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Angel trying to make reading heavenly for students

Published: Friday, June 14, 2013 11:49 a.m. CST • Updated: Friday, June 14, 2013 12:07 p.m. CST
(Ty Rushing/Newton Daily News)
Cathy Angel, creator of the "Making Reading Heavenly" reading program, presents to local teachers at Emerson Hough on Tuesday. Angel's methods for increasing literacy among students including associating letters with sounds and singing songs to remember pronunciation rules.

Cathy Angel created the “Making Reading Heavenly” reading program in hopes of motivating teachers, helping students progress with their reading skills and providing a better tool for teachers to teach language arts with, according to her website.

“Making Reading Heavenly is a successful program that really works, because it is a program that engages the students,” Angel said on her site. “It can be used in a competitive format to motivate kids. This creates an exciting journey that provides students with great skills, solid self-concepts and a lifelong love of reading.”

Elementary-level teachers from across the region have been attending her sessions at Emerson Hough throughout the week. Teachers representing schools in Newton, Pella, Grinnell, Ankeny, Bondurant and West Des Moines were among some of the educators present.

Westwood Elementary (Ankeny) teacher Heather Snyder spoke favorably about the program.

“My first thought was, ‘Why didn’t we learn this in college?’” Snyder said. “A gal that I teach with ... she’s just in her third year of teaching and I said, ‘Do you know this? Did you know this?’ and she said, ‘No, no, no.’ I was really sad, I was hoping that maybe she got it. I’m older and I was hoping the (teaching) program had gotten a lot better.”

Some of the methods used in the program and facts that Angel presents are, presumably, the things Snyder questioned the younger teacher about.

One of the methods that Angel supports is doing away with spelling lists. She gave reasons why on her site:

“Research shows that spelling lists are not the answer for most of the struggling spellers out there,” Angel said. “In these classic scenarios, words are practiced for three to four days at home, and then quickly forgotten in weeks to come. When asked in six weeks how to spell ‘list’ words, they are often spelled incorrectly again.”

Angel is also very keen on using sound to teach reading. She has something she calls the “100 rules and sound spellings.” Those 100 items often involve a certain motion to accompany the phonics behind the word.

Newton Community School District Elementary Education Services Director Jim Gilbert seemed impressed by the program.

“The lectures are focused on helping emerging readers,” Gilbert said. “This helps kids through alphabetic principles. This training is going to help our kids learn how to read better. All of the sounds she makes have physical movement. Each is a symbolic, physical, kinetic movement that goes along with the sound.”

Another sound tool Angel implements is making catchy literacy-related songs. This is something that Newton preschool teacher Jaimie Cranston talked about adding to her curriculum.

“I was thinking about the fourth through sixth (grade) kids and how some of those rules/songs are so good and catchy,” Cranston said. “But it feels so juvenile for some of those who are already behind. So I was trying to figure out ‘Apple Bottom Jeans’ tunes to go with the songs.”

“I was trying to think of appropriate, catchy songs, then I was trying to think of classic songs, like from ‘Grease,’” Cranston said. “But that didn’t sound cool either. So we thought of beatboxing and we are playing with the idea.”

Angel’s confidence in her program and its benefits was evident during her Tuesday afternoon teaching session.

“Kids that are struggling the most will benefit from this program,” Angel said.

Angel, who is a teacher by trade, explained her goals and motivations as an educator to the class.

“My goal for those second graders is that they leave my room as independent as they can be,” Angel said. “I didn’t used to teach like that ... This way, I’m giving them a tool. If I teach them about how to stop and think about ‘What are my choices?’ their chances of moving ahead on their own are far greater.”

Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641)-792-3121, ext. 426, or at trushing@newtondailynews.com

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