Pinellas County Schools Push Reading, Just For Boys | Florida News

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By JEFFERY S. SOLOCHEK, Tampa Bay Times

LARGO, Fla. (AP) — Amaree Burr-Comer didn’t always pay attention to the books he read.

“I was just reading it to be done,” the McMullen-Booth Elementary School fifth grader recalled.

That was before he got involved two years ago in the Pinellas County School District‘s Boys Read Book Battle. Created as part of a larger strategy to close a gender gap in literacy, the battle exposes boys to new materials and teaches them in a competitive environment how to read for meaning and retention.

Amaree, who is part of the team again this year, along with his younger brother and three other classmates, said the activity completely changed his approach – even with the materials he and his friends called “books”. boring learning”.

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“When I started Battle of the Books, I had the basics of going back to the books, memorizing the books, reading the books very carefully,” he said. “It continues.”

“DATA DOES NOT LIE”

Amaree’s journey is the outcome that educators in Pinellas and across Florida are aiming for by paying increased attention to learning disparities between boys and girls in reading.

“The data doesn’t lie,” said Stacy Baier, chief executive of the Pinellas Education Foundation, which highlighted the gap and underpins much of the effort to address it. “We have to do something about it.”

State data shows third-grade boys underperformed girls on the 2018-19 statewide language arts exams by 4 points. That same year, Grade 10 boys were 11 points behind girls. The district had similar scores.

Citing these findings, lawmakers created a task force on closing the achievement gap for boys. Baier and Pinellas School Superintendent Mike Grego served on the panel, which released a series of findings and recommendations in December.

Key to the proposals was the notion that schools need to develop strategies to close the gap after researching effective models. Teacher training will be essential, the committee said, with the aim of helping boys progress but never leaving girls behind.

“When schools, like the one seen in Pinellas County, help teachers and leaders integrate gender-responsive instructional strategies into their learning environment, students of both genders will respond positively with better behavior, better academic engagement, and greater success,” the committee wrote in its report. .

STUDENT ENGAGEMENT IS KEY

The Pinellas model, which has caught the attention of other districts since the report’s release, focuses heavily on student engagement, said Ellen Truskowski, the district’s director of student assignments, which coordinates the initiative.

Some of the ideas include focusing on the boys’ competitive nature, their need to move around rather than attend lectures, and their interest in new and different types of material. Novelty and stimulus are important, Truskowski said.

Examples have included a science book club for boys called Mad Scientists and Lab Rats, expanded classroom libraries, goal celebrations, and alternatives to desks and chairs. Pinellas has developed a one-page “Gender Gap Implementation Rubric” to outline ways to better reach boys, including the reasons behind each concept.

For example, the district recommended that teachers do more to ensure that boys are aware that they are held accountable for their work at all times, requiring them to participate equally with girls.

“Boys need to feel that the teacher is invested in their lives and believes in their potential for success,” the document states.

He also suggested making lessons more fun and said a best practice is to have multiple opportunities for hands-on activities that reflect students’ interests. The idea, Truskowski said, is to individualize teaching as much as possible, using gender as the focus, in addition to all other groupings.

After starting with elementary schools, Baier said, next steps include additional training for higher-grade teachers.

TARGET RETIENT READERS

One of the students’ favorite activities is the Boys’ Reading Battle, now in its third year. Eleven elementary schools participated this year, with the Mildred Helms Elementary team taking top honors.

Kathy Bilello, a reading teacher at McMullen-Booth, said he targets reluctant boy readers, who often choose lower-level books because they’re more fun, even though they should and could choose more difficult material. .

Often the boys give up books rather than finish them, added director Stephanie Whitaker. And they’re also hesitant to share their thoughts on the material in the classroom, she said.

The competitive aspect sparks interest, Bilello said, as the boys dive into the books to prove they can do better than their friends. Once preparation for the event began this year, Whittaker said, data showed the gender gap in reading narrowed by 9 points, as more boys automatically returned to a text to justify their answers. .

A growing number of boys have started receiving fifth-grade awards, she said. And the disciplinary references have diminished.

The boys of McMullen-Booth’s battle team – the Vamp Wolves, named after the “coolest” character in the Six Battle Books – gathered early in the morning to practice. Sitting as partners, they worked to be the quickest to answer title questions and justify their rationale.

Then they talked about how the activity made a difference in the way they read.

“When you walk into a reading zone, you just want to keep reading and reading,” said third-grade Amaree’s brother Abram Burr-Comer. “When we read the book, we get the whole book in your head.”

He added that seeing so many different types of books gives him ideas for new ways to write.

Third-grader Bradan Fitzgerald said he’s been figuring out how to get through boring books he doesn’t like by reading slowly and carefully.

Third-grade student Silas Booth said he was good at reading, but also slow. He also read a lot of “easy” books like the Captain Underpants series.

Preparing for the book battle helped him read faster while understanding, he said. This is important, Silas explained, because falling behind means “you have to keep catching up with everyone.” Now it’s less of a concern for him.

The boys arrived at Battle 2022 on the morning of January 28 in high spirits. They munched on Starbursts and Smartfood popcorn in a conference room, flipping through the six titles as they waited their turn to compete in the school board meeting room.

Amaree said he was nervous – “My heart is going boom, boom, boom,” he said – but confident. His teammates reported feeling the same way.

After about half an hour they were up. The six teams took their seats at separate tables, each hoping for a top 2 spot that would take them to the final.

The way forward: Answer each question correctly and try to get bonus points when you have the turn to provide proof of the answer. Teams would get full points for a correct answer after one try, with points decreasing for a second and third attempt.

The McMullen-Booth team celebrated their correct answers and smiled broadly as they heard “Bingo. Good job,” after nailing one of their bonuses. But the boys didn’t move on, leading to some disappointment. and tears.

Amaree put on her game face afterwards.

“I’m glad I came,” he said, “because even though I lost, I had fun.”

Even before the event started, Bilello said that regardless of the outcome, there was no defeat.

“They read six books in four months, wonderful children’s literature,” she said. “They have already won.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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