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Case work: give students reason to read

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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Case Middle School faculty members are developing new reading programs and building a library with a wide variety of books this school year because they believe the more kids read, the better they read.


"One of the challenges in middle school is density; books are fatter than the kids are used to," Case Literacy Coach Karen M. Ringwald said. "This level is more specific to content and the challenge is to keep kids reading."


School administrators and teachers are aiming to bring into the school more books that middle school students will like, to boost students' desire to read outside the classroom and to pinpoint students' specific reading difficulties.


The middle school level presents some challenges when it comes to reading, because it marks a transitional phase between the emphasis on reading skills at the elementary level and the more content-driven reading at the high school level, Mrs. Ringwald said.


One of the keys to keeping middle school students interested in reading is to build a big and diverse book collection in the school and classroom libraries, Mrs. Ringwald said. Some of the books students are reading now are poetry collections, some are written in a screenplay format and some are traditional novels.


At Case, it's not what book students are reading that matters, as long as they are reading.


"We want to reward students for reading in a way that doesn't base the reward on who has read more books or longer books than someone else," Mrs. Ringwald said.


School administrators and teachers started a program last month called "Caught Reading at Case," to encourage students to read a book after they finish a test or during lunch.


When students are caught reading by an adult at school, they are given a card to fill out and drop in a bin in the office. At the end of every month, there is a drawing for a gift card to Borders for one seventh-grader and one eighth-grader, Principal Donald W. Whitney said.


In December, 105 students were caught reading when it wasn't required for class, and some were caught more than once, Mr. Whitney said.


Case teachers are working on boosting reading skills in the classroom in newer ways too. One helpful instruction strategy is the grade looping that teachers do: they teach seventh grade one year and eighth grade the next year to work with the same group of students for a longer period, Case English teacher Jessica B. Brown said.


Another teaching strategy being used at Case this year is splitting students into smaller groups within the class, based on how they read. Teachers have a group of students for only about 40 minutes each day at the middle school, so it can be difficult to work on students' specific weaknesses when it comes to reading.


Boosting students' confidence when it comes to reading in and out of the classroom is important too, Mrs. Brown said.


And reading a 500-page book instead of a 50-page book might be all the boost students need.


"A lot of times, students are walking around with these big, fat books," Mrs. Brown said. "But the books are at their reading level so they're enjoying reading and they're not struggling."

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