MADISON — Lynn Plourde said developing patterns helps her to write and it can help students move their own story lines forward.
That was the message Thursday at Madison Elementary School, where the author shared three of her favorite children’s books in an interactive presentation and play. It was also an especially timely message for school officials, who are trying to improve the school’s standings in reading proficiency even as students’ scores remain well below the statewide average.
“Ideas are all around us. We just have to look for them and write them down,” said Plourde, 58, who grew up in Skowhegan and now lives in Winthrop. “I like to think of myself as an idea detective.”
The students, whose grave levels range from pre-kindergarten to fourth grade, laughed as they watched their principal, Scott Mitchell, participate in the play while dressed as the grandmother from Plourde’s newest book, “You’re Wearing THAT to School?”
The author, who read from three of the 28 books she has written, visited the school to kick off Read Across America Week, a celebration of literacy. It is also part of an effort to make reading fun for students, said Becky Young, the school’s Title I specialist.
“We’ve worked really hard over the last five years on our students’ math skills, and we’ve seen improvement,” Young said. “We realize now that we also need to update our literary curriculum and improve our instruction. We have a wonderful staff, but there has been some turnover in recent years.”
In the 2012-2013 school year, 56 percent of students at the school were at or above a reading level considered proficienct, according to the Department of Education. The state average was 71 percent. While students at the school have shown an increase in the number meeting proficiency rates in mathematics, progress in reading has been slower.
Title I is part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which provides additional resources to schools that need help meeting state academic standards. In Madison, Title I funds have provided for additional resources including teachers such as Young who are focused on ways to improve student’s reading and mathematical skills.
“It’s hard to say right now how we are doing, because we haven’t finished the school year; but there are lots of new things we have been trying,” Young said.
For example, this school year the school started a literary leadership group made up of teachers who organize professional development and talk about the instructional needs of each grade level, she said.
There are also new approaches to teaching, such as CAFE, an acronym that stands for comprehension, accuracy, fluency and expanding vocabulary. This week, students at Madison Elementary will explore what those words mean through a variety of reading-related activities including a “read-in,” in which students will test their reading stamina in a competition to see how long they can read, and a parade of literary characters.
On Thursday, colorful socks, tutus, scarves and hats abounded among both students and teachers, who dressed to emulate the main character, Penelope the hippopotamus, in Ploude’s new book.
“Reading is fun and it’s something you can do with your friends,” Young said. “That’s the message we want students to take away from this week.”
After reading to the students in the school gymnasium, Plourde met with small groups in the library and offered them advice on how to improve their writing, mainly focusing on the identification of patterns and how patterns can offer clues to the meaning of a story.
Marina Gilman, 7, of Madison, said she learned a lot about what it’s like to be an author and how books are written. Plourde’s visit also helped her understand a literary device that is used in many of the books to create humor, she said.
“I realized halfway through that they have really funny parts,” Gilman said. “The funny parts come from copying things that happen over and over again.”
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368 firstname.lastname@example.org