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n Susan Courtney’s and Richard Rogers’ class, 38 students ranging in age from 5 to 8 years old begin their school day by gathering to read from an oversized book that has been placed on a stand. Courtney’s charges give her and the book the lion’s share of – if not their undivided – attention.
“Don’t forget this page,” Courtney says to the class seated around her. “Remember our song. Top to bottom. Left to right....” They had missed a single short sentence on the left-hand page of the book.
A page is turned. “What do you notice about this picture?”
“A barn!” Arms stretch toward the illustrated images.
Another page. “Okay, let’s chunk this word. Do you see a little word within the word? There’s the word pet.”
The class repeats the first syllable of “petted,” pronouncing the “ed” with a collective emphasis. The teacher smiles ever so slightly. “Good detective work,” she says.
This whole-class activity, called “shared reading,” is part of a comprehensive approach to the development of literacy at Norwood. “The first time the kids may join in while the teacher reads the book just for the pleasure of the story,” explains Courtney. “Then at different times during the week we’ll go back and read it to demonstrate and teach specific strategies and skills.
“When planning the focus of a lesson, it’s important that differentiated levels of abilities be considered while not placing so much emphasis on the skills as to kill the enjoyment of the story. We might look at the structure of a paragraph, or a certain sound or cluster of sounds, rhyming patterns if it’s a poem – or just words that rhyme if it’s not.”
The class divides into self-selected “centers” and the children begin independently using the strategies and skills they learned during shared reading. One center is “The Alphabet and Word Building,” where some children create words based on word families and language patterns while others make alphabet books. In another center, four youngsters are reading independently from books they’ve chosen from a basket Courtney has filled with items appropriate to their level of ability.
Another group is engaged in writing for specific purposes that are real and meaningful to their lives. One student is filling out a job application in the hope of being employed as the class’s mail carrier; another is enthusiastically making a greeting card for his sister’s birthday. A boy is writing suggestions and stuffing them in the class suggestion box. Others are busily making menus and taking reservations for a restaurant they created in the school’s drama center.
Meanwhile, Courtney pulls out a few children of similar abilities from the groups and spends 10 or 15 minutes working with them. This approach guarantees that the students are reading within their “zone of proximal development,” with the teacher providing support only when needed.
“We also periodically take a running record of a child’s oral text reading,” she says. “We record whether or not the child read the text accurately. In analyzing the record, we look for evidence of cues the students used and ignored, if they were cross-checking information and self-correcting.
“Running records not only provide us with information to determine a child’s reading level, but give us insights into reading behaviors that assist us in prescribing a specific instructional program for individual students.”

late afternoon at Norwood finds literacy the focus in another form. Some parents of Norwood students are in a classroom their children occupied only hours earlier.
“Who do you put down for references?” asks instructor Richard Rogers.

Norwood teacher Richard Rogers works with Norwood parents in his Literacy Employability Skills class helping them learn skills they need to find better jobs.

“People who will say nice things about you,” someone answers as laughter erupts.
The adult class – called Literacy Employability Skills and funded by a grant from the Literacy Network of Greater Los Angeles – is just one of several programs that have been developed for parents at Norwood. In this course parents are learning skills that will help them find better jobs. What does the world of work look like? Where do you find jobs? How do you contact employers? What goes on a resume?
“Over the next year we’re going to train 100 parents in classes of 20 each in the skills they need to develop or increase their job options,” says Flynn. “This is very important because it’s building our community.” Some Norwood parents who have finished the training are already working at the new California Science Center in Exposition Park.
“The majority of outreach to the parents revolves around activities sponsored by Norwood’s Parent Resource Center,” says Helen Franco, a 1998 M.S.W. graduate of the School of Social Work who served as an intern under the supervision of USC’s Office of Civic and Community Relations last year. She was assigned to Norwood to help coordinate the center’s activities.
To help establish a tradition of family reading, Norwood is teaching parents to read with their children. In a program known as Lap Read, young mothers with their babies on their laps are interacting together with books.
Norwood also runs daily ESL classes for parents.
“As the parents learned to read,” Franco says, “we introduced an evening class last year in which we taught them how to read literature to their kids.”

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