The students in Tracy Martin’s third-grade class at St. Agnes School in Avon have learned that reading can take them around the world, in more ways than one.
Each of Martin’s students has a small airplane figure positioned on a large world map in her classroom. Students move their planes a certain number of "miles" across the map for every 50 pages they read in books of their choosing, Martin said. Students record the title and length of each book they read, and Martin periodically totals up the number of pages each child has read.
After awarding each student the appropriate number of miles, Martin uses the map key to determine how many centimeters those miles equal, and the students move their planes a few centimeters across the map every few days.
Martin’s students love moving their planes, and this project provides a good way to teach them about geography while showing them that reading can be fun, she said.
"A lot of the children at this age are just starting to read for fun, and they don’t understand that there are a lot of different kinds of books out there," she said. "It’s important just to get them to realize that books are fun, and once they get into enjoying the flying part of it, then they realize that they really like the reading part of it, too."
Literacy is a priority at most Catholic schools, including Mother of Sorrows School in Greece, said Mary Pioli, enrichment and extension coordinator for the school. Reading and writing abilities are the building blocks of education, and all the other subjects build on this foundation, she said. Teachers at Mother of Sorrows stress these skills because students will always need them, even after their schooling is complete
"Our teachers are very attuned to the … skills needed for success in the real world. This is about (students) being productive in their lives," Pioli said.
Twice a year Pioli puts together MOS Kids’ Talk, a literary magazine that features students’ poems, essays, drawings and book reviews. The students always are eager to have their work included in the magazine, she said, and are usually thrilled with the end result.
"We do it so the kids can see the fruits of their labors. It really raises their self-esteem," Pioli said.
First-graders at St. Francis-St. Stephen School in Geneva also get a self-esteem boost from their involvement in the America Reads program, said Elaine Morrow, principal. Through this program, college students from nearby Hobart and William Smith Colleges are paired with the first-graders. The older students act as tutors and mentors for the younger students, and the pairs meet three times a week to work on the first-graders’ reading and writing skills.
"Their oral reading improves, their comprehension improves and they gain a lot of confidence because they’re given one-on-one attention," said third-grade teacher Sandy Schading, who has in previous years worked extensively with the school’s America Reads tutors.
The first-graders’ time with the America Reads tutors is in addition to their regular reading time, and the younger children really look forward to spending time with "the big kids," Morrow noted.
Dorothy Schuette’s third-graders at Immaculate Conception School in Ithaca look forward to silently reading on their own during the school day, she said. Each day the students spend about 20 minutes reading books of their choice during their D.E.A.R. time, when they "drop everything and read," Schuette said.
Schuette’s students also work on at least one major writing assignment each month, and in November their writing assignment was very much intertwined with reading. Each student was assigned to develop and write his or her own fable. Before embarking on the project, students first read a lot of fables, Schuette said.
"I think they were a little amazed at how tricky it was going to be," she said. "First they had to choose what the moral of the story would be, because without deciding that they wouldn’t be able to decide what the story would be about."
Once the students knew what they planned to write about, they then had to decide which animals would best portray the characteristics they wanted to write about. Each student then wrote a first draft, revised it and proofread the final copy before handing it in, Schuette said.
Schuette’s students enjoy writing, perhaps because it allows them to use their imagination and be creative, she said. At the same time, it helps them understand how to use other things they learn about, like spelling, punctuation and grammar.
"The best way to have kids work on those is to have them write. Otherwise the rules just seem so vague to them," she said.