Last updated: March 27. 2014 2:48PM - 1621 Views
Rick Hanes

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“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free” is a great quote, reminder, and call to action from Frederick Douglass on the importance of obtaining the skill of reading. According to a study by Early Education for All, we can expect a return to our community of more than $17 for every tax dollar invested in quality early education. Early literacy starting at home and further advanced at pre-school and primary school is critical. Ohio’s Third Grade Guarantee is based upon the principle that the ability to read is the foundation of learning.

Research shows a child who is not reading at the appropriate level early on will have trouble learning in everything the rest of their life. Understanding the profoundness and impact of the ability to read, Piqua City School District is committed to providing quality reading instructionkindergarten through the senior year. Quality instruction equates to developing support strategies for our struggling readers along with enhancements for our strong readers. It also equates to understanding literacy is not just reading but includes writing, speaking, listening, and how we use language to interact and communicate.

Fostering a child early is critical in developing the ability to read. Emilie Buchwald stresses the importance of parents in this process: “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” Parents and educators must join together to provideimmerging reading opportunities for our children. Many great parent resources can be found at www.reading.org by the International Reading Association including the brochure: Getting Your Child Ready to Read. On the school front we are now immersing every child into a reading program with an Ortin Gillingham focus.

Piqua City School District was successful in obtaining an Early Literacy and Reading Readiness Grant in April of 2013 which provided Ortin Gillingham training for all of our elementary teachers. Our staff learned instructional strategies in phonemic awareness, multi-sensory techniques for reading, writing and spelling, syllabication patterns for encoding and decoding, reciprocal teaching for reading comprehension, multi-sensory techniques for sign words, student assessment techniques and guidelines for weekly lesson plans. As you can see, teaching a child how to read is a huge challenge and responsibility!

Learning how to read can be tough because it is a complicated cognitive process. Our goal for every child is to build a foundation on the key components of reading. These components start with phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency which collectively allow children to identify and spell words accurately and fluently. The next two components, including vocabulary and reading comprehension, enable children to construct meaning once words are identified to build and enhance understanding. We believe the instruction and reinforcement of these five components are critical in the development of quality readers.

Teresa Anderson, Springcreek Primary Principal, summed up the training: “This training has been very beneficial for our staff - to improve our ability to diagnose the troubles our students are having and to have a systematic approach for addressing those problems!” The training has also built a long-lasting capacity among our teachers to deliver a research based program to tackle a tough learning skill and deliver quality reading instruction.

Katy Scott, Nicklin Kindergarten teacher, described the process as “Ortin Gillingham is a multi-sensory, kinesthetic, phonics program that we use in my kindergarten classroom on a daily basis. This programs allows the students to use many different materials to learn letter recognition, letter sounds, and high frequency words (red words). To do this, we use sand trays and screens for the students to write letters in and on. We use finger tapping for the students to blend words. We have a blending board that the students read words and decide if they are real words or nonsense words. The students really like to use all of the multi-sensory items while learning many phonics skills.”

The team approach to increasing student reading skills is also proven through our Title I Reading program based in several of our elementary buildings. “Students learn using a variety of reading materials to enrich and improve their reading skills in the Title I Reading program” explained Helen Walker, Title I teacher. Helen further shared: “At Bennett Intermediate School, students improve their reading confidence levels while working individually or in small groups.” Title I was established as part of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education.

Along with Ortin Gillingham and Title I, this year Piqua City School District has started an expanded learning opportunity for students to focus on reading skills for one hour after school. This opportunity provides a “double-dip” of reading instruction with Ortin Gillingham focus.

Mindy Gearhardt, Principal of Favorite Hill Primary, when asked to describe the success of the expanded learning program shared: “Students are applying strategies they are using in this program during their classroom instruction. They are using strategies from Orton Gillingham in all classes. I often hear students saying, “That’s a red word!” when there is a class discussion for science, social studies, and math.” Mindy further describes how reading techniques are being applied and moved into action: “Students are busy marking up unknown words when they are reading by dotting the vowels, marking the consonants, and drawing bridges to show syllables.”

Teacher Kris Mitchem explained: “With regard to the third grade reading guarantee, I have found that through the expanded learning program at Favorite Hill, the students are taking ownership of their reading skills and abilities.” Kris further shared a discussion with a student asked why they did so well: “I did that strategy you told us to do. I tracked it and read it in my head.” Kris has definitely made a great connection with her student and provided a model of quality teaching and learning in action!

Frederick Douglass said “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” He also said: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” His words are a constant reminder to all of us as parents, grandparents, educators and community members of the importance of our mission, call to action, and commitment to foster the ability to read with every child.

Rick Hanes is the superintendent of the Piqua City School District. Rick continues to ensure that the Piqua City Schools show residents the “Good Schools, Good Value” that they are each day. You can follow him directly on Twitter @raheducator.

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