By Kuhoo Rattan

City Year helps students stay in school and on track to graduate by supporting them in three key areas: attendance, behavior and course performance in math and English. One of the ways we support students in their English course performance is through the BURST program.

BURST is a thirty-minute literary intervention that City Year AmeriCorps members implement in their schools. A BURST session is divided into six activities each lasting five minutes – thus a ‘burst’ of instruction. One BURST cycle lasts ten days, during which a corps member works with their assigned group of four to six students. We work with them on phonics, letter sound awareness, regular words, high frequency irregular words and even vocabulary. We assess our students on day seven of the ten day cycle to make sure they are on track.  

I run my BURST sessions during the afternoon at 2:30 when my students have finished whole class learning. My students are currently working on regular words and vocabulary. On this particular day, our first activity focuses on high frequency irregular words. I model for my students how to sound out the word, and coach each student through the word. After that, we transition into a small game, “Simon Says,” in which one student reads directions on a piece of paper before acting them out. Other students then identify key irregular words in the directions and circle them. For my students, a chance to get out of their seat and be the center of attention is always a plus. Our third activity always revolves around vocabulary during which I introduce one word (ex. “alive”) and its meaning: alive means something that is not dead; it is still living. We practice the word with examples and non-examples and move on. The next two activities in the session revolve around vocabulary and more practice. We end the session with a small game – The Vowel Sound Game. The Vowel Sound Game focuses on long vowel sounds. I assign my students one of the five vowels and when I read a word, they have to stand up if it is their vowel, tell me the vowel sound and then create a sentence. This is just one example of how a BURST session can go.  Each day has different activities lasting five to eight minutes. It is easy to see the students’ growth in the lessons as they start to get more confident in their skill set.                                                                                                       

The most important part of BURST is assessment. We started our BURST sessions by assessing our academically challenged students and allowed the BURST computer program to generate groups with proper interventions. On day seven of our ten-day cycle, we either progress monitor our students ourselves or hand them over to their grade level teacher to continue working with them.  City Year AmeriCorps members measure students on the following skill sets: vocabulary, regular words and irregular words. Each assessment lasts about five minutes and the results are instantaneous, allowing the instructor to see the improvement.  For instance, prior to BURST one of my students could only read four out of ten regular words on the assessment.  During her last progress monitoring, she had improved and could now read seven out of ten words.  The look on her face when she realized she had improved was priceless! When she returned to BURST the next week, it was apparent in her work ethic that she was willing to work even harder.    

Kuhoo Rattan, author, is a City Year AmeriCorps member serving on the Serve DC team at King Elementary School.

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