"Literacy development is a lifelong process. Anyone new to the field should talk to literacy specialists, gather administrative support, research and collect the best materials, and visit other classrooms."
Eleanor Demont teaches fifth grade at the Heath School in Brookline, Massachusetts, a city that is home to many of Boston's teaching hospitals. Heath is the smallest public school in the town with 350-400 students in grades pre-K-8. Its literacy development program spans vertically across grade levels, enabling teachers to be aware of students' long-term development.
Ms. Demont's classroom of 20 is predominantly Caucasian students from Brookline, and includes some minority students that come to Heath through Boston's busing program.
In the featured lesson, Ms. Demont was teaching her students how to use summarization for comprehension of non-fiction texts. She discussed with her students the purpose behind summarization, and they worked together to identify vital information in a passage about Egyptologists. As a class, they applied strategies for summarization that they learned previously throughout the year. These strategies included inferencing, finding important information, coding texts, and making text-to-world connections. Ms. Demont's students knew how to read for important information, but they were just beginning to learn how to use these summarization strategies to make meaning.
After the group discussion, Ms. Demont encouraged her students to select their own texts and decide how they were going to read them (alone, in pairs, in small groups, or with her supervision). By differentiating instruction, Ms. Demont is able to teach the same information and strategies to a broad range of learners, allowing all students to participate equally in the same discussion. For example, in the taped lesson, students chose to read from a set of trade books (on the same topic) that ranged in reading level from third to sixth grade. Ms. Demont made certain that all texts would provide the same essential information despite variations in reading level. She carefully monitored student selections to be certain each was at an appropriate level or a "just right" reader.
Ms. Demont helps students identify "just right" books as a part of the school's literacy initiative. Every week, she spends one-on-one time with each student to discuss his or her literacy goals and progress. Her students read in class for a half-hour daily, allowing Ms. Demont the time she needs for these individual weekly conferences.
Ms. Demont's students applied the strategies learned from the summarizing lesson throughout the school year, segueing into other comprehension activities like research projects and class presentations.