Petersdorf responded to a Napa Valley school's recent dramatic improvement in test scores by taking some of his staff to observe and eventually be trained in a new program designed to raise reading and writing skills in elementary school children. Erica Parlog, a first-grade teacher trained in a program called Board Language, named so because it is done for a short time every day on the board, said the Napa school saw a "25-percent jump in test scores in the first year."
The 2006-07 school year is the first year that Board Language has gone school-wide at Discovery Bay School. "Our school is the third in the county to participate in this program," said Petersdorf. He was especially pleased with his teachers' support of the new program and his students' improvement in basic reading and writing skills.
A 20-minute session of Board Language in Rebecca Coleman's third-grade class revealed many of the program's virtues. The lesson was presented by means of an enlarged, laminated poster with sentences waiting to be dissected. The students were instructed not to write anything down; the lesson is designed to be oral and repetitive, which helps students focus on the present moment and think actively about the different elements of language.
"It (Board Language) trains students to use an academic language they will need for state testing," said Coleman. She whole-heartedly supports the program because "in the last year that it has been in the entire school's curriculum, every one of my students has shown a dramatic increase in both understanding the English language and using academic language to explain it."
Students seemed to like it, too. Their hands shot up to answer questions about adjective use that might challenge many college students today. They smiled proudly as they demonstrated their increasingly sophisticated grasp of English. "Cheapskate is an adjective," one confident boy yelled, and joined his classmates in a brief chatter about the cheapskates they knew. They named names.
One principal of Board Language teaching is that students should be called on randomly so they are always ready - and they are. Denise Sneath, an elementary school teacher doing a Master's thesis on the subject, said that her students take control of the lessons now that they have repeated them so often. They also gain proficiency through the use of new learning tools. "It was their idea to use a Thesaurus for the adjective discussion," she said.
The success of the Board Language program has led to further applications. Petersdorf said that soon his staff would be training in Board Math to improve math skills.