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MUNSTER — Jeannine Fiegle wants to foster a love for reading among her St. Thomas More School first-graders early on, and uses strategies from the popular Reading Workshop in her classroom.

According to the website, the Reading Workshop is a teaching method in which the goal is to teach strategies for reading and comprehension.

Last week, Fiegle was focusing on phonics — long and short vowels — and trying to get students to understand the different phonetic patterns such as sw, bl or cr.

She said the goal of phonics is to enable beginning readers to decode new written words by sounding them out, or, in phonics terms, blending the sound-spelling patterns.

Fiegle said all of her students are reading, and she also is focusing on building their comprehension so they are not just "decoding" words but also understanding what they read.

"I'm building vocabulary, and after they read a story, I want to see if they can retell the story to me," she said. "Can you tell me the basic events of what happened in the story, and do they have basic comprehension of the story."

Fiegle said there are many students who can read and have good pronunciation skills, but when asked what happened in the story, they can't respond to questions. "I want to build their comprehension so they understand what the story said and what those words meant," she said.

In math, Fiegle said the children are working on math facts, including addition and subtraction.

"We have a new math series this year," Fiegle said. "It starts off with more algebraic concepts. It's not algebra but say for example, the children have to understand the equal sign and what it means for two things to be equal. It's math facts, but it's presented in a different way."

St. Thomas More Principal Jay Harker said students in first- through fourth-grade use a program called i-Ready Diagnostic & Instruction, which helps assess the students’ needs while monitoring their progress throughout the school year. It also will provide the student with individualized online instruction based on their individual skill level.

"Students are assessed three times a school year," Harker said. "Following an assessment, i-Ready places students into online instruction to support his or her progress in mastering essential skills in math. The child will be required to complete 45 minutes of online instruction as homework every week."

Fiegle kept the students busy and smoothly moving through one subject to another. As the students moved from reading to math, she gave them time to stand up, stretch and work in centers and color before having a snack, then onto the next subject.

"I do a lot of physical demonstrations and hands-on activities," she said.

First-grader Gavin Bouton said he likes his teacher, and he has "really good" classmates.

"I like all the stuff we do here, and all the things we go to like, all of our specials (art, music, computer lab)," he said. "I like learning about new stuff, especially science."


Education reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.