Half of the seventh-graders in the State College Area School District have taken the new academic literacy course, and the administration is reporting a strong response.
Out of the 238 responses to a course reflective essay, 94 percent of students reported a mostly positive experience, and the remaining 6 percent all said they gained reading and thinking skills, said Jacquelyn Martin, director of secondary curriculum. In addition, 87 percent of responders said they use the skills learned in the course outside of the academic literacy classroom.
The administration is happy with the early returns. The course began at the beginning of this school year.
Martin said the new course is designed to help students with reading comprehension and new thinking strategies that they can use in other classes.
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“Just reading through it fluently and decoding words is not going to help them with deep enough understanding,” she said.
To prepare to teach the material, several teachers went through a training process to learn some of the techniques.
Superintendent Bob O’Donnell, who attended a class session, said he was impressed with some of the nontraditional reading, writing and thinking techniques that he observed.
He said the class was listening to music and analyzing the lyrics, and they also listened to some music without lyrics and wrote about how they felt.
“They weren’t flipping through a big thick textbook,” he said. “Kids were fired up, and I was glad to see them engaged.”
The course is taught every other day, but future plans could include a rollout to every day. Martin said the only complaint from teachers across the curriculum is that all the students aren’t learning the skills at the same time.
Though she acknowledges that the course is important, board member Dorothea Stahl said if the district rolls out the course every day, it should be careful not to cut other courses to make room for it. She wants to make sure people embrace the course and don’t look at it as a loss of something else.
Martin said there aren’t plans to reduce other curricular activities.
Other plans include continuing to train teachers, administrators and students and coming up with some quantitative data points to better measure student growth.