.

“That’s what’s tricky about teaching reading; it all goes on in your head.

“I do a lot of modeling and thinking out loud.”

Cole County R-1 benefits from three Title 1 teachers, two for reading and one for math. The school qualifies for federal funding because more than 40 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

“It’s not an absolute, but there’s a correlation that lower-income families often have lower education and less emphasis on reading,” Tellman said.

Throughout the school day, these specialists meet with selected students for an extra dose of teaching in these core areas. The elementary schedule is designed with What I Need (WIN) time, where all students from a class go somewhere so none miss out on regular classroom activities.

Through the last decade, the challenge of getting students involved with an actual book has increased, she said.

“I think we were getting to the point were the kids would think ‘oh, another book,’” Tellman said.

Technology is helping.

With the district’s distribution of iPads to every teacher in August, Tellman said she has been able to use the technology both as an incentive and as a new instruction technique.

“We’re definitely seeing higher engagement” this year, she said.

In the future, less reading may be done with ink and paper, but the need to understand the words will remain, she said.

Encouraging reading at home is a key component.

One way the school does that is with Literacy Nights held twice a year.

“We showcase ways to get students excited about reading,” Tellman said.

For the nearly 50 parents and students who turned out Tuesday, before the community pep rally for the high school cross country teams, the evening began with Debbie Schroer’s animated reading from “We’re Going On A Lion Hunt” by David Axtell.

Then word activities included a sight word search and synonym bingo — fun ways to get children and their parents talking about words.

“A lot of parents don’t know what it looks like to sit down and enjoy a book with a kid,” Tellman said.

“I think if kids are having fun, parents are too.”

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