For many scholars at Uplift Pinnacle, reading comprehension was a challenge when the school year began. Uplift Pinnacle third grade teacher LaToya Lewis loves to get into the DIRT, and because her scholars seem to agree, comprehension and critical thinking levels are on the rise.
The DIRT we’re talking about is the Daily Independent Reading Time (DIRT) program, an initiative Ms. Lewis cooked up to help improve her scholars’ reading skills. This critical literacy block allows scholars to choose a book of their choice and read for 15-25 minutes during class. After DIRT time is up, scholars are expected to complete a reflection sheet to check for comprehension. Ms. Lewis started the initiative to help scholars get into a habit of comprehension.
“I noticed our scholars struggled with critical thinking and comprehension skills after they read. I discussed the issue with other educators, and I found it was a common problem. I felt if I started an initiative where our scholars would be required to read and answer comprehension questions every time they open a book it would become a natural reaction for them to think about the characters, setting, main idea, and other important story elements while they read,” Ms. Lewis said.
Ms. Lewis decided to present her idea for independent reading and comprehension checks to Karen Salerno, the Director of Uplift Pinnacle, and the rest of the Uplift Pinnacle team. Ms. Salerno was equally concerned with the problem so she encouraged Ms. Lewis to follow through with her idea.
“What we valued about the DIRT initiative is that Ms. Lewis noticed a gap in our school-wide practice and brainstormed a potential solution. She brought her idea to the broader team, got feedback and made adjustments so that the idea could be effectively piloted. This was an example of each of our core values and particularly demonstrated the important skills of generating solutions instead of complaints, broadening one’s perspective beyond one’s own viewpoint and grounding decisions in data,” Ms. Salerno said.
Teachers are big fans of the DIRT program because scholars use the extra reading time to meet or exceed reading goals and become better readers. First grade teacher Lindsey Zahn is a believer after trying the program for one month.
“Since we started DIRT in April, I have seen so much growth. One of my scholars improved three reading levels after not showing any growth the entire year,” Ms. Zahn said.
DIRT also teaches scholars about the value of being prepared to read and learn. Each scholar is responsible to have a book that coincides with his or her reading level, finding a comfortable place, and being ready to read when the timer starts. Students are required to read the entire 15-25 minute period and cannot work on homework. Uplift Pinnacle third grader Timothy Walker is gaining confidence thanks to the program.
“I am a better reader now and it has helped me grow and get closer to meeting my goals. I like DIRT because we have more time to read,” Timothy said.