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4X4 builds readers

Expansion of UFT-developed program will use ATRs and help middle schoolers
New York Teacher

A successful UFT-developed reading program that offers teachers from the Absent Teacher Reserve the opportunity to work with small groups of middle school students will be expanded under the proposed contract.

The “4X4” program, which is centrally funded, connects four students with a single teacher for instruction four times per week. It was piloted for 10 weeks at MS 363, a high-needs middle school in the Bronx, in the spring.

The success of the pilot prompted the UFT to include the program in the contract announced on Oct. 11. Teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve will have more opportunities to be placed in the program and to do rewarding work in the classroom under the agreement.

Catherine Iwuanyanwu-Biemkpa, a former ATR, put the program into practice at MS 363. If the program is “properly administered, the students should be able to progress two or more grade levels” within 10–12 weeks, she said.

The initiative is an outgrowth of an instructional strategy in use at IS 303, a successful Bronx PROSE school. PROSE is a joint DOE-UFT initiative designed to give schools flexibility to innovate and improve outcomes.

“Everyone talks about the value of small-group instruction,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew, “but it takes resources and it’s hard to manage. Here, the whole program is provided and the school doesn’t have to pull funding from somewhere else to pay for it.”

The 4x4 program employs the Leveled Literacy Intervention method, an approach that gives middle school students having a difficult time with reading and writing the focused attention and structured program they need to catch up with their peers.

Iwuanyanwu-Biemkpa said some of the students who were initially disengaged with the reading material “started picking up interest” after a couple of lessons. That interest, she said, sparked an increase in comprehension and fluency.

She emphasized that the nature of 4x4 as a small-group learning environment helps foster a closer bond between the students and their teacher. “It’s not something where you stand up in front of the student,” she said. “You have to sit in close with them.”

Haseeb Khawaja, a teacher in the ATR pool who works in Brooklyn, said he wished the program had existed when he was excessed from his school five years ago.

“I’ve been in schools on assignment where I was used as a substitute just covering classes,” he said. “Sometimes it’s meaningful but sometimes you’re just taking attendance — it can be a misuse of experienced people.”

The 4x4 program, by contrast, is “the antithesis of busywork,” Khawaja said. “This is what I signed up for: to be a teacher and to meaningfully help the students on a daily basis.”

Smiling boy holding out his hand with a coin