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Indian Hill School Parents Critical of New Reading Program

The school district's highly touted reading program was met with a loud harrumph by some parents at a presentation Thursday.

Although literacy specialists say they are confident that the Reader's Workshop program will encourage students to become lifelong readers, some Indian Hill School parents aren't buying in.

More than 40 parents turned out to a presentation last night about the benefits of the new reading program that school officials believe will elevate student reading comprehension to a deeper, more meaningful level. But after a few months of listening to their frustrated children complain about what they describe as excessive note-taking and book discussion, some parents were anxious to vent their disapproval.

"I can tell you I have a daughter who was an avid reader. Advanced proficient on all her testing," said one mother during the Q & A. "And now, my daughter doesn't even like to read. It’s a burden. She doesn't like 'stop and jot.' She doesn't like 'turn and talk.' She doesn't like the questions that are asked of her when she reads. She finds it distracting. She finds reading to be a burden and boring. I mean, this is a ridiculous program." Her comment, also echoed by others, was met with vigorous applause by other parents.

There were other complaints about inconsistencies in the program and insufficient direction. One parent wanted to see research proving it actually works.

Sitting in the front row was Superintendent of Schools Barbara Duncan, Supervisor of Humanities Susan Alston, IHS Principal Tali Axelrod and Assistant Principal Michael Ferrarese. The program presenters were Reading Specialists Erin Fetter (Village School) and Lori Hawksby (IHS).

Reader's Workshop is a 25-year old literacy initiative used both around the world and by several NJ school districts like Holmdel's, such as Colts Neck, Rumson, Fair Haven, Little Silver and Princeton. Its structured format is said to help children develop skills to make connections, ask critical questions, draw conclusions, analyze features and integrate words and ideas to gain new understanding.

The program has been in force at the Village School (grades K-3) for three years, and was formally introduced to Indian Hill School (grades 4-6) in September, after a pilot program with most fourth graders in 2010-2011.

Alston pointed out that the Village's Language Arts program met the state Dept. of Education's benchmarks for "Adequate Yearly Progress" in 2010-2011, which was based on the scores of the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge. But Indian Hill's did not. (See this Nov. 17 article on Holmdel Patch.)

Reader's Workshop guides children through understanding deeper and layered meanings and deciphering thematic complexities, which is something students need to improve, said Alston. "When you look at the records, when you look at our NJ Ask scores, it's that 'analytical piece' that isn't quite there," said Alston. "Reader's Workshop is really designed to give them the tools to get there."

As it has all along, the district would continue to tweak the program to best fit Holmdel, said Axelrod. More books would be delivered to the school on Jan. 13 to give kids more choices on their individual level, said Hawksby.

After questions and comments spilled past the scheduled hour, Axelrod announced the meeting must close. But the parents did not budge from their folding chairs, insisting they wanted to be heard. Duncan invited parents to contact their children's teachers or principal in the morning with any further concerns. 

The parents were slow to leave the school and lingered in group discussion in the parking lot. According to one, several parents plan to speak out against Reader's Workshop at the district's next Board of Education meeting.

For More On Reader's Workshop

For more information on Reader's Workshop, see links to resources on the school district's Humanities Dept. webpage.

Another presentation on the program will be offered to Village School parents on Thursday, January 26 at 6:30 p.m.

Read comments by parents on this Jan.9 Holmdel Patch article.

Stuart January 13, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Here is the reason that kids don't read. The program is counterproductive. This drives more kids to the computer and video games. The program smacks of Progressives.
Jennifer January 13, 2012 at 04:44 PM
I think there is another meeting on IHS readers workshop tonight at 7:30. I have a friend whose children attend Fair Haven schools. She is a reading specialist. She went to Teachers College at Columbia university where this program was dreamed up. She applied for the reading specialist job at IH, and when she was told that it was to instruct teachers in implementing readers workshop, she said she was no longer interested in the position. She said it is a " very wishy-washy program" and that she was surprised that Holmdel of all places was implementing it. She said it is NOT the way she teaches reading at all.
tony January 13, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Jennifer, there isn't another Indian Hill readers workshop meeting tonight. If you have further questions I heard a group of concerned parents are going to the Board of Ed meeting on 1/25th at 8pm at Satz. Can you confirm if Readers Workshop is currently being used in Fair Haven schools? We were told last night that it is currently being used in Fair Haven school district.
caroline January 13, 2012 at 05:43 PM
My husband sent me the link to this article. Back in 2000 I received my MA from Teachers College, Columbia in Learning Disabilities and I took the seminar direct from Lucy Calkins on the Readers Workshop. I was not a fan, particularly from the perspective of a special education teacher, thinking along the lines of a struggling 1st or 2d grader I felt the students would lose a year of learning sitting around doing the Readers Workshop - no phonics, no basel readers, small children were encouraged to "make up" the story if they couldn't read the words. Okay, my 2 year old does that and it's cute, fine and age appropriate, but 2d graders? Are they implementing this in the younger grades than 4th? Is that when Indian Hill starts? When is the next meeting - I would love to hear about what's going on. Have they ditched the basel readers? I'm trying to figure out what this all looks like with the 4th-6th grade crowd. Has anyone been able to observe lessons?
caroline January 13, 2012 at 05:44 PM
btw I am not currently teaching and I taught for only a couple of years so I'm not at all current on elementary/reading/teaching techniques and issues.
caroline January 13, 2012 at 05:52 PM
just re-read and see it's at the Village School. No basel readers at the Village School? Or is this taught along side traditional reading programs...?
caroline January 13, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Alston pointed out that the Village's Language Arts program met the state Dept. of Education's benchmarks for "Adequate Yearly Progress" in 2010-2011, which was based on the scores of the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge. But Indian Hill's did not. (See this Nov. 17 article on Holmdel Patch.) Maybe that's bc these kids just came out of the Village School with inadequate preparation?
Jennifer January 13, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Oops, sick child, I have been home all week with a sick child and got my days confused. Frustrated that I missed it!
Jennifer January 13, 2012 at 06:34 PM
According to my friend, it is being taught in Fair Haven, and she intensely dislikes the program. As I said, she is a reading specialist and has children in FH schools. Incidentally, FH doesn't even have letter grades, instead they have an 8 page " progress report" . Parents there are vey unhappy with the overall lack of rigor, and they are re-evaluating both the readers workshop and the report cards.
Jennifer January 13, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Ms. Alstons comment may have been misleading, perhaps intentionally. The only student population that failed to make AYP under no-child was the special Ed students, which was reported in this publication to make up 14% of the student population at IH.
Jennifer January 13, 2012 at 06:49 PM
BTW, my daughter loves to read but hates this program. She does not like to read aloud, and the " just-right" level is determined by counting the number of mistakes or stumbled- over words in a short reading, then asking content-related questions without allowing the student time to read the passage silently. I am not a reading specialist, but I will propose that translating written words into speech is a completely different skill than understanding content. My daughter was frustrated and embarrassed when her " just right" books were ones series books she had read 3 years ago, and all the books she wanted to read - WANTED to read - were , well, whatever is not " just right". After the first marking period, her teacher wisely allowed students to choose their own books, but obviously doesn't want to get caught allowing them to do so....
caroline January 13, 2012 at 06:54 PM
I never could follow what I was reading when I read it aloud. I had to read it silently. yikes...
Lynn Saporito January 14, 2012 at 05:32 PM
For all parents who could not attend the meeting, here is a YouTube clip of a Readers Workshop lesson that was played to demonstrate what is going on in our classrooms: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJjGKJawG8U
Holmdel Parents February 15, 2012 at 01:17 AM
Dear fellow Holmdel parents, Over the past several months, concern has been growing among parents in Holmdel about the quality of Literacy education due to the implementation of Readers' Workshop. While we have faith in the willingness of the Board and the administration to examine the issues fully and fairly, we believe it is important that the breadth of concern in the community be understood. Therefore, we have drafted this petition and encourage you to sign it today. Please feel free to forward the link and post it to your Facebook page as well. Thank you. https://www.change.org/petitions/holmdel-nj-school-district-administration-and-board-of-education-examine-the-implementation-of-readers-workshopprovide-objective-assessment

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