Nettleton puts greater emphasis on reading, writing

Estevan Lira Avina, left, Payne McDaniel, and their classmates read during “Drop Everything And Read” time Monday morning in Brandie Williams’ fourth-grade classroom at Nettleton Upper Elementary School. (Lauren Wood)

Estevan Lira Avina, left, Payne McDaniel, and their classmates read during “Drop Everything And Read” time Monday morning in Brandie Williams’ fourth-grade classroom at Nettleton
Upper Elementary School. (Lauren Wood)

By Chris Kieffer
Daily Journal

NETTLETON – Nettleton students will spend a lot more time reading and writing this year.

As part of the school district’s new literacy initiative, fourth- to 12th-graders will read more books, see more open-ended test questions and participate in projects that span multiple subject areas.

“I really believe this will have a large but a quick impact with our students,” said Nettleton Superintendent Russell Taylor.

Taylor envisioned the initiative after hearing a presentation at a summer conference about a Massachusetts district that had success using it. Taylor attended the Model Schools Conference in Washington with several other local administrators with funding from the Toyota education endowment.

Nettleton’s program focuses on four areas of literacy: reading, writing, speaking and reasoning. In this first year, reading and writing will be particularly emphasized.

“We’re making every class a reading and writing classroom,” Taylor said.

On Monday, students in Brandie Williams’ fourth-grade class sat quietly in their desks, reading different novels each had chosen. Across the hall, sixth- to eighth-grade physical education students were in the auditorium writing a three- to five-paragraph essay about the rules of football.

“Reading is like anything else in that they have to practice,” Williams said. “The more they read, the better they’ll become.”

The district expanded its school day by 30 minutes – it now lasts from 7:40 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. – and used that time to add an eighth period to the schedule. Fourth- to eighth-grade students use that time to have 30 minutes every day to read independently.

“We want them to develop good, lifelong habits,” said Nettleton Upper Elementary Principal Robert Black.

Meanwhile, high school students will read two books every nine weeks in their English course and a third each quarter in either science or social studies. Sometimes that third book may be one that applies to both subjects.

The high school students also will have to complete a research paper in their English class each year.

“We really want to improve reading ability and comprehension, and we really want our kids to be effective writers,” said Nettleton High Principal Melissa Thomas.

Other subject areas also will be involved. Shelley Parman, who teaches P.E. at the Upper Elementary and Junior High, said she will have students read magazine articles about sports and write essays about various topics they cover in the class.

Students also will be given more open-ended questions on their tests during the year, requiring them to use more writing and critical thinking. Taylor said the initiative will help with Nettleton’s transition to the Common Core State Standards, which also emphasize reading, writing, critical thinking and collaboration across subject areas.

The district will provide sixth to 12th-grade parents with regular reports on their child’s Lexile score, which measures reading ability. The report also will show required Lexile levels of various benchmarks: high school literature courses, ACT tests, college textbooks, legal documents, etc.

“I think it will create a lot of conversations with parents about where we need to go,” Taylor said.

chris.kieffer@journalinc.com