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Episode 110: Brand New Literacy Program Helping Students Read & Succeed

It is an entirely new approach to teaching students how to read and succeed. On this episode of the Supercast, find out how Jordan School District’s Literacy Launch program is already helping students learn to read at higher levels than ever before. The results we are seeing in the classroom is bringing some teachers to tears, beyond excited about student success.


Audio Transcription

Anthony Godfrey:
Hello and welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, superintendent Anthony Godfrey. It is an entirely new approach to teaching students how to read and succeed. On this episode of the Supercast, find out how Jordan School District's Literacy Launch program is already helping students learn to read at higher levels than ever before. The results we're seeing in the classroom are bringing some teachers to tears, beyond excited about their student success. We're talking with Mandy Thurman and Michelle Lovell about literacy and our Literacy Launch in Jordan School District. There's nothing I'm more excited about. Tell me how it's going. First of all, we started this piloting last year. Just tell us where we are right now. How does it feel?

Michelle Lovell:
Well, we are really excited about the progress that we've made. And as far as we know, every school in Jordan School District has jumped in. Every elementary school has jumped in and already started in this process. And we're hearing great things from schools.

Anthony Godfrey:
We certainly are, and I'm hearing a lot of positives as well. It's a lot of hard work. Teachers are putting in a ton of effort. Our coaches are working really hard. We have our administrators on board and part of the effort as well. And we also have a lot of ESP employees or our classroom assistants who are involved in helping provide support. So everyone's diving in and working really hard and great things are already happening, even though the training district-wide only started a few months ago, this last summer.

Mandy Thurman:
Right, we trained nearly 1200 teachers, every K-6th grade teacher received two full days of training. We wanted them to really understand the why of everything that we were doing, the data that led us to this decision, and then what it was that would look different in their classrooms this year. I think teachers were nervous at first and had a lot of anxiety. But, like Michelle said, they've just jumped right in, given it a try, and now we're really hearing positive things from them.

Anthony Godfrey:
What I keep hearing is just how connected people feel to the program once they see the results from even just the initial implementation of what's been put in place.

Michelle Lovell:
I have been visiting with several of our schools just recently. What we've been hearing is most of them are in at least the first or second cycles of instruction. They're seeing kids move and change, gain skills. We're just seeing some excitement happening in the District.

Anthony Godfrey:
Now, the training happened this summer, as you described, it was two in-person days, one day of virtual instruction and then a day just to work with your team or independently to be ready to implement the program this year. You talked about the intervention cycles. That's a 15 day cycle. Tell me what that looks like for a student. What happens at the beginning? What happens during that cycle? And then what happens right before the next one is in place?

Mandy Thurman:
So we start with the Acadience information that we get. That's our statewide assessment that we use in Kindergarten through 3rd grade, and we're also now starting to use fourth through sixth grade. We use that information to identify students who might have some struggles with reading. From there, we do more diagnostic testing and both phonological awareness and phonics to really identify what skills it is that each individual student needs. Then teachers work as an entire grade level, not just individual classes, but they group those students on the grade level, according to the very targeted, specific skill that each student needs. Then for a 30 minute window of time, every day, during that 15 day cycle, they receive really targeted, specific instruction on the skill that they need. After those 15 days, we re-look at the data, we reassess the kids and then we regroup them based on what they need at that point in time. So it's very fluid. Kids are constantly moving and growing and then moving into the new groups that they need.

Anthony Godfrey:
What I love about that is first of all, that it's targeted instruction that is matched up with the exact skills that the student needs to improve in. The other is that it's on a regular basis, that students are regrouped and assigned based on the skills that they still need. In the past, students have been assigned to a group for a very long period of time and really couldn't essentially test their way out of that group and increase their skills once they were ready to do that. So I love that things are moving so quickly for students and they're able to advance as a result. Tell me a little bit about what parents should be watching for with their students who are in elementary.

Michelle Lovell:
So there may be some changes that parents see. One of those changes will be that they won't see a guided reading level come home. Kids are no longer grouped by a level of the alphabet. So we used to say, kids are reading on a level F or a level J, but now the students are grouped based on a needed skill. So a teacher may say to parents, your student is working on learning the long vowel, silent E pattern in reading, or your student is learning long vowel patterns, long vowel teams, or learning how to break apart multisyllabic words. So it's more targeted instruction. 

The other thing that parents may see is a difference in spelling. They may not get a traditional spelling test where kids just memorize a list of unrelated words, because we know that's not the most effective way to teach spelling. Instead, kids will learn word patterns so that they can spell any word that has that word pattern. So it will be a little bit of a shift and some things that parents can really do to help support their kids, one teacher put it, I think so beautifully. She said, “we need to be the tour guides of the world.” 

There are two pieces of reading. One part is we have to be able to get words off the page. We have to teach kids to decode, but then the other part is kids have to know what those words mean. They have to have some background knowledge and they have to have some of that information as well. So when those two things come together, when we can decode, and we know what those words mean, now we have reading comprehension. So what parents can do is be that tour guide of the world. They can read with their kids and talk about the vocabulary words that are in books. They can talk about that background knowledge. They can have experiences with the kids talking about plants that are in the yard or talking about experiences they're having as they're making meals, or as they’re visiting places and helping kids develop that really rich background knowledge that is so critical for all learners.

Anthony Godfrey:
That's a great reminder that reading really connects us to all other kinds of learning and allows us to experience really anything. So great reading skills are so essential for students to be successful in the future, but also to feel successful now and to feel really good about what they're doing in school. The other thing to keep in mind is that, as you've pointed out, K-3 is really the initial focus, but this is something that teachers at the upper elementary levels have also been trained on. What's wonderful about that is that even students who have gotten past third grade still missing some skills are able to fill those gaps.

Mandy Thurman:
Yeah, absolutely. We know that there are many of those kids right now. We use the saying, ‘in the younger grades we learned to read so that in the upper grades, we can read to learn’. Really, by third grade, that's where we want kids so that they have those foundational skills to decode the words on the page and be able to actually read the words. In the upper grades, what we're really working at is the content. Now they need to be able to read to access their science or their social studies and to make sense of what they're reading. But we know that we still have kids in those grades that don't have the full capability of decoding all the words. So we have some curriculum in place for the first time teaching in the classroom, as well as this intervention process that we talked about, that those kids in those upper grades will participate in as well.

Anthony Godfrey:
And the results are really, really exciting. I've heard from people at every level, K-6, talking about how exciting it is. Not just to feel like they know what needs to happen next in ways that they didn't before, but just seeing how their kids feel in their class about the success that they've experienced. The confidence that it gives them, as you said, to access all kinds of other knowledge. Because they say to themselves, ‘Hey, I'm a successful reader, and I know I can get better.’ There's a sense of efficacy that comes with that. ‘I know that I wasn't getting it, and now I am. And it's my effort that got me there.’

Michelle Lovell:
One of the things that we've also done is we've increased the classroom instruction. So teachers, not just intervention, but in their daily instruction are focusing more on the science of reading. They're focusing on teaching kids those spelling patterns and those word patterns, that decoding process that they need. It's been fun because one group of kindergarten teachers was excited because they had found when they did their first Acadience test, just with the increase in tier one instruction, the classroom instruction, that they had almost their whole class scoring above level. They started out at the very beginning of the year with about half of the class below level, but by the first Acadience test, all but three in each class had moved to above level. So they were just excited to see that happening, and it's been fun to watch.

Anthony Godfrey:
Does it make you wish a little bit that you could be in the classroom and experience it firsthand with your own students?

Mandy Thurman:
Yeah, absolutely. I think what's happened is really an empowering process, empowering teachers, empowering students. I think it would be really exciting to be back in the classroom and try some of these things ourselves.

Anthony Godfrey:
I know that this has been a ton of work for both of you. You provided how many trainings this summer?

Michelle Lovell:
I think at this point it's been 18 trainings?

Mandy Thurman:
I think we're at 21. We did 16 over the summer. 32 full days in the summer and I think we've done four additional rounds.

Anthony Godfrey:
It's been a huge push after a very difficult year and I commend you for your work. There's also a great support structure for teachers to be sure that we're helping them through the implementation process.

Michelle Lovell:
We have a structure set up to support teachers where every teacher, after each Acadience window, spends half day with a teacher specialist, and with their administrator, with an area superintendent. Going through student data, making sure students are grouped correctly, asking any questions that they may have, making sure that that they feel good about the lessons and that they're seeing that kind of growth. It's been really exciting to be in those meetings with the teachers as we're going through that process and providing that support that teachers really need and desire.

Anthony Godfrey:
I’ve heard such great things about the teacher specialists and the support that they've provided, and the coaches that are out there helping teachers. So it's really not just a team of teachers working together at a grade level, but it's all of the support around them. I really can't thank you enough for putting that in place and, and being such a great support to teachers after that initial training and implementation.

Mandy Thurman:
Well, thank you and we just want to thank you for all the support that's allowed us to get to this point. Without your support and your enthusiasm and passion behind early reading, I don't think we could have done what we’ve done.

Michelle Lovell:
I agree with that 100%, thank you. I agree we have some phenomenal teachers, coaches, teacher specialists, and AOSs, administrators, yourself. Thank you so much for what you are doing for kids.

Anthony Godfrey:
It's a really exciting effort and I can't wait to see where it takes us. Thank you both very much for the time and for all your great work.

 Stay with us. When we come back, we'll head into a classroom at Heartland Elementary School, where the new approach to teaching literacy is leading to some exciting outcomes in reading.

Break:
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Anthony Godfrey:
We’re here with Leslie Fiskell, 3rd grade teacher at Heartland Elementary. Thanks for spending time with me. 

Leslie Fiskell:
Thank you for having me here.

Anthony Godfrey:
Tell me a little bit from a third grade teacher's perspective, what it's like to be a part of this literacy launch. I know you've been doing it since last year when Heartland started to pilot the program.

Leslie Fiskell:
Well, I find it exciting because we have three programs we're using. We're doing 95%, Really Great Reading and Heggerty. We're teaching a lot of phonics and the kids are learning a lot about reading.

Anthony Godfrey:
How does this feel different from reading instruction for you as a teacher in comparison to how it felt before these programs were put in place?

Leslie Fiskell:
Before these programs you were putting your own reading lessons together. I don't believe it was maybe as systematic and explicit. This program has a scripted lesson for you and the kids have their manipulatives and things they use. So from a teacher, as far as preparation, there really is very little. And for the students, they have things to help them engage in the learning. 

Anthony Godfrey:
For the listeners, explain what a manipulative is.

Leslie Fiskell:
Okay, well, they have letter tiles. The letter tiles could be, you know, it's the letters, the vowels, and then, long vowels. So there are tiles they use to make words. It also comes with syllable words, little boards where they can write the syllables, and it's just a good, good program.

Anthony Godfrey:
So it allows them to physically engage with tiles and arrange syllables and sounds together. So that's a deeper level of engagement to be able to physically be part of the learning.

Leslie Fiskell:
It is. It's a lot better than just here's your whiteboard and marker, and you write a word. This breaks the word apart. It shows them how the word comes together. And then of course they can write it. 

Anthony Godfrey:
It really reemphasizes that there are components to words that come together. Sounds and letters that come together to form words.

Leslie Fiskell:
Yeah. Phonemes, the sounds and how those sounds come together to make the words. I think perhaps we were lacking in that area before we weren't teaching phonemes. I'm not sure we knew about phonemes, you know, but now we do.

Anthony Godfrey:
Does it feel like you're able to address more specific student needs rather than just generally improving reading? Focusing in on a very specific skill that they need to become a better reader?

Leslie Fiskell:
I think the Really Great Reading program, is that the only one we're talking about or can we talk about the other ones? The Really Great Reading program really addresses the whole class. So you might be learning long vowels but maybe on your own level in your skills group, you might be doing 95% and that's where you're really targeting that child's need. But all of them together they're connecting, and when those kids can make that connection, you know, we're finger stretching. In 95% we're finger stretching and Really Great Reading and all of the programs are connecting. 

Anthony Godfrey:
You’re finger stretching, tell me about finger stretching.

Leslie Fiskell:
Well, that's our sounds, our phonemes. We're counting our phonemes. How many phonemes in a word. So if it's like talk, it would be t, a, l, k, so you'd have four phonemes. So the students are learning that. And again, they're engaged because there's an action there.

Anthony Godfrey:
I tried the Heggerty instruction. I've been in kindergarten classrooms and gone through that with students. It's really interesting just how engaged they are and how focused they are when there's that physical component, where you move your hands along with the syllable and ask them to put that together in a word. It's just really quite something to see those young students latch onto it.

Leslie Fiskell:
They have their choppers. It's engaging to pull out your choppers, those are your hands. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Yeah, exactly. It's really exciting to see. What do you think it's like for students at this point compared with previous instruction they've received in literacy?

Leslie Fiskell:
Well, I think it's exciting for the students that are really catching on. I mean, everyone's catching on at some point, but to be able to answer those questions, we just all do it together. They're engaged, they have their manipulatives, their letter tiles I should say,  that they're making their words. I think it's very beneficial for the students because they're learning the rules of our language and how to read.

Anthony Godfrey:
What do you like most about teaching reading?

Leslie Fiskell:
Well, that's a big question, right? Right now I've got to tell you I'm loving our programs. I absolutely love Really Great Reading. It's my favorite. The reason I like it is because I'm learning too. Who knew why was was spelled w a s? Now I know. I'm this old and I know. It's the schwa, it’s flexing. So I love Really Great Reading and I love it for them because I think if you can learn all that stuff at a young age, you're going to be a great reader.

Anthony Godfrey:
Absolutely. Schwa flexing is something I haven't talked about enough, obviously, because flex, flex, flex to the schwa. It's going to stick with me. I really appreciate the time that you've taken and I love that you're focused on learning as a teacher. Those who are not in the classroom may not, let me back up a little bit. I know that the central part of being a great teacher is learning and I admire you for being so enthusiastic about learning something new, even though you've been teaching reading for a long time.

Leslie Fiskell:
Right. I will tell you, and I thought I was doing a good job teaching reading, but I am doing a much better job now with these programs.

Anthony Godfrey:
Outstanding. Thanks for all your hard work.

Leslie Fiskell:
Okay, thank you.

Anthony Godfrey:
Thanks for joining us on another episode of the Supercast. Remember education is the most important thing you'll do today. We'll see out there

 

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