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Rec and reading

Many researchers and educators agree that reading is the single summer activity most strongly and consistently related to achievement gains. Children who begin to develop literacy skills in Grade 1 can regress over the summer months without consistent and continuous reading instruction.

Rec N' Reading is an early intervention literacy program for children at-risk in their reading development that balances literacy instruction with recreational activities.  Students are referred to the program by their Grade 1 teachers after they were found to be reading below grade level in the Developmental Reading Assessment test (DRA).

Piloted by the Langley School District in 1999, the Rec N' Reading program was adopted by the Killarney Secondary School team for the Champlain Community School in 2006. This summer, five Community Schools teams at the Vancouver School Board offered eight Rec N' Reading programs for Grade 1 students.

This June, the Killarney Secondary team's program ran for 16 days and was attended by 20 Grade 1 students from neighbouring schools: Carleton; Champlain; Champlain Annex; Cook; Kingsford-Smith; MacCorkindale; Waverley; and Weir. The day-long program operates with one teacher, one programmer and four to six high school and college student volunteers.

"We give the students a lot of individual attention and follow a distinct format developed to increase literary skills," explains Colleen Dickie, one of Killarney's community schools team coordinators.

Rec N' Reading focuses on building reading skills, and more importantly, on building confidence," says Dickie.

Students take part in guided reading, literacy centres, word work, games and afternoon recreational activities including visits to parks and the local public library.

Each morning the entire group of kids, most of whom come from different schools and don't know each other are brought together for a morning message and poem. This activity reinforces high frequency words (ie. the, it, and) that students encounter frequently in reading and writing.

Leading literacy researcher, Barbara Frye wrote that it's critical that students develop automatic recognition of these words because comprehension begins to break down when students are focused on trying to decode or sound out words. Students need to be able to read up to 300 words instantly as they make up 65 per cent of all written material.

During the rest of the day, students follow structured literacy activities including guided reading where they read books are at their instructional level and supervised work at "literacy centres" where students work independently or in pairs on projects. These small groups allow the teachers and tutors to engage in one on one instruction, observation and evaluation work.

All the activities incorporate fun including word work where students take letters and create words that they record in their note books. Students were also taught a variety of board games such as Boggle, Scrabble and Sight Word Bingo. Active listening skills were challenged by listening to taped stories and songs.

Each afternoon the students got a chance to stretch their legs and get outdoors with outings to local parks and weekly field trips to the Vancouver Public Library Champlain Heights branch where they received personal library cards, explored the collections and enjoyed readings by the community librarian.

Parents and guardians play a critical role in motivating students and time was dedicated end day for reading together. 

As a result of the one-on-one support and structured activities of the Rec N' Reading program all the students received higher scores on their DRA testing. "As educators we are often challenged with measuring success. With the DRA scores we can measure success when the children enter the program and when they are tested at the end of the program," said Dickie.

Throughout the year the Community School teams continue their literacy support with after-school Homework clubs and other programs. Two of these are before school programs which encourage parent or guardian participation: "Share the Stories" at Champlain Annex and "Early Bird Readers" at Cook Elementary.

"We invite parents to come to school early once a week to have a cup of hot chocolate and read with their children," said Dickie. "For those parents who don't speak English at home we provide dual-language books so they can share the experience of reading together and hopefully make it a priority at home."

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