LETTER PATTERNS

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

NETTLETON – As she prepared to give a recent lesson, Tina McGaha arranged a series of colorful tiles with different letters across the surface of a table.
Blue and red tiles had consonants. The yellow tiles had vowels.
Some held individual letters. Others contained combinations.
When seventh-grader Will Riley entered the room and the lessons began, McGaha rearranged the letters to form words and then asked Riley questions about those words and their sounds.
The lesson featured the Barton Reading amp& Spelling System, a program the Nettleton School District uses to improve the reading skills of some of its students. McGaha is the district’s Barton tutor.
“Sometimes children don’t get that extra time,” McGaha said. “With this you are one-on-one with a child. You can see their weaknesses and their strong points.
“They can see the letters, and it helps get them more involved.”
This is the fourth year Nettleton Schools have used the Barton system. It is the second year the district has used it extensively in first grade as an early measure to help students who have difficulties when learning to read.
The program is funded by a $25,000 grant the district received from the state to battle dyslexia.
“If you are not reading on grade level in third grade, you are twice as likely to drop out of school,” said Jennifer King, Nettleton’s Special Education director. “This is part of our own bigger dropout plan.”
But it is not only for students who have been diagnosed as dyslexic.
All first-grade students at Nettleton Primary take a DIBELS assessment test at the beginning, middle and end of the school year.
Students who show risks for reading failure on the test begin receiving 90 minutes of Barton tutoring each week.
The program has 10 levels for students to master, from the sounds a word makes to Latin roots and Greek words. The lessons involve exercises with the blocks and questions the tutor will ask the student. Students also use worksheets to spell words, form sentences and read stories.
Riley said the exercises help him to read better and to break down bigger words.
“It will show how you use the letters and how they go together,” Riley said.
About 75 students in the district receive Barton tutoring, including 24 first-graders. It is for both special education and general education students.
In addition to McGaha, the district’s assistant teachers and AmeriCorps teachers serve as the tutors. McGaha trains all of the tutors. The tutoring is often done one-on-one, and no more than three kids are present at a time.
McGaha said she’s seen students improve their reading ability by a grade level in a matter of months, and has heard similar stories from other teachers.
Another impact has been a decline in the number of special education students. This year, the district has 16 special education students in third grade but four in second grade.
This year’s second grade was the first class to receive extensive Barton tutoring.
“I think we’re paying much more attention to the students who are having trouble, and we’re giving them an intervention that has been successful,” said Tracy Colburn, special education case manager. “We’re targeting the areas where they have problems.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.