Beth McGrain helps Keunitae Dye (left) and Eddie Garner during the reciprocal reading portion of Historical Writing. According to McGrain, reciprocal reading emphasizes teamwork and supports independent comprehension skills.
By DAVID COOKE
Blytheville Schools PR Dir.
Blytheville Middle School teachers Beth McGrain and Sarah Harden are in their first year of teaching a class, Historical Writing. Principal Mike Wallace has observed Harden and McGrain’s integrated classroom and noted that the student engagement is “fantastic”.
Historical Writing, Wallace said, is a mix of integrated literacy and social studies, and he added that McGrain and Harden are among the best teaching duos BMS has ever had. “Among requirements to be successful as a teacher, the individual has to have a good rapport with each student, and those two ladies are very good at that,” he said. “I hope our school can grow more teaching teams that are very similar to them.”
Historical Writing is for sixth-graders, and Harden and McGrain teach three block classes of it every day, each block class 90 minutes long. Each class consists of 35-40 students, and the teachers break the classroom down to small groups of four students per group. This is done through reciprocal reading, a structured method of guided reading where students are gradually taught to take on group roles to explore and find meaning in texts. Reciprocal reading emphasizes teamwork and supports independent comprehension skills.
“Dividing the students into small groups helps each student improve his or her reading skills,” Wallace said. “In a small group the students are more likely to participate in reading, which makes learning much more likely.” The students take turns both reading and interpreting the text, and the teachers wind up building both the collaborative and presentation skills of those students.
The classroom is divided into eight to 10 small groups, with McGrain taking one side of the room and Harden the other. They will ask the students what, individually, they are reading and to verbally summarize what they’re reading. After a while Harden and McGrain will take “agency” grades and collaborative grades to make certain the students are learning correctly and working together.
Agency grades, said McGrain, are grades on each student “taking ownership” of what he or she is learning. “A daily collaboration grade is on how well the students are working together,” she added. “Our last daily grade for reciprocal reading is an Oral Communication grade, which is how well the students can successfully express their ideas.”
Wallace stressed that the key to student success in small groups is placing the correct students together.
At the end of the school year the sixth-graders will take the ACT Aspire Summative Exam, which Wallace said will show growth in reading. Harden stated that the ACT Aspire scores have increased in the last couple of years, “and we attribute this to reciprocal reading. It is a process where the students collaboratively read and discuss a text,” she added.
Students have used reciprocal reading for four years, and Wallace said the school began seeing notable improvement two years ago in English. Last year the improvement in reading went from 15 to 29 percent, which he said was “significant”.
Both Harden and McGrain love team teaching, and Wallace commented that the success they’re having is a result of that commitment. “They have implemented both reciprocal reading and their New Tech projects faithfully, and the students’ test scores, whether it’s the ACT Aspire or the (Degrees of Reading Power), are always some of the best on our campus.”
“We decided when we found out we would be doing this together”, McGrain commented, “that we would both teach literacy and history since we are both certified in these subjects. We decided that what would work best for us is to teach to our strengths. We both are learning so much from each other, which is the best part of working together. We feel it is helping us to grow as educators.”