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St. Michael's students achieve great success with reading program

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Sick Kids Hospital's “Empower Reading” program is helping a group of Grade 2 and 3 students at St. Michael's School here improve their abilities and confidence.

The evidence-based reading intervention program is taught in schools across Ontario, throughout Canada, and abroad.

St. Michael's teacher Nathan Cousineau, who has facilitated the program since September, has seen students quickly exceed the school's previously-set reading goals.

“We're seeing that their reading levels are advancing at a rate that is a little bit higher than what we expected,” he noted.

"We set goals for them back in September and October and by January, we had to double those goals because they already superseded them.

“And even the students who didn't achieve the reading goal we had set for them in September are reaching it now,” Cousineau added.

“So there is a lot of good things coming from the program.”

The “Empower Reading” lessons are giving students the tools to identify which skill or reading strategy they need to apply when stuck on a certain word.

When students come across a word they're unfamiliar with, they essentially have a “game plan” to resort back to.

The “game plan” includes strategies like rhyming the word, sounding it out, peeling off affixes or suffixes, and the vowel alert strategy.

“It's reading strategies that everyone uses every day, but we're taking the time to really point it out to what skills we need to develop and what we use,” Cousineau explained.

The program helps to break down the reading tools and strategies in a way that's easier for the youngsters to understand, he added.

The reading group starts each day by posing the question: “How will reading benefit you?” And Cousineau said the answers the students give are becoming increasingly complex.

“I can tell these guys have high goals for themselves and I hope that 'Empower Reading' empowers them to reach those goals,” he remarked.

One of the key things Cousineau has noticed in the students who are a part of the program is an attitude shift.

“They look at reading now in a much more positive light,” he enthused.

Cousineau, meanwhile, is happy to be able to see students in the program improve so much in a short period of time.

He attributes a lot of the success to the design of “Empower Reading.”

The program was developed by “a cadre of special educators and psychologists who have been studying reading development and reading programs for the last 30 years.”

Cousineau works with a mentor from Sick Kids who helps him to facilitate the program here. Once a month, he and the mentor sit down and discuss how he can improve his delivery of it.

As well, the mentor sits in on an “Empower Reading” lesson through Skype once a month to provide Cousineau with feedback on his delivery of the program in the classroom.

“She's working closely with me and observing our group, so we get first-hand advice from the people who are really the experts of this program,” he lauded.

“It's a really great collaboration.”

Cousineau finds it very rewarding to be part of a program that's directly benefitting his school's Grade 2 and 3 students.

“I think it's a great program because it's directly identifying the deficiencies that a lot of our readers have early on, and we're able to build on those skills from day one,” he noted.

“It's co-ordinated in such a way that the skills we use yesterday will be incorporated into the activity today, and the words that we learned today will be in the reading for tomorrow, so it's always building on what the kids learn.”

Moving forward, Cousineau is going to set all the “Empower Reading” students up with a take-home journal for the summer that contains all the reading strategies they learned through the program.

And once the next school year rolls around, “We're going to take off where we left off,” he said.

“I look forward to continuing on in the role as an 'Empower Reading' instructor and delivering the program to future students,” Cousineau enthused.

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