LAND O'LAKES — Dozens of Pasco County elementary school teachers head back to work Monday aiming to instill the love of reading in struggling third-graders.
They'll be leading the district's summer reading camp for the students who scored a Level 1 in reading on the FCAT. Those 1,003 students are at-risk of being held back, if they cannot earn promotion through other means.
It's a larger number than in past years, in part because the state raised the standards for each level and the passing score for the test this year.
Several already have earned a "good cause" promotion. During the reading camp, those who attend can work toward successful completion of a portfolio demonstrating third-grade reading mastery, or take an alternate test to demonstrate their ability.
The teachers hope to help the children succeed by changing the way they approach reading.
"It's going to be a whole new spin for the kids," said Ona Walter, who teaches at San Antonio Elementary School.
Walter and about 50 other teachers spent Friday at a training seminar, focusing on how they can empower children to love reading while also helping them improve their literacy skills. One big conversation centered on creating classroom libraries that cater to student choices.
The goal is to get kids to read what they like and then fashion their lessons around those books.
"It's fostering a love of reading," Seven Oaks Elementary teacher Denise Crancer said. "Once they enjoy reading it and read more," she said, "their comprehension will improve."
And as the students find success, some of the other problems they have in school also might dissipate, said Maeghan Whelan, behavior specialist at Lake Myrtle Elementary.
"Success with reading will lead to success with behavior," Whelan said, noting that some behavior problems stem from lack of academic accomplishment.
As part of the program, students will share their thoughts with each other and their teachers through writing assignments on the district's Moodle site, a password-protected network. They'll even get to recommend books to each other.
Instructional trainer Danielle Varcardipone said kids have loved using Moodle during test runs in the school year. Last summer, students kept handwritten journals during the reading camp.
"We are trying to incorporate 21st century skills," she said. "Also, it's more motivating."
In the camp, the teachers will offer daily instruction on different ways to understand text, including small group practice and individual conferences focusing on each child's specific learning needs. The big deal, though, will be time for independent reading.
"I did it last year," said Cotee River Elementary teacher Kathie Muir. "The kids were almost waiting for you to put them at a desk. It was a big sigh — I can just come in and read."
The classes are slated to be no larger than 12 children each. They will run Monday through Thursday for 22 days.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.