Early Reading: Our Journey

>>Early reading is an area of curriculum development
that inspires passion and support for all Lindbergh learners. This information was originally presented
live as a curriculum update during the November 12 Board of Education meeting. Curriculum updates are quarterly presentations
that are designed to inform parents and the community about instructional changes in Lindbergh
Schools. Thank you for taking the time to learn more
about this important topic. Let’s begin. The first question we want to answer today
is: “Why are we on this journey?” Our goal is to ensure that we are meeting
the individual needs of all students, because we share a common goal with our families,
a goal that results in students who are successful, motivated and engaged readers. Over the last few years, we’ve identified
gaps in our instructional process, specifically in the area of phonics instruction. This requires that we provide direct instruction
and support the transfer of those skills into reading practice. The National Reading Panel has identified
five pillars of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. In the past, we have emphasized comprehension
as the ultimate outcome for reading, ensuring that students are reading for meaning. By doing that, we have paid too little attention
to decoding skills, the ability for students to hear sounds and understand sound/symbol
relationships. This skill is essential to support a well-rounded
reader who enjoys both the process and the outcome of reading. In 2016, state law brought to our attention
the concerns and misconceptions regarding students with dyslexia. Prior to and through the legislative process,
our reading specialists began their own learning journey with a book study that ultimately
has influenced our work. Simultaneously, we began to look at how we
could better support students whose decoding was impeding their reading skill development. This occurred through accommodations such
as Learning Ally, which reads texts to students, allowing them to build comprehension while
supporting decoding skill development. In addition, the Barton System was implemented
in a few cases to provide a scripted, instructional plan for students; both of these tools allowed
us to gauge the right fit for individual student support while we continued to plan for next
steps. During the 2017-18 school year, the state
dyslexia task force was developing a tool to support districts in their work. At the same time, Lindbergh began designing
our own dyslexia manual, outlining specific accommodations for students suspected of dyslexia. With the help of both parents and teacher
experts, we developed levels of interventions for students who needed additional instruction
as well. It was also during this year, that a committee
of reading specialists, administrators and teachers reviewed screening tools with the
intent of finding a tool that would be comprehensive and provide data to help us in decision-making
for students. Screening tools are district-based decisions,
and ultimately, the one Lindbergh selected is comprehensive yet efficient, allowing us
to get significant information on student risk factors without significant loss of instructional
time. Because our tool is nationally normed, it
has high reliability and validity. In 2018, we also expanded our reading specialist
training to include Orton-Gillingham multi-sensory methodologies. These are strategies that engage multiple
parts of the brain by having students practice learning through sight, sound and physical
movement to build understanding. This diversity of these activities allows
for flexibility in the way students learn. Our journey continued as we entered the 2018-19
school year. We hired a full time literacy coordinator,
a position that had not been in place for seven years. Reinstating the literacy coordinator position
was essential in leading the implementation of student screening and instructional enhancements. Our screener, Fastbridge, provided us information
on student risk levels. Those at risk on the screener were given the
Kilpatrick phonemic awareness diagnostic, which allowed us an opportunity to gather
more information on individual students. During this school year, the remaining reading
specialists in grades K-12 became specialized in multi-sensory Orton-Gillingham strategies
to support needed interventions for struggling students. In addition, Lindbergh literacy coordinator
Dr. Sarah Valter led a year-long phonics impact study in kindergarten and first grades, where
five different curriculum materials were implemented and studied. This study was an important step in the right
direction, addressing concerns from our families about the viability of options for phonics
instruction. We are grateful to our excellent teachers,
who were open to learning about and implementing various resources and providing feedback on
the impact within their classrooms. At the conclusion of last year, we partnered
with Hanover, a national research firm. We evaluated Hanover’s findings, which included
reviews of curriculum materials and comprehensive teacher surveys, in addition to our own reading
screening data and feedback from kindergarten and first grade students. As a result, the Sonday System was selected
to provide phonics instruction for all primary age students beginning in the 2019-20 school
year. The Sonday System provides tier one, or classroom-based,
instruction, but it also aligns with our newly adopted Orton-Gillingham intervention strategies,
which are referred to as tier two. The alignment of these resources supports
student understanding through common instructional strategies and vocabulary. Sonday System is an evidence-based, multi-sensory
program that aligns with what is being defined as structured literacy instruction. Through the impact study, it was also determined
that Heggerty, a program to support phonemic awareness, which is the ability to hear sounds
in words, would also be included in all kindergarten and first grade classrooms. While the impact study originated with kindergarten
and first grade, it was expanded to second grade implementation as a result of input
from our Teaching and Learning Board Advisory and our second grade teachers. So far this year, further work has occurred
to support both classroom and intervention instruction. At the classroom level, all K-2 teachers,
E-L-L teachers, reading specialists and coaches had multi-day training on the research, what
we fondly call the “why” of phonics instruction, and the Sonday materials that were selected
for implementation. Training all of these staff allows us to align
the work we do with our youngest learners across buildings and across classrooms to
provide kids with consistency. The district has also hired instructional
design coaches at each school to provide ongoing training, feedback and support for classroom
teachers. To continue to support intervention, elementary
reading specialists expanded the diagnostic tool used to more deeply assess those students
identified at risk. Between coaches and reading specialists, we
currently have one person in each building attending LETRS training, an in-depth training
that further explores the early literacy development of students. Finally, as we continue work this year, our
principals, coaches and literacy coordinator are participating in literacy learning walks
in our buildings. These are purposeful classroom visits that
allow us to identify current strengths and needs of implementation in order to inform
the next steps of training. This slide shows how our young readers have
improved from spring 2018-19 to fall 2019-20 screenings. As we’ve transitioned from a year of studying
phonics programs and moved to full classroom implementation, we are already seeing a decrease
in students who are defined as at-risk. As you look at this chart, you’ll see last
year’s spring data in column two. Column three shows you the same students and
their risk levels as they moved up a grade and were rescreened in the fall. The Missouri Department of Elementary and
Secondary Education identifies students at risk of dyslexia as anyone who scores lower
than 30 percent of the population. Since Lindbergh’s screener has national
norms, it provides a comprehensive view of student risk. You’ll notice as last year’s kindergartners
moved into first grade, the numbers of students at risk decreased by over 17 percentage points. A similar pattern of decreased risk is seen
in the current second and third graders. It is worth noting that this year’s third
graders, the group who has seen the lowest decrease in risk, was not part of last year’s
impact study. With the promising implementation of Sonday,
we anticipate that all of this data will continue to show decreased numbers of students at risk. Fastbridge data screens early reading in discrete
skills, but it is not our only tool for measuring reading success. We look at students on grade level reading
scores through other measures; the only other nationally normed assessment where all students
are tested is the A-C-T, and that data clearly shows the strength of Lindbergh students as
readers. The highest of all of our subtest scores on
the A-C-T is reading. Expanding practices, which allow us to more
definitively meet the diverse needs of students, requires time and significant effort. We are continuing our work in support of phonics
instruction. Looking ahead, professional learning will
specifically support teachers in grades 3-5. Teachers in grades K-2 will continue to have
follow-up sessions to expand on the professional learning they received this summer. In addition, more reading specialists and
coaches will participate in the next LETRS cohort, and our district literacy coordinator
will complete training with the state to become a certified trainer for all of our Lindbergh
teachers. This will allow us to have ongoing support
in the area of phonics instruction. Ultimately, our goal with all of this work
is to expand our toolbox of classroom techniques and supports for our students. As a district, we’ve identified the need
to personalize learning for students. Phonics instruction gives us a tool to do
that, but it’s not the only tool. Students need to love reading, to pick up
books for learning and enjoyment, and for that reason, we need strategies that engage
our learners in various ways, based on their individual skill sets. In the end, our student experience in early
literacy should not be either phonics or comprehension, it should be a combination of both, because
working with students is an art, as our teachers learn the strengths and needs of each of the
individual students in their classroom. We are all here for the same reason – to help
students be successful, and we are committed to this work. As we continue in this journey, we will continue
to monitor student learning to adjust and support our students as readers. Thank you.

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