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March 29. 2013 1:29AM

Taking a new approach to reading in Epping

Kristen True, a fifth-grade teacher at Epping Elementary School, gives a reading lesson to her students Thursday while teachers from Brookline visited to learn more about how the school teaches reading and writing. (JASON SCHREIBER/Union Leader Correspondent)

EPPING - Epping Elementary School has found a way to make reading more appealing to students.

The school has shifted away from the traditional basal reading approach, where students learn to read through a series of books and activity sheets that are part of a pre-planned lesson taught by their teacher.

These days, Principal Mark Vallone said students are choosing the books they want to read and reading more independently. That means giving boys more nonfiction books, he said, because that's what many prefer.

"What's happening is the kids like to read more," Vallone said.

The different approach means teachers no longer use guides, and instead are creating their own lessons based on their observations of students.

Vallone said the change in thinking has created more work for teachers as they try to find books that are appropriate for different reading levels, but it's proven successful.

Reading and writing scores have improved over the years and are now above the state average.

More than a dozen teachers and principals from the Richard Maghakian Memorial School and Captain Samuel Douglass Academy in Brookline got a chance to see Epping teachers in action Thursday when they visited the school to take notes.

The visit was organized through the Teaching and Learning Alliance Inc. (TLA), a non-profit organization of educators who provide in-school coaching and leadership training at schools throughout New England.

Epping Elementary School began using the reading and writing program offered through TLA seven years ago and is now hosting other schools that have recently adopted the program and are learning how it works. Brookline teachers are in their second year.

"The teachers have changed in their thoughtfulness, collaboration, and passion," said Stephanie Maze-Hsu, a consultant with TLA who works closely with Epping teachers.

Lynn Schade, TLA's executive director, emphasized the importance of teachers who are new to the program visiting classrooms being taught by educators who have more experience with the new approach.

"It's very powerful for teachers to see it done by masterful people," she said.


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