ANDERSON — On a Tuesday afternoon, a dozen or so sixth-grade students at Highland Middle School stare intently at Apple iPads. Some are reading, others tap out their writing exercises.
After a few minutes, English teacher Milissa Crum dims the lights. A short piece about gasoline engines appears on a big screen. She takes a moment to read it aloud.
When Crum finishes, she asks questions and the real lesson of the day begins: figuring out the main idea of a story.
Sometimes that isn't always obvious, she says. Readers have to become detectives searching for clues and supporting information in the text to figure out "the big idea," she tells them.
Off to the side of the classroom quietly observing this exchange is Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz. She came to see a new reading program and clearly is impressed.
Called iLit, the program was developed and launched by giant education company Pearson last year and promises to help struggling readers improve. Highland is the first Indiana school to incorporate the new program into its curriculum.
Guided by a classroom teachers like Crum, iLit offers students personalized learning support based on their individual reading levels.
They choose from thousands of texts based around their interests; practice independent reading, build vocabulary, write informal summaries and essays, read aloud and take part in group discussions about what they've read. Equally important, they can chart their progress.
"Reading programs such as iLit engage the children so that they're doing active reading...actually doing more reading and getting excited about it. That's probably the best piece about this," Ritz said after observing the class.
"This one also has an actual instructional component to it, so it helps the teacher to be able to fully engage the kids and focus on various specific skills that they need to master as well. I noticed that it has great vocabulary building as it goes along, continually increasing vocabulary and I like that the kids can actually see their own improvement, their own levels, their own lexiles (reading measurement) and own their own growth."