Tulalip Tribes using special program to improve children’s reading skills

Matt Flores started his junior year of high school as a poor reader.

“I got passed along,” he said. He is trying to better himself.

“It was my choice to join this class.”

He has a teacher, and a new program, that may help him meet his goals. Margarita Huston, a teacher and tutor

for the Tulalip Tribes, said using software may be the way to boost the student’s reading skills.

“The software is called Reading Plus,” she said. “The program not only helps a student read better, but also helps them comprehend what they are reading.”

She said they are seeing astounding results just eight weeks into the program. One student, in six weeks, went from reading at a preschool level to a ninth-grade level, Huston said.

In a typical classroom, teachers might have students read aloud. It’s easy to determine who has mastered that skill.

But what about silent reading?

What is each student understanding?

That is where Reading Plus comes in.

In a pilot program more than a year ago, adults used Reading Plus, said Wendy Davis, director for Basic Skills for the Northwest Indian College. She said in 10 weeks, the average student’s reading comprehension improved by 4.6 grade levels.

“I was hoping for a grade level in one quarter,” Davis said. “Where we really want to see this is with the kids.”

She described the program like a bicycle. Someone who knows how to steer and balance can practice enough to learn to ride a bike. Those with basic reading skills can practice and learn to read fluently.

When I visited Huston’s class, next door to Tulalip Elementary School, three students were seated at computer terminals. It was quiet in the room as Huston explained to me what was happening.

Students read short passages, then were asked questions about what they read. Huston could see at her computer what the students were reading and their success levels.

“I can see where they are at,” she said. “When they show proficiency, they advance.”

A red dot on the passage students were reading showed if they were seeing words in a back and forth way. Huston, who has been teaching for 20 years, said the students’ eyes are tracked.

They use a device called a Visagraph at Tulalip, in conjunction with Reading Plus. Students wear special goggles and read on a screen to measure silent reading abilities. Testing on the Visagraph can tell the teacher who has severe visual deficiencies.

The Visagraph tracks eye movement, she said. A normal eye chart test does not catch eye movement.

“Visagraph will literally track your eye,” she said. “Your eye and brain are supposed to be synchronized.”

Through the program, Huston found that 20 percent of students needed glasses. She would like to test every child in the district, Huston said.

What impressed me about Reading Plus is that the students told me they chose to be in the program, working for 45 minutes several times each week. They appreciated the immediate feedback they got on a bar graph about improvements.

Huston said students gain self-confidence as their reading improves. When she was introduced to the program, she said she was fascinated.

“I was so excited,” she said. “I saw students with second- and third-grade comprehension go to adult comprehension within weeks.

Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451; oharran@heraldnet.com.

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