Basic readers may become relics of the past in the Provo School District if a new approach to reading instruction takes hold and blossoms.

The approach incorporates state curriculum reading goals but allows teachers to fashion their own programs using children's literature rather than packaged reading programs developed by publishing houses. Teachers, parents and children will all have more say in what children learn to read and how in the new approach, according to Louise Baird, elementary curriculum specialist for language arts."Our goals, our knowledge of how kids learn to read will drive our reading program," Baird said.

Prepackaged material is put together based on the "best guess" of what will sell in big states such as California, Baird said. The readers contain partial selections of books, and the contents of the selections often don't relate to real life.

The district has been developing a framework for the new approach to reading - which has not yet been named - over the past two years. The first step was to give teachers children's literature books for their classrooms and encourage children to make selections and read the books on their own. The second step requires teachers to develop teaching programs based on children's literature. Fifty teachers in the Provo District are involved in this second step.

With the explosive growth in children's literature, teachers have a wide array of books to choose to use in their programs. But leaving the familiar frameworks of established reading programs is a bit unnerving, Baird said.

"We have seen some creative things, we've seen some concerns," Baird said. "Sometimes it feels like we are wallowing in a marshmallow."

The approach being suggested by the district requires more time on the part of teachers for developing their programs and reading up on the latest in children's literature.

But allowing teachers to take part in developing new reading programs will give them a sense of ownership, Baird said. Officials also feel that if teachers are responsible for their reading programs, they will provide children with more individualized instruction. Eventually, after teachers sift and experiment with different methods of using literature as an instructional tool, a unified system will be adopted by the district.

The ultimate goal of switching to programs based on "real" books is to instill in children an ability to read for comprehension and learning.

"The district's goal is to have every child read successfully before leaving the primary grades," Baird said. "We've felt successful with what we're doing but what we're doing is not good enough compared to what we know is possible."

Several teachers in the Provo District have already left the familiar ground of basic readers behind and ventured into the land of literature. Kristin Nelson, a sixth-grade teacher at Edgemont Elementary, is one of those teachers.

Nelson, who has always shunned basic readers, uses everything from newspapers to novels to teach reading, and integrates development of reading skills in most other areas of the curriculum. By doing so, children learn what reading skills are used for, why they have to have them and how to use them, so reading no longer exists as an isolated skill, Nelson said.

Class discussions - on characterization and motivation of characters, for example - and vocabulary word lists and writing assignments are drawn from books her pupils are reading, Nelson said.


Reading at home is still the key

Nothing teachers do compares with what parents can do for their children at home when it comes to turning children into skilled readers, said Louise Baird, elementary curriculum specialist for language arts in the Provo School District.

"The evidence is so overwhelming," Baird said. "Socioeconomic _ nothing makes a difference except how much parents read to children."

Baird said that parents need to continue to read to their children _ everything from recipes to directions, books and magazines - after they begin reading on their own.