BILOXI -- Nearly 600 educators from across the state gathered in Biloxi this week to learn new strategies to teach reading.
Over the past couple years, Mississippi has used both carrot and stick methods to place an increasing emphasis on literacy education, and participants and event organizers from the Mississippi Reading Association have both felt the changes.
"The goal is to build teachers' capacities and to improve literacy across the state," said Sherry Shepard, conference chair.
Educators in Mississippi have been feeling increasing pressure to improve students' reading abilities. The "third-grade reading gate" -- the requirement that third-graders pass a reading test to be promoted to fourth grade -- along with new Common Core standards are tangible measures. But the two rounds of testing also have prompted Mississippi schools to place more focus on reading at all grade levels.
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Do more to teach children to read in kindergarten and they will be more likely to be ready for the test in third grade, the thinking goes. Continue literacy instruction at all grade levels until college and the students will do better in all subjects, because all subjects require reading, educators say.
The thinking isn't new. Educators have long known students will do better in school if they can read by third grade -- the point at which students stop learning to read and start reading to learn. And the associations has been holding this conference for 45 years.
But this year, perhaps pushed by the new requirements, 575 educators attended, up about 100 from last year.
The teachers could attend a number of the 75 or so sessions focusing various teaching strategies, theories of learning and technology integration in the classroom.
There were sessions about Common Core and the new Questar assessments.
Ideally, teachers can take what they've learned and immediately use it in their classrooms, Shepard said.
Sandra Jarrett and Cid Butler, both teachers from Madison Middle School, were at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino to host a session on leading a Socratic seminar in the classroom, facilitating a student-to-student discussion on broad topics related to a piece of writing, Jarrett said.
In front of a few dozen teachers, Butler explained the method and what teachers needed to keep in mind.
Jarrett and Butler had attended the conference for three years and said they had also learned a lot from other sessions -- about whole-brain activities, interactive journals and how to get classes engaged.
"Teachers love to hear from practitioners," Shepard said.