Reading Program Alumna Diane Dalenberg excites students through technology
School of Education alumna Diane Dalenberg has made it her purpose to find a solution to this question, attempting to spark interest while also improving literacy for students at all levels of skill and ability. Her approach focuses on working with technology, instead of against it, to foster more positive attitudes in young readers. As an avid reader herself, Dalenberg encourages frequent and strategic reading for the purpose of practice and enjoyment.
In 2011 Dalenberg completed SSU's Educational Leadership program, earning an Administrative Credential. She continued on to obtain a master's in Educational Leadership, with a concentration in Reading and Language in 2012.
While finishing her master's, Dalenberg coordinated the Summer Reading Academy for 3rd graders of Sonoma Valley Unified School District as her cognate project. Working alongside Professor MaryAnn Nickel, she designed the program at El Verano Elementary School to mirror Sonoma State's summer academy, repurposing it to shift the focus on student engagement.
Dalenberg worked with another seasoned School of Education Alumna, El Verano School principal Maite Iturri. Iturri received multiple teaching credentials, an Administrative Services credential and a Master's in Educational Administration from Sonoma State.
Together, the two created a hands-on summer program designed to foster excitement for reading and imaginative engagement. "First and foremost the goal is gained confidence and a growing love of reading...that's number one," said Dalenberg.
The structure of the program is built upon self-selection of reading material. Teachers aid students in choosing a "homerun" or "just right" book, one that they just can't put down. Not only does this allow them to select content based on their interests, but also allows an opportunity to self-assess their reading abilities by determining material that is too challenging. Dalenberg said it was challenging to find the "homerun" match for some students.
To provide greater resources, Dalenberg incorporated the use of technology through the introduction of websites and online libraries. "Our school and class libraries are wonderful," she said "but they can be limited, and don't always have the material [students] are looking for." By allowing the children access to several online libraries, they had a much broader range of material.
The selected sites also offer additional tools (such as audio support and highlighted tracking on screen) that can be very helpful for young readers. These tools create an interactive experience and help students catch their own mistakes. "They can be the judge of their own fluency, and react to their own reading, which is huge," said Dalenberg.
"I think using technology to get the kids engaged is her greatest strength," said Nickel. "Depending on the child, they may be much more motivated to read from a computer than from a book."
Dalenberg cites on her website that the greatest challenge with teaching reading is the "frenzy" to cover standards. In large classrooms, students are given less individualized instruction, so they're generally taught reading and writing methods solely in preparation for standardized testing. The benefit of the Summer Reading environment is the freedom of creative and individual growth.
The overall success was measured by student and teacher evaluations at the conclusion of the three-week program. Based on the comparison of before-and-after attitudes of self-rating and enjoyment, the results reflected an overall improvement in all categories.
The academy returned for Summer 2013, this time growing to incorporate a class of 2nd-4th graders and more teachers. In the future she hopes to include more parent outreach and instruction on how parents can keep their kids engaged at home.
"When I started my master's I had no idea what I would do for my project. It's much easier when it's like 'this is my path and these are the steps to take." She added happily, "I couldn't have imagined when I started that this is what would blossom from it."