For two hours on a Monday afternoon, the Central Davie gym resembled a workshop. Seated at long tables, teachers were talking and laughing while cutting word strips, sorting and bagging colored squares, and taping the edges of shower board to create small whiteboards.
The teachers were attending one of three “make and take” sessions organized by Davie County Schools to support its elementary school teachers and to provide them with valuable tools to assist with this year’s DavieLEADS focus on guided reading.
DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed) was created in 2017 through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation to support a five-year early literacy initiative aimed at improving kindergarten readiness and increasing the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.
Through the Mebane initiative, teachers in Davie County are being trained in a researched-based, guided reading framework that focuses on intentional and intensive small-group reading instruction. During guided reading, the teacher works with a small group of students who demonstrate similar reading behaviors and can read similar levels of texts. The other students in the class work on literacy activities independently or in pairs while they wait for their turn to work with their teacher. High quality, hands-on activities fuel literacy development while keeping students engaged so that teachers can focus uninterrupted on reading with their small groups.
Grant funds were used to cover the cost of the supplies, and DavieLEADS Consultants Barbie Brown and Nancy Scoggin and Literacy Coaches Renee Hennings-Gonzalez and Amy Spade created and assembled six to eight activities specifically for each grade level. There were separate sessions for kindergarten and first grade, and second and third grades were combined.
Jinda Haynes, assistant superintendent for Davie County Schools, said the idea to host the make and take sessions came from discussions she and Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction, had with teachers about the challenges they were experiencing with guided reading and the resources they needed.
“We wanted teachers to know that they had been heard, and it was important for us to find ways to help meet their needs as we moved forward,” said Haynes. “Make and take sessions are not something districts can normally provide; however, we knew that they would be a practical but POWERFUL way to support and encourage teachers.”
“Our consultants and literacy coaches invested a lot of time and effort into putting each of the activities together,” said Lynde. “Teachers didn’t just come and learn something that they had to go back and find the time and supplies to create themselves. They were able to take what they learned and apply it immediately, which has been very beneficial. Another benefit was the opportunity to talk and share ideas while being together during these sessions.”
At each station, teachers were able to make something to use at their guided reading table or something their students could use at their literacy stations.
“For every station we’ve assembled, we’ve tried to find things that would be appropriate for maintaining a level of independence for the kids so that the teacher can focus on what she is doing,” said Hennings-Gonzalez.
One station had word sheets and cookie sheets that students could use with magnetic letters to practice making words, digraphs, and blends, while others offered phonics activities and games to practice sight words.
Teachers prepped “sticker stories” and “squiggle stories” where students write about the character on the sticker using vocabulary words printed on the card or turn a squiggle into an illustration and write about it.
A favorite station was the “retell hand” station. Teachers began by stuffing a garden glove and attaching a paint stick to it. Then they hot-glued storytelling clues to each of the fingers — characters, setting, beginning, middle, end, and the heart of the story in the palm. Students can use the hand to help them retell stories.
To maximize the budget as well as the value of the make and take tools, each activity was designed to be used in multiple ways over an extended period of time. The activities are also being uploaded to a website so that teachers can share other ideas they come up with for using the materials.
Sixty-three teachers attended a make and take session and they were glad they did.
“This make and take is really important because it is hard to find hands-on tools and to have the money to go purchase them,” said Sherry Wooten, a first grade teacher at Cornatzer Elementary. “Having something that is already put together and ready for me to use in my classroom the next day means a lot to me.”
Nikki Whiteheart, a first grade teacher at Cooleemee Elementary, said, “This session has been great because it’s provided us so many new ideas we might not have come up with on our own. I can’t wait to watch my kids use these hands-on activities and really engage with learning to read.”
“I love having resources!” said Cindy Boger, a first grade teacher at Cornatzer. “These tools will be valuable for my different literacy stations because they can be used multiple ways and are differentiated according to skill levels.”
“The second and third grade session had to be postponed because of weather,” said Lynde. “We actually had additional teachers call or email to sign-up because they saw the tools their kindergarten and first grade colleagues made, and they decided they wanted to attend, as well.”
“Gathering all of the supplies and finding the time to create materials can be so frustrating,” said Christy Cornatzer, instructional coach at Cornatzer Elementary. “Seeing teachers so excited about their new materials and listening to them brainstorm how they are going to use them has been so rewarding. This is such a timesaver for our teachers and I’m glad to see so many of them capitalizing on the opportunity.”
“It’s been a lot of work, a lot of research and a lot of time,” added Hennings-Gonzalez, “so it’s nice to see teachers walking away smiling and feeling supported.”
Pam Cope, a kindergarten teacher at Pinebrook Elementary, summed it up well in a post-event thank you note: “You guys really organized a wonderful make and take. I felt like it was still Christmas. That was one of the most helpful things you could have done for us. I got home feeling VERY supported and encouraged. Thank you for all the work that went into making today’s session great. I was tired when I got home, but it was a GOOD tired.”
Editor’s note: The Mebane Foundation supports the work of EducationNC.