Summer can be a period of inactivity for teachers as well as their pupils, but some took a break from vacationing this week to bolster their ability to help students learn to read.
Teachers from Washington Street Elementary were trained to use a unique approach to teaching reading skills using a phonetic system being adopted throughout the school district this upcoming year. On Wednesday they were familiarized with the system and its materials by its creator, former L.J. Bell teacher Kathy Crouch, then saw it in action Thursday in a classroom setting.
Monroe Avenue teachers will receive the same training next week, and Mineral Springs will become the last county elementary school to adopt the system in September.
“I’m learning a lot,” Washington Street second grade teacher Charlene Vallance said during the initial training session. “I always knew about phonics — and taught it in my own way — but what this does is take it a step further to actually breaking the word down correctly and looking at its individual parts. It’s called syllabication.”
Vallance said she is excited about the gains to be had from using the system.
“Children need to learn to read before they can read to learn — you have to start with the letters and the sounds they make,” she said. “That’s what this does.”
Jami Graham, of Richmond County Schools, said that teachers will benefit from the sequential outline of this approach to teaching phonics, as well as from establishing uniformity across the district.
“Let’s say a child transfers to Washington Street from Fairview Heights,” Graham explained. “Now, there won’t be any gap there because they’re all receiving the same instruction.”
The system was developed by Crouch during her time at L.J. Bell, and was first implemented last year at Fairview Heights Elementary.
“Half the children in the county know how to read, but don’t know how they got there,” Crouch told the teachers she trained Wednesday, emphasizing the practicality of the lessons.
“This is a rigid, structured outline for them to follow,” she said. “It is an explicit, systematic approach.”
The training sessions were arranged through the office of RCS Director of Elementary Instruction Debbie Wrenn, who said she met with the principals of Fairview Heights and East Rockingham elementary schools to identify the students to use in the demonstrations.
“We were able to put together groups of 40 students in need of foundational reading skills, which gave the teachers a clinical, classroom setting for the teacher-training,” Wrenn explained.
East Rockingham Principal Keith McKenzie saw the system implemented at his school last year, when it garnered immediate gains in the classroom.
“Our (English as a Second Language) teachers even used it, and reported their students are sounding words out and showing great progress,” he said. “So, the students in need of these skills are benefiting from this first, but it also serves to reinforce the skills of those who are already sustained readers.”
Fairview Heights kindergarten teacher Katie Murray was one of the first to pick up the system, and has since compiled a step-by-step instructional booklet for other kindergarten teachers to use at the beginning of the year.
“The children love it!” she commented on the phonics system. “They know phonics is a part of curriculum now, and they look forward to it everyday — they ask us when we’re going to do phonics.”
“The systematic approach is what’s going to be so great about this,” Washington Street first grade teacher Karol Slack said Wednesday. “Because there is a system behind the instruction, it builds in increments, and that incremental aspect ensures all the children are comprehending.”
Slack said reading comprehension is the ultimate goal.
“I think this is going to help us and free us up to focus on the comprehension piece of it, and really take that piece to the next level,” she said.
— Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 15, or by e-mail at email@example.com.