Tucked away in a warehouse on Dubuque’s west end, there is a world of words and stories that will soon unlock the magic of reading to the city’s youth. In this same warehouse, Dubuque Community School District staff members are busy barcoding and organizing thousands of program materials for the fall launch of LEAD21, the district’s new reading curriculum for students in kindergarten through grade five.

“The move to LEAD21 comes completely out of best practices for teaching reading to our students,” said Wanda Steuri, K-5 language arts coordinator for the district. “We spent a year researching best practices in reading instruction before ever looking at products. Then, last year, we piloted two options to determine which would be the best fit for our schools.”

The selected program, LEAD21, is designed to transform the way reading is taught in order to better meet the needs of today’s students. A product of McGraw-Hill Wright Group, it is built around five key goals that make up its acronym: Literacy expanded, Equity ensured, Acceleration achieved and Differentiation defined – all to foster 21st century learning.

The program’s aim to expand literacy is achieved through multiple opportunities for students to engage in both verbal and written communication in both traditional and electronic formats. It is also designed to provide a structure to ensure equity among various levels of learning. Through the program, teachers get a system by which they can make a lesson plan meet the needs of the different learners in their classrooms. “The idea of differentiation in the classroom is a buzz word in education right now,” said Steuri. “Everyone talks about it, but in practice it is very hard to achieve. LEAD21 will help us more effectively incorporate differentiation into our curriculum.”

Using the newest research, LEAD21 has also built in a teacher support system called the gradual release of responsibility. Through this method, teachers can move advanced learners into more complex texts at a faster pace while also effectively meeting the needs of struggling readers. When using this type of instruction, students can be given more complex text for their instruction.

“When we piloted LEAD21 in our school, it was clear that students exhibited an increased level of engagement in the material,” said Cindy Steffens, principal of George Washington Carver Elementary School. “Beyond that, the program also uses reading as a way to foster collaboration, creativity and critical thinking – all important skills that students will need in the future.”

For more information, contact the DCSD School and Community Relations Office at (563)552-3020.