Germantown Hills Middle School teacher shares reading lessons

DeWayne Bartels
Jack Moore, a student in Jan Whisker’s class at Germantown Hillls Middle School, reads.

GERMANTOWN HILLS — In 2010 every school district had to have a program in place called “Right To Intervene.”

The government-mandated program required school districts to identify at-risk students in the area of reading.

That is the easy part, according to Cindy Calvert, a special education inclusion teacher and collaborative teacher in language arts at Germantown Hills Middle School.

The hard part is helping at-risk and students not at risk how to go beyond simply reading to the point of comprehending what they are reading.


While it has been difficult developing a program, Calvert said GTH schools have been successful.

“Germantown Hills has been a model for other districts to follow. We got on it right away,” Calvert said.

“Other districts are calling us.”

Calvert said young readers go through steps before getting to comprehension.

She said they are going through the following stages:

• Phonics

• Fluency

• Understanding

• Comprehension

• Fluency

• Entertainment

“Comprehension kicks in fairly early. The base for it is laid in the early stages of learning to read,” Calvert said.

“It’s a foundation that builds. By third grade a student is, hopefully, independent enough in their reading to begin to comprehend.”

Calvert explained that understanding is related to vocabulary. Comprehension is related to things the child knows from experiences and education and applying it to the material being read.

“I tell my kids when they get lost in a book, become part of it, they are true readers. We have students in the third grade that are there,” Calvert said, usually the top 10 to 15 percent of the class.

“What a teacher wants to see is if a third grader is reading and meeting expectations at a third- grade level.

Joy Whisker, a fourth-grade teacher, said she likes to see comprehension arriving in second-graders, but realizes that is often too soon for most students.

“The earlier you catch a student’s interest the better off they are going to be,” Whisker said.

“It is all about being able to understand information given to you and being able to use it,” Whisker said.


Calvert said the Right To Intervene requirements help teachers have a good grasp of where students are in their reading and comprehension abilities.

“We do benchmark testing three times a year,” she said.

Students have one minute to read three passages, then take a test for comprehension.

The average third grade student should read at a rate of 115 words in the fall. They should jump to 132 words a minute by winter, and then 147 words per minute by spring.  

Calvert said to give students every opportunity to meet these benchmarks the district devotes one hour a day. That means spending 35 minutes extra four days a week on reading.

“We want students to relax and read,” Calvert said. “It’s not easy to get this time in, but it’s worthwhile. It’s about injecting fun. If it’s fun even the reluctant reader may pick up on it. If it’s fun it’s not work anymore.”


Calvert said she knows how to teach students to read, but how comprehension comes to the students is a mystery to her.

“The brain is still something we don’t understand. There are mysteries in the body,” Calvert said. “I don’t know that we’ll ever unlock that mystery.”

Calvert said she knows to a point comprehension is a function of the time spent reading.

“I don’t think there’s enough time for a lot of things in our day. It’s a jam-packed day. We do our best,” Calvert said. “We have book reports and special projects. We build extra activities into reading.”

Calvert said she still loves teaching because she gets to see that “aha” moment when comprehension arrives.

“It’s exciting to see that. It’s a thrill when you see a child get it,” Calvert said.

“You can see it in their eyes. They get excited to share what they know.”