The Winston-Salem Project was a three-year project that provided an alternative to ability grouping in reading. The project involved two primary schools in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, North Carolina. It focused on daily instructional blocks of literacy skills for all students, plus daily small-group instruction in classrooms with significant numbers of at-risk students.
Teachers Dorothy Hall and Connie Prevatte collaborated with Patricia Cunningham of Wake Forest University to develop the Winston-Salem Project as a model for reading instruction. For the pilot year, which was conducted at Clemmons Elementary, they selected four beginning-reading approaches and organized these approaches into four instructional blocks: basal, self-selected reading, writing, and working with words. Students received 30 minutes of daily instruction in each of the four blocks; instead of being placed in ability groups, all students received the same instruction.
For ongoing assessment, teachers used district-mandated basal tests, portfolios of the children's writing, and performance-based assessment for individual children. At the end of the school year, all students took the Informal Reading Inventory (IRI). Hall, Prevatte, and Cunningham (1995) concluded:
"Results of the IRI demonstrate that the four-block, multimethod, multilevel instruction was effective both for children who would have been in the bottom group and children who would have been in the top group. Half of the children who would have been in the bottom group read at or above grade level. All children who would have been in the middle group read at or above grade level. ... Everyone, including the other first-grade teachers in the school, realized that the children who had participated in the multimethod, multilevel classroom were reading and writing much better than children in previous years, when they had been grouped." (p. 143)
The next year, the program was continued at Clemmons Elementary and expanded to Easton Elementary, a school with a high population of at-risk students. At Easton, 79 percent of the children qualified for free or reduced-price meals; the school also had problems with student attendance and behavior. Because nearly half of all Easton students were below grade level, the school decided to provide additional support in the form of daily small-group instruction. The support program was called Facilitating Reading for Optimum Growth (FROG). Students were divided into small, heterogeneous groups; each group worked with a FROG instructor for 45 minutes daily and received supportive help in each of the four instructional blocks. Students also continued their regular work in the four blocks. IRI assessment at the end of the year indicated that 57 percent of the first graders and 73 percent of the second graders at Easton were reading at or above grade level. Hall, Prevatte, and Cunningham (1995) noted a major change in Easton students:
"Chaotic classrooms had been replaced by classrooms filled with excited students involved in reading and writing. Adding the FROG component to the multimethod, multilevel instruction gave these at-risk students some small-group instruction. Making the FROG groups heterogeneous allowed at-risk children to read, write, and share with others who were good models." (p. 151)
For the final year of the program, first-grade teachers at both Clemmons and Easton decided to keep their classes for second grade. Reading Recovery tutoring was added for the lowest achieving first graders. At the end of the year, 86 percent of the first graders and 98 percent of the second graders at Clemmons and 82 percent of the first graders and 83 percent of the second graders at Easton were reading at or above grade level.