Coming soon to Wichita schools: a new way to learn reading and writing

Wichita kindergarten teacher demonstrates new reading program

Holly Morgan, kindergarten teacher at Peterson Elementary, has been piloting a new reading program called Journeys. (Dec. 12, 2017)
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Holly Morgan, kindergarten teacher at Peterson Elementary, has been piloting a new reading program called Journeys. (Dec. 12, 2017)

A new reading program in Wichita elementary schools will help teachers tailor lessons to a wider variety of students, including children with learning disabilities, those learning English and students reading above grade level, district officials said.

The school board this week approved a seven-year, $5.8 million deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to purchase Journeys, a reading and writing curriculum for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

The move comes as Wichita faces dismal test scores in reading, with students continuing to lag behind their peers across the state.

Journeys will replace a patchwork language arts curriculum in Wichita elementary schools that includes Treasures, which was adopted more than a decade ago, and district-designed guides tied to Common Core standards.

In kindergarten it will replace Read Well, which the district adopted in 2011 despite concerns from some board members that teachers did not have a say in its selection and were rushed to implement it.

Lisa Burgess, a third-grade teacher at Gardiner Elementary School who piloted Journeys this fall, said she’s glad the program will go district-wide.

“There are so many resources, it’s incredible – almost too many,” Burgess said. “When they delivered it to my room, there were more than 20 boxes. … Everything ties together, and it’s super-flexible.”

The curriculum includes new student textbooks, teacher manuals, storybooks designed for different reading levels, dual-language materials and “consumable,” soft-cover workbooks that students can write in. It also features an app and online resources.

An extensive handwriting component teaches both manuscript and cursive writing.

At Peterson Elementary School in west Wichita, Holly Morgan’s kindergarten class will learn 88 sight words – words that reappear often in text, such as “who,” “their,” “every” and “away” – with the new curriculum. That’s more than double the number of sight words required under Read Well.

The program is organized, appealing and rigorous from the start, Morgan said, which is crucial for getting kids reading.

“With Journeys you introduce a letter a day at the beginning of the school year, and I really like that,” she said. “Those that are ready, they’re up and running, and we’re not waiting until April to learn ‘y.’ Because we need to know it.”

During a recent lesson, Morgan’s class reviewed their “Alphafriends,” a collection of characters based letters of the alphabet, including Andy Apple, Nyle Noodle and Pippa Pig. They sang about the letter “t” and danced together:

Tiggy Tiger can tickle his toes,

Tiggy Tiger can tap his nose,

Tiggy Tiger can turn around,

Tiggy Tiger can touch the ground.

They learned four sight words – “come,” “my,” “with” and “me” – saying them together, spelling them, repeating them several times and using them in sentences. Then they split off into partners to read “I Can Nap,” a four-page story about drowsy bears and sleepy children, tapping under each word with their fingers.

Previous reading programs were strongly controlled and scripted, Morgan said. The new one offers teachers more flexibility, even incorporating classic children’s books such as Ezra Jack Keats’ “The Snowy Day.”

“There’s a complete lesson plan. You can choose to use it, but you don’t have to – and oh, I love that,” she said. “You can kind of do it how you would like to do it. As long as you’re teaching the skill, that’s what matters most.

“I’ve had a lot of parents say, ‘I just can’t believe what my child is able to do now,’” Morgan said. “They’re excited about reading. They love it.”

In third grade, Burgess’ class recently read “Amos & Boris,” a story by William Steig about a mouse and a whale who help each other and become friends despite their differences.

In their writing workbooks, students answered questions about the story: “How do you think Boris felt at the end of the book?” Burgess briefly reviewed the questions with the class and then let them work on their own.

Each unit in the third-grade Journeys textbook features two stories, including non-fiction texts, that students can compare and contrast. Lessons highlight new vocabulary words, spelling words, phonics and grammar concepts.

Burgess’ students recently read “Aero and Officer Mike,” about a police K-9 unit, and talked about ways people and animals work together.

“With this curriculum, everything’s integrated – reading, writing, social studies, science,” she said. It even touches on social-emotional lessons, such as volunteerism and good citizenship.

For the past several years, elementary teachers have had to develop lessons using various textbooks and other materials, Burgess said. “I’m a creative teacher, but it’s hard to get creative without searching for this and pulling from that,” she said.

“It’s a blessing to be able to have all these resources together. That’s just a huge difference.”

Wichita elementary school teachers will begin training on the Journeys curriculum during a districtwide in-service in February. They’ll attend summer symposiums in May and July and begin teaching with the new program next fall.

Journeys is the second major curriculum adoption for the Wichita district this year. In March, board members approved a seven-year, $4 million deal with Carnegie Learning for its secondary math curriculum.

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias