The right reading curriculum, as part of a blended learning program, can lead to great academic gains for students

Blended learning is key to reading success for adolescents in correctional facilities

The right reading curriculum, as part of a blended learning program, can lead to great academic gains for students

Reading well is a critical skill for all students, whether they are planning to attend college or work at a trade. Students have varied success acquiring reading skills in the average K-12 academic setting, but those whose educational process has been interrupted or unsupported will struggle even more. Many adjudicated youths find themselves in this predicament. When they have an opportunity such as North Central Secure Treatment Unit (NCSTU) offers them, it is as if they get a second chance to start over.

The Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU), a regional education service agency, is one of 29 Intermediate Units in Pennsylvania that work with local school districts to provide, among other services, academic classes for incarcerated youth. The CSIU teachers at NCSTU provide a well-rounded educational experience in the four core academic subjects, as well as trades. A student’s length of stay at either one of the two boys’ schools or two girls’ schools varies greatly—anywhere from a few months to a few years based on the determination of the courts.

Related content: How we turned around our reading program

In this time students are able to attain a high school diploma, a GED, take online college courses, or get certifications leading into a trade. The classes are grouped by age (13-20) instead of by grade level with 6-8 students in a class. There is a broad range of academic ability level within each class. Some students can read and answer high-level questions about complex text, while others come unable to decode words.

The research* around academic interventions, and specifically reading, reducing recidivism compels the focus of NCSTU’s educational efforts to speedily and thoroughly identify and address the gaps of each student as they enter.

The instructional model

In planning the instructional model, it was the intent that each student be assessed in their ability to decode, comprehend, analyze written text, and individually be taught according to their learning needs. This is a rather large challenge even with six to eight students per class!

Diagnostic computer-adapted assessments have the ability to personalize the learning path each student needs. However, sitting a student with a computer–no matter how good the program–does not negate the value of the teacher’s interactive instruction time. Ideally, a blended model of online and face to face instruction with a commitment to daily allotted times should bring about reading growth; and it did just that at NCSTU!

Choosing a successful reading curriculum

All CSIU, content teachers engaged in ongoing instructional coaching to fully grasp how to use the Lexia Power Up Literacy to its optimal value. The literacy program provided the assessment and the learning path for each student in the strands of Word Study, Grammar, and Comprehension at a level appropriate and respectful of these students’ ages; even those students at the basic phonics skill levels. Lexia’s stories, graphics, music, and progress points all appeal to the students and keep them working hard and making gains.

The program provides easy to read data, so teachers know where a student is struggling and provides hard copy instructional sheets for the teacher to use with the student individually or in a small group. If a student understands a concept but needs more practice, there are well designed instructional practice opportunities in hard copies as well. Anchor charts are used, for example, if a student struggles to remember what an adjective is and does. The teacher can provide the chart for the student to use throughout the online lesson. The literacy program does what the teacher can’t always do in a short amount of time and provides quality supports for the teacher to be engaged in the student’s forward progress.

The growth experienced in the first year (2018-19) was significant.* The teachers committed to the recommended minutes on the reading program each day and continued learning and implementing all that the program was designed to do to grow their students’ reading abilities. The students speak highly of the program and enjoy achieving success that is genuine and impacts their futures.

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