Ms. Koinis and Ms. LaLima demonstrate the SMARTBoard which involves hands-on learning for children. Photo by Tom Gould

Oyster Bay-East Norwich schools are getting a lot of attention about their high tech teaching programs. Teachers from other districts such as Great Neck, Roslyn, and Northport have been visiting the classrooms to see how the process works. More are coming on March 30. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Phyllis Harrington said the students in all grades of the school are used to visitors and don't consider them an interruption. "It's the culture we've established districtwide - the expectation of visitors," she said.

Local residents had a chance to see what all the excitement is about at the Tuesday, Feb. 10 meeting at the Roosevelt Elementary School. The snowstorm on Feb. 3 cancelled the meeting as well as a pre-meeting event, a reunion of Roosevelt alumni.

Roosevelt Principal Gina Faust told the audience that the literacy instruction program works because the students learn with the teachers who are learning too, with staff development. She said, "March 30 is the spring visit and 50 teachers are coming, (new to the program), to see the program at work. They know that in Oyster Bay learning is our No. 1 priority: teachers learning with students." Through insightful teaching methods they are able to pinpoint student's literacy skills and can match students to the appropriate book for them to read to continue up the reading ladder.

Literacy Coach Chris Bartell explained that they keep raising the bar to enhance student achievement. The lift comes when the students demonstrate they are ready to soar through reading assessments. They use running records to assess the child's reading skills.

The method was developed at Columbia University Teacher's College and is comprised of detailed recording of a child's reading which can be analyzed in three areas: meaning of the word; syntax, the way the student expects language to sound; and visual - looking at the page, students focus on the word sounds (and as demonstrated can make mistakes like horse for house).

Ms. Bartell said the teachers look for patterns in errors so they can teach the students other methods to be effective readers.

A visual error example is: "He pet the horse," versus "He pet the house." The question is "does that sound right?"

Ms. Bartell gave an example from her own education career. When she was playing volleyball her spiking needed improvement. Her coach would have her practice serving and blocking at which she was good but spent most of the time on spiking the ball, and as a result that skill improved. Back to reading, she said, "We take what the student is good at but we pinpoint strategies they are not good at to move forward as readers."

She said a way to open up the door to a kindergartener's mind is to ask them to tell a story as the teacher takes down the dictation. The child is asked to do the telling independently - without help. Using the Teacher's College analysis system they look at the piece in terms of meaning; elaboration and structure. It shows where the child is in their skills and shows what they need to move to the next level.

Ms. Bartell brought her talk into the wider arena saying, "Senator Barack Obama said, 'Literacy is the most basic currency in this knowledge economy we are living in today!' That is what we are doing."

After Ms. Bartell's demonstration (there were slides of the analysis sheets) the visitors were invited to view the SMARTBoards in action in three separate classrooms. In a corner of the room was a computer opened to the lesson. In front of the classroom was a large SMARTBoard that held the same information - similar to a PowerPoint presentation but much refined in that a touch on the board moved items to spell words; identify animals and non-animals; and animal sounds. Visitors were allowed to use the technology as a student would: a fun experience and fitting for this world of children who begin learning watching Sesame Street's active educational programs.

The SMARTBoards are tied into the Internet and teachers across the country have their lessons available and the Oyster Bay teachers have found one from Wichita, that they are using, and crediting to the originator.

Trustee Dolores Greico said, it looks wonderful, but how do the teachers have the time to do the analysis with each child? Principal Faust said it was all about self-management; setting up routines. "It's all planned ahead of time, for a year and a half."

Ms. Faust said the children, too, are into cooperating with time management. "The teacher says 'Criss cross applesauce' and everybody is on the floor with their legs crossed." It's a partnership between the teachers and the children.

Board President James Robinson said, "I am sincerely continually in awe of the accomplishments in the school district." He said the board and the superintendent of schools set the direction for the district and made the investments for the technology and teacher training over the past four to five years. "Now," he said of the district, "I don't think there is a comparison."

Board Vice President Robin Dando said, "For someone who has been through the system twice (two daughters) I've never seen a clearer vision and you are reaching goals."

Mr. Robinson said the presentation demonstrated that the district now has a mechanism by which they can measure student achievement. "That is what we have been asking for and given the teachers and the superintendent the delivery system is here."

"Ability and dedication. They own it," said Ms. Grieco, a former teacher herself.

Ms. Geieco and trustee Anne Marie Longo asked to be there when the teachers visit on March 30.

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