Her level best
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 2, 2004
Teacher's task: Get all kids
NORTHEAST VALLEY - A group of third-graders in Marisa Sandoval's class started
reading Stuart Little this week.
The importance of that goes beyond just a bunch of 9-year-olds reading a popular
children's book. It means to Sandoval that a handful of her students are reading
above their grade level.
E.B. White's Stuart Little is a fourth-grade-level book. Sandoval's goal is for
all 24 of her students to make one year's growth in reading.
The Tavan Elementary School teacher takes her task of teaching children to read
very seriously. One of the main objectives of a third-grade teacher is to get
all her students to read at least at third-grade level by the end of the school
If students fall behind in reading at this point, it could affect their
education later and ultimately their futures.
The Scottsdale Republic has been following the progress of Sandoval and her
class since the first day of school, when she immediately began working with her
students on analyzing their reading skills.
About half already were reading at or above a beginning third-grade level. But
Sandoval also started the year with 10 students just learning English, and
reading was a challenge for them.
A few weeks after school started, Sandoval divided the class into groups based
on their reading levels. Students were assigned books they could read but which
also would help them progress.
Progress comes book by book, week by week.
Once a week, students turn in a book report, based on a book of their choice.
Sandoval asks students to identify the main character, time, place, setting,
problem and solution of the book. Sometimes she'll remind students that they can
read books a bit more challenging than what they have
"The goal is for them to read every day at home, be able to understand what they
read and to be able to summarize it," she said.
Setbacks come in different ways.
Recently, within a two-week period, three of Sandoval's students moved away, and
she gained three new students.
"Losing or gaining students can change the class dynamics," she said. "Luckily,
the addition of the students livened up the class a bit."
It also presented Sandoval with a teaching challenge she hadn't encountered
before. One of the new students is from Somalia. Sandoval has to communicate
through the use of hand gestures.
"She's very expressive and lets me know when she's not getting it," Sandoval
Students learning English are pulled out for 30 minutes a day to work on phonics
and reading fluency, with the goal that they understand what they're reading.
It's teaching these students where Sandoval feels the most pressure.
"You are under the gun to get them to be reading at grade level," she said.
Their futures are most at stake.
Many times the students who aren't fluent in English are a grade or more below
grade level. So far this year, Sandoval has been pleased with her students who
are working with her and the English-immersion specialists. She sees a lot of
growth in the reading fluency of these students.
Sandoval tests her students three times a year, at the beginning, in the middle
and at the end of the school year.
Sandoval is conducting individual reading tests on her students now. Each test
takes about 30 minutes per student.
It will take Sandoval a few weeks to test all of them. She's hoping that each
will show at least three months' growth or better. Over winter break is when
she'll decide whether she needs to change how she's teaching.
"As a teacher, you always ask yourself questions after you get the results,"
Sandoval said. "Are they showing adequate progress? What do I need to do
differently? Is it alarming?"
The results, she said, can be encouraging or discouraging.
At the end of the year, the Scottsdale Republic will check on Sandoval and
report on how her class did on reading.
Reach the reporter at ofelia.madrid@ scottsdalerepublic.com or (602) 444-6879.