I’m pretty sure, if you were to survey the general public about which they think is the most important part of academic instruction in the primary classroom, you would have half the people say Math and the other say Reading. Truth be told, I really enjoyed teaching both subjects when I was a classroom teacher (funny, I enjoyed teaching reading more when I taught first and I loved teaching Everyday Math when I taught kindergarten).
Currently I have been thinking about phonics instruction and teacher knowledge related to letter sound correspondence. This old saying, you don’t know what you don’t know until you know, is a great way to sum up what some teacher know about phonics. They don’t know what they don’t know. Moats in her article “Still Wanted: Teachers with Language Knowledge” writes about how teachers with less know are over confident in their knowledge–they really don’t know what they don’t know.
I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know! My undergraduate program did not prepare me to teach reading, especially phonics. That’s surprising as you think when you go to college it is to help you learn to teach. It wasn’t until I started teaching first grade reading and phonics when I realized my undergrad classes didn’t prepare me to teach phonics. At least, the classes didn’t give me enough knowledge about the English spelling system so I would be able to teach it to others. To help overcome this lack of knowledge, I sought out professional development in the area of phonics, emergent reading, and word study.
While working on my dissertation I came across the Moats article mentioned above. The concept that many elementary teachers lack knowledge regarding the English spelling system was alarming but also got me thinking about how I could help. A PLC, Professional Learning Community, seemed to be the answer. I’m excited to announce that this school year myself and almost 12 other primary teachers will be expanding our knowledge of teaching phonics. We had our first session this past week. It was interesting to hear others say that they don’t remember much of phonics instruction when they were in school or in undergrad. As the year continues, I’ll try to share some of the topics we discuss and links to any online sources I use. If you have time, I strongly recommend reading “Still wanted: Teachers with knowledge of language” by Moats.
I know, what a strange title, whatever could it mean? This year I am a Reading Specialist in the school district I was a kindergarten teacher in for 10 years. I am excited about the change but still not 100 percent sure what I got myself into. It is an exciting time for my district as this school year two new reading interventions were purchased. One is an intense comprehension intervention, LLI, and the other is a systematic phonics program (that can be used as an intervention), Wilson Fundations.
Both programs are amazing. I’ve been a fan of Fountas and Pinnell’s work for almost 15 year, when I first saw them at San Antonio for the first train the trainers workshop on their phonics program. I haven’t had a chance to teach an LLI lesson, but from the training I had, LLI includes all the components of the Literacy Collaborative Framework I so enjoyed when I was teaching first grade. In many ways, LLI reminds me of Reading Recovery but on a larger scale (groups of 3).
Wilson Fundations reminds we of Saxon Phonics. Saxon Phonics is a systematic phonics program that is very scripted and teaches many phonics rules (some of the rules that are taught are things that many other programs do not teach until second or third grade). Saxon included coding homework every night, which was difficult for families to help complete because the parents didn’t know the coding rules. Teaching Saxon Phonics to the whole class of first graders, as a first year teacher, was frustrating. I didn’t have the skills to differentiate the lessons that first year like I do now nor the student engagement strategies. I was very glad at the end of the year that my school had chosen to switch to a different program, one that leaded itself better to differentiation, didn’t feel like I was always teaching the to middle, and connected to real reading and writing. That’s not to say I didn’t learn a lot while teaching Saxon.
Now here’s where the title of this post comes into play.
While teaching Saxon, I finally learned some of the spelling rules I never really understood. Back story time… I was a struggling speller when I was in elementary school. I felt bad for my class as I was the reason they never got the spelling popcorn party at the end of the week. I was the reason we didn’t get extra recess on Friday–the teacher had to give the spelling test to those that didn’t pass the Wednesday pretest. Spelling was just hard for me. Oh who am I kidding, spelling is still hard for me. Now I understand why spelling, and decoding multisyllabic words, was so hard; I did not have a solid phonemic awareness base. I didn’t have enough opportunities to practice hearing and manipulating sounds in words.
To be continued…
This, starting to write on the blog again, is like getting back to an exercise plan, you just have to start again! I haven’t done much writing since this late winter/early spring when I was trying to finish my dissertation. I wrote the last two chapters of my dissertation in about 2.5 months while it took me over 3 YEARS to write the first three chapters! Now that my fingers have rested up, similar to a marathon runner’s legs resting up after a race, they’re ready to get back to writing. Also similar to getting back into an exercise routine, this post is going to be short as I build my stamina for writing. I don’t want to strain or sprain a muscle (finger or brain). It is my hope to return soon and share some of my thoughts on what I am reading right now.