The Summer 2012 Bentley Program partnership confirmed that when children are motivated to read and write in order to learn about interesting subjects, and when their teachers are free to devote time, attention and expertise to give them the help they need, they can make great strides toward English language literacy. When children who are learning English or who are deemed “at risk” can use literacy skills to research, report and answer their own questions, they build the confidence and enjoyment in learning that will sustain them in school and in life.
The Bentley model is replicable. With our partners in the district, we will extend it to children in other Salem schools. We hope to work with other school systems to adapt the model for use in school-year classrooms, after-school programs and summer intervention programs. Perhaps the most important lesson to learn from this model is that it isn’t a particular curriculum that leads to success but a model that allows teachers to use their knowledge and expertise to fit what they teach to what children need to learn, in the context of meaningful, motivating, subject matter. The elements essential to the model — engaging content, diagnostic teaching, low teacher-student ratio and collaboration — should be there in any school setting. As one teacher wrote, “It was a wonderful opportunity to stretch and grow as a teacher in a positive, supportive environment dedicated to educational best practices.”
Mary-Lou Breitborde is associate dean and Camie Condie is visiting instructor at the Salem State University School of Education. This is one in a regular series of columns from the Community Advisory Board for the Salem schools.