Former second grade teacher Colleen Zimmerman has started the Read Naturally volunteer program for first through third graders at West Side Elementary. The program, funded by Richland Pump and Supply, combines fluency, vocabulary and comprehension and gives kids a sense of self-confidence as they can visibly chart their results and see their progress. The small groups of students work independently, following the steps of the program and spend their time interested and focused on their reading. Working independently also allows readers of varying levels to participate at the same time.
There are currently 35 students who come to the Read Naturally program which is in addition to their regular classroom reading. Students participate during their daily intervention time, time allotted to challenge kids at whatever learning level they’re at. They begin with a Cold Read: students are timed for one minute as they read aloud a story they’re unfamiliar with and then chart their progress in blue. Then, after listening to the story three times, kids are timed for another minute while they reread the story aloud; this is the Hot Read and they chart their progress on the same graph in red. This method allows students, teachers and volunteers to see each day’s improvement. Worksheets about the story help with students’ comprehension and Zimmerman notes that working one on one with each child allows her to give individualized attention and phonetic tips. Every student is in the program via teacher recommendation and Read Naturally is ideal for anyone with a first through eighth grade reading level allowing kids to advance at their own pace.
“It’s more than just a reading program. I want them to be able to use vocabulary and word recognition in any setting,” says Zimmerman of the benefits.
Read Naturally began in October of 2014 and was piloted in two classrooms one on one with students and soon sparked teachers’ interest as they saw advances. Zimmerman bought the program including CDs, workbooks, cd players and headphones. West Side Elementary donated a room to Zimmerman and students come for about 30 minutes each day from 8 am to noon Monday through Friday. Each student chooses the story they’ll be reading the next day so that worksheets can be printed out in advance and CDs are ready and waiting for them when they walk in the door. Daily volunteers Kay Fulkerson and Marlys Anvik along with weekly volunteers help to make the program possible.
Zimmerman’s goal is to have 50 students in the program and is in the process of purchasing a second set of CDs. There is currently a need for additional volunteers and Zimmerman is grateful for anyone who’s willing to donate their time on any basis. Volunteers often work with the same group of kids giving them the opportunity to see long term advancement and build relationships with the students. Those interested in volunteering or who have additional questions can contact West Side Elementary at 406-433-2530.
When asked why she choose to donate her time and energy, Zimmerman said, “I have a passion for education. The students love coming; they walk in the door ready to learn because they understand that they’ve practiced and they’ve improved and they’re responsible for their progress.”
Teachers are happy with the gains they’ve seen as well.
“It’s a wonderful program and I’ve seen the kids benefit in their self-confidence, academics and sense of encouragement. As a teacher, having students feel their success is so important. It is bringing self-confidence into the classroom and we’re very grateful for Colleen,” said second grade teacher Sara Romo.
“I have seen them soaring in reading fluency,” first grade teacher Nicole Simonsen said. “Reading fluency transfers into everything; now we’re reading for practice, but most reading will be done for understanding. You can tell she (Zimmerman) is passionate about it and we’re so grateful for her investment of time and to Richland Pump and Supply for donating their resources.”
Zimmerman is encouraged by the confidence and progress she’s seen in students and the interest and support she’s received from teachers and the school. She hopes volunteers from the community will continue to help make the Read Naturally program possible.