By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
New books and new reading classes - in exchange for fewer electives - are in store for Havre students after the Havre School Board approved a revision to the communications arts curriculum Tuesday night.
School officials at the meeting said although the revisions are few, they are a marked departure from the way reading is currently taught.
"The work that we've done represents the largest amount of instructional change that I've seen in the six years I've been here," Havre Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Dennis Parman told the board before the vote. Superintendent Kirk Miller reiterated that point in an interview after the meeting.
The change will affect students in pre-first through 12th grades to different extents.
The middle school will experience the biggest change. There, the changes will mean a separation of traditional English classes into separate reading and literature courses. Students will retain the normal year-long English literature class, but in addition will take a mandatory semester-long course focusing entirely on reading skills. Elements traditionally taught while reading literature, like fluency, reading comprehension and vocabulary, will be moved entirely to the reading course, leaving the literature classes to focus on concepts like character and plot.
HMS teacher Greg Dolven said he just found he would be teaching two of the reading courses next year.
"I think it's really going to help the kids," he said. Dolven has taught English classes to seventh- and eighth-graders as well as in elementary school.
"We're just trying to bring our scores in reading (up), which are a little lower than what we would have liked," he said. He added that students who require more work might need to take two semesters of reading.
"The only drawback is that the kids are going to miss some of the electives," seventh-grade English teacher Sandy Evenson said this morning. She said cooking class is one of the classes scheduled to be cut next year.
"You only have so many hours in a day, and you've got to teach them the fundamentals first," added Evenson, who will be teaching two sections of the new reading class next year.
In the high school, a similar reading course may be used for students having difficulty with the transition into high school, Axel Schmaing, the school's English department chair, said in an interview Thursday night.
He said the department is "fairly comfortable with what we have," but that the curriculum will try to incorporate more nonfiction, like journalism and the essay, next year.
"We don't do as much with non-fiction as we should be," Schmaing said.
One HHS student at the school board meeting raised concerns that the changes would cause a reduction in the literature courses offered at the high school.
"Those final decisions haven't been made yet," Parman said, adding that the school faces different standards as a result of No Child Left Behind, President Bush's new education policy that relies highly on standardized test results to measure students' progress.
The schools have to focus on what the federal government requires, he said.
"What gets tested gets done," he said. "That may demand some time and money and electives."
Schmaing, who is retiring from Havre High this year, said he does not anticipate major course changes at the high school.
"Maybe a few years down the road we'll see a need," he said. "If we see a need we've not addressed, we can change a course or add one."
For reading instruction in grades pre-first through eighth, though, there will be a change in what the students read as a result of the adoption of a new single-publisher reading series for pre-first through sixth-grade, and another series of textbooks for seventh- and eighth-grades.
Parman said that reflects a shift from a literature-based methodology in which teachers buy individual works of literature to teach reading, to text books.
Instead of using the novel "Johnny Tremain" to improve reading skills, for example, eighth graders will still read the novel in literature class, but will use a textbook published by publisher Holt Rhinehart in the new reading class.
Parman said that was in part to ease teachers' work load.
Teachers using a literature-based approach at the elementary level had to make their own worksheets and vocabulary lists. "They were having to work way too hard," Parman said.
Parman said the changes also came about to raise standardized test scores.
"We weren't pleased with the results we were seeing on those tests," Parman said. "We just thought we can do better than this."
Teachers will undergo two multiple-day training sessions this summer to learn to use the new materials and discuss teaching techniques to improve students' reading comprehension.
The revisions also drop reference to French language classes from the high school curriculum. French was dropped two years ago due to budget considerations, but the curriculum was never altered to reflect that.
Spanish is the only language available at the high school. Parman said that will not change any time soon. "Our options are really founded in dollars," he said.
The curriculum changes were drafted by a project team consisting of administrators and teachers from the high school, middle school and elementary schools. The team, which began using meeting in August, used the research results published last spring by a national reading panel.
Math curriculum revisions were also presented to the board on Tuesday night.
The only major revisions will be the adoption of a new pre-algebra text book for the high school, and some changes in emphasis in the elementary and middle schools.
In grades K-five more emphasis will be placed on the memorization of computation facts and measurement skills, while grades in six-eight more emphasis will be placed on probability and