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Vol. LXV, No. 50
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
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All in a Day’s Work

Sara Bright

“I suppose the best way to sum up my job is that I provide on-going, in-house professional development for teachers,” said Sara Bright, the Princeton Regional School District’s (PRS) new literacy coach in a recent interview.

A former elementary school teacher in the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional Schools, Ms. Bright (could a teacher have a better name?) now travels among PRS’s four elementary schools, teaching skills that are based on what she describes as “a new model of instruction” for helping kids to read.

The “new model” comes out of a two-year stint at Columbia University, where Ms. Bright participated in the Reading and Writing Project. (See Under the guidance of Lucy Calkins, the Richard Robinson Professor of Children’s Literature at Teachers College, educators are encouraged to allow children to self-select books that they would like to read. Rather than having every child reading a “Dick and Jane”-type primer, Ms.Calkins advocates this reading “in authentic ways.”

“I loved to read until reading instruction in school became kind of rote and more about teaching to a particular book than teaching how to access a book,” said Ms. Bright. “What made me really interested in literacy in education is that this new model of instruction teaches kids what good readers do in all books.”

Although students select their own books, Ms. Bright describes it as “a controlled choice,” in which a teacher “is able to monitor what students are reading,” ensuring that the books from which they may choose are “not too hard, not too easy.” Learning reading strategies goes hand-in-hand with developing writing skills.

Ms. Bright describes her work with teachers as collaborative, noting that “every teacher I work with has knowledge that they bring to the table.” Interactions with PRS teachers include demonstration lessons, debriefings, working with small groups, and gathering resources. Columbia’s Reading and Writing Project is described as “both a think tank–developing state of the art teaching methods–and a provider of professional development …. But above all Lucy [Culkin] works closely with teachers and with their classrooms full of wise and wonderful children.”

“Honoring students,” Ms. Bright said, does not preclude having “rigorous expectations” and engaging in efforts that “move knowledge forward.” While a teacher might use inventive spelling because they don’t want children “to be scared of being wrong,” there is corrective follow-up. A student may mangle the spelling of “ferocious,” but “when we go back we try to approximate a closer spelling.” Spelling strategies are part of the curriculum, and expectations change as children move up each grade.

Ms. Bright acknowledges that she misses regular classroom teaching. While no longer enjoying “the constant interaction with kids,” though, she likes being able to work with a range of students, from kindergarten through fifth grade. “I talk with them about what they’re reading.”

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