Meet Meg Silver, a language-arts teacher at Columbiana Middle School.
She recently was honored by the Ohio Council of Teachers of Language Arts with its Outstanding English Language Arts Educator Award for her innovative work. Starting in 2006, Silver threw out the reading-and-repeating method of teaching that has put many students asleep.
“It’s really important not to teach that way,” she added.
She switched to “a self-guided reading and writing workshop format” for middle school students.
Under the new format, students could read what they wanted.
“It’s not the books that they are reading but the skills that empower them to read it,” Silver explained.
And the student test scores went up.
Silver, who lives in Poland, had become involved in the English Festival at Youngstown State University and was a co-editor of The Ohio Journal of English Language Arts, the official journal of the Ohio Council of Teachers of English Language Arts.
“I was stretching my wings,” she said.
She was also learning. She said a boy who read a book a week failed in her traditional class setting.
She spent a year reflecting on her work.
She studied the work of Nancie Atwell, who, in a 1987 book, urged her middle-school students to read and write.
The students grew when they could think about, talk about and write about the books they selected.
Silver said that as a result, the students read more than ever and wrote passionately about what they read.
She also created a method to daily gauge a student’s progress.
One girl wrote, “I don’t really enjoy reading, and I don’t like to read, but once you find the right book, everything falls into place.”
Her method gives students choices, the ability to differentiate materials, the understanding that literacy elements are in what they read and that those elements should exist in what they write.
One student read a book by a prolific author who churns out best-selling mysteries. The student decided the author wasn’t very good.
One boy wrote: “Writing has actually helped me with my reading. I am able to point out in books the different techniques the author used. Sometimes I even find ‘bad’ words, and I think of ones that could be put there to make a better phrase or sentence.”
Ronald Iarussi, the assistant superintendent of the Mahoning County Educational Service Center and the former Columbiana superintendent, wrote in a letter in support of her award, “Meg Silver is the best teacher I have ever worked with or supervised.”
He added that she had been an average teacher and chose to improve.
Don Mook, the superintendent of the Columbiana Schools, said, “She’s good.”