“I like it because there are a lot of good stories,” said fifth-grader Shaleigh Isom, 10. “And it’s fun to do.”
The school piloted the program for about five months last year and, after seeing improvements in standardized test scores, decided to continue and expand it this year for students in grades three, four and five.
“We’ve had some fantastic breakthroughs,” Tenino Elementary principal David Ford said. “We’ve had kids who have said it was their favorite part of the day.”
The 270-student school recently was named a National PRO Model School by the National Reading Styles Institute, a research-based organization that developed the program. As part of the recognition, Ford was asked to lead workshops about his school’s experiences with the program during a July conference of teachers and principals from all over the nation.
PRO is a program students can do anywhere they have access to a computer and the Internet, including in the classroom, at the school’s computer lab and at home.
Kids follow along with a story that’s read over the computer; they also play games that are designed to strengthen vocabulary and reading comprehension. Afterward, they read the story out loud and summarize it to an adult.
Tenino Elementary student-support coordinator Heather McCarthy, who oversees the program, said the students enjoy PRO’s content. One of the main reasons it works, she said, is because the stories are narrated slowly, in a way that almost over-emphasizes words and phrases and helps students learn how to read with expression and fluency.
“While the students track with the mouse, they’re learning and seeing the word, and the brain has time to put those two things together,” she said.
Although PRO is designed for all levels of readers, including those in special education and gifted programs, Tenino Elementary teachers primarily use it to help students who need a boost to get their reading skills up to grade level.
“You can see and feel the program working for our kids,” Ford said.
About 110 kids are enrolled in the program this fall, but it’s a number that can rapidly change because once students reach grade-level expectations in reading, they don’t need to use the program anymore, he said.
The school pays about $30 a child for a license to use the software, Ford said.
In addition to traditional reading instruction in their classroom, students in the program spend about 30 minutes a day in the school’s computer lab, working on their PRO activities. They’re encouraged to use PRO at home, too, with their parents.
Eleven-year-old Chuck Malanitch said he entered fourth grade last fall with a second-grade reading level.
After several months of PRO, he was reading at a fifth-grade level, he said.
In fact, Malanitch enjoyed the program so much he pleaded with Ford to let him stay in it a little longer.
“I think it’s more helpful than sitting and reading a book with an adult,” he firstname.lastname@example.org 360-754-5433 theolympian.com/edblog