The Power of Reading

Mar 26, 2015

Research shows that at just a few months of age, an infant can look at pictures, listen to voices and point to objects on cardboard pages. Title I reading teacher at Buckner Elementary School, Elizabeth Punzo, can’t stress enough the importance of reading.

“From the time a baby is born, a parent should start the habit of reading every single day, for 15 minutes or more, because this encourages a bond between the parent and child and actively promotes reading as a positive experience,” she said.

Punzo specifies parents as being the “best advertisers” for promoting healthy reading habits in the home. “Parents should read in fun and interesting voices to match the characters in a book, ask comprehension questions and have fun with word play in the car by rhyming, blending or segmenting sounds in words,” she said.

Knowing first-hand the impact that reading has on her students, Punzo sat down with The Buckner Clarion and shed light on Title I and how beneficial it is.

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: Since the young age of about five, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. And sure enough, I spent my adolescent years babysitting and teaching swimming lessons to children and I even opened up a “neighborhood summer preschool” in which I charged $1.00/day to any neighborhood kids who would come and allow me to practice my “teaching aspirations.” I was the child who snuck a flashlight into my bed after “lights out” so I could finish yet another book. I would wake up during the 5 a.m. hour, before my alarm would go off, and continue reading! Once I got to high school, I went through the cadet teaching program and later headed off to Baylor University in Waco, Tx., in order to pursue my teaching degree.

Once that was completed, I decided to further my education the following year and got my Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in reading. Next, I moved to Plano, Tx., and taught 2nd grade students (which included a gifted and talented cluster). After my first year there, I moved to St. Joseph, Mo., which is where I grew up. There, I taught 3rd grade for three years. Then, I saw an opening for a Title I Teacher at Buckner Elementary, and I was fortunate enough to be offered this position. This is my third year as the Title I reading teacher, and I absolutely love it!

Q: What is the purpose of Title I?

A: The purpose of Title I is to help students improve their reading levels and catch them up to grade-level.

Q: What types of activities are practiced on a day-to-day basis?

A: In Title I, I follow a curriculum called the Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention System. It is a curriculum that includes phonics, comprehension, fluency and accuracy practice. In addition, I supplement this curriculum with Reader’s Theater scripts that the students enjoy performing, other high-interest books on their level and various reading activities and games that correlate with my curriculum.

Q: What requirements are necessary to participate in this program?

A: The grade-level teachers, principal, instructional coach and myself meet to analyze STAR testing and Fountas and Pinnell testing information in order to see which students would benefit from extra small group reading instruction.

Q: When does the Title I assessment take place?

A: We assess students on the STAR test each month and three times a year on the Fountas and Pinnell tests in August, December and May.

Q: How many times per year do most Title I teachers formally assess students?

A: Sometimes we give the Fountas and Pinnell reading tests before conferences as well, in October and March, to better track their growth and share the most current information with parents. So all together, about eight STAR computer tests and up to five Fountas and Pinnell tests are assessed each year.

Q: Has the program succeeded thus far?

A: I feel that the program has been very successful this year. I meet with grade-level teachers about once a month to discuss the students that I see and talk about their progress. We analyze their reading tests to determine extra interventions that can be done within the classroom and Title I groups in order to individualize instruction and really help each student with their particular area of need. The teachers at Buckner Elementary work together as a team to help students improve on their reading skills!

Q: What areas of the program need improvement?

A: I feel as though there could be more information sent home to parents about how to best help their child at his or her current level, how to find “good fit books” for their kids at the library and how to encourage them to keep persisting through their books. I often hear from parents, “Well, what does a Level C book look like at the library?” And I am hoping to create a list of books for each reading level over the summer. That way, when parents ask me this question, I can hand them a list of titles and tell them to have their children check them out at the library if they are interested.

Q: How do students benefit most?

A: They benefit from reading books at their own level and being able to bring home paper copies of the books we are reading in class, so they can share them with their families. Once they read four of our books at home, they can also pick out a free, brand new book from my bookshelf. I hope these students benefit from having a “cheerleader” of a teacher that encourages them and helps them work on the skills that are difficult for him or her to master.

Q: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

A: In my role, something I have learned over the course of the three years, is that I want to instill the “love” of reading within children. If they enjoy working on reading in my class, hopefully that motivates them to read at home and keep on improving. This year, I made it my mission to find books for emerging readers that are interesting and engaging. I have stumbled upon a series called “I like to Read” by Holiday House. The goal of these books is to basically motivate beginner readers and for them to find pleasure, joy and confidence in being able to successfully read a book. I spent some Title I money this year on purchasing six copies of some of the “I like to read” books so that I can read them with my small groups. I have seen a tremendous impact on the students when they read these books. They love them. Once I saw the impact, I wrote and received a FORCE grant to buy some of these book titles to put in our school library so the students can check them out, because they have been asking to take these books home.

I have also capitalized on a wonderful book character called “Pete the Cat.” This year, our school reading theme is “Pete the Cat.” Each teacher has a “Pete the Cat” doll, and students who complete their reading log get a chance to take him home for the weekend to take him on an adventure around Buckner and to read to him. They write about their experience together and take pictures and send them to me, and I hang them on bulletin boards around the school.

The students in Title I have also done many Reader’s Theater performances about these “Pete the Cat” books. They enjoy presenting their scripts in front of other classes to show off their reading skills and build their confidence.

I have also learned that students really have to take ownership of their reading. They are able to verbalize their particular reading goals and know how to work on them each day.

Q: What’s next?

A: I will be sending out an “end-of-the-year” survey for parents about what they would like to see for the future of Title I. I will look at the parents’ input and make changes according to the survey and speak with teachers about things we can improve upon. In a couple weeks, I will be attending a two-day Intensive Title 1 Leadership Institute Training in St. Louis to learn new, effective strategies to use with my students.

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