Education Opinion

In this School, 100% of Kindergarteners Are on Target for Reading

By Matthew Lynch — July 18, 2017 4 min read
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By Shanda Barnett

It can be quite a challenge to excite students about reading when they’re coming to school hungry or overly tired. It can be harder still when their communities lack the resources and funds to provide these kids with the literacy instruction they need. In the fall of 2015, my school, Haleyville Elementary, was looking for a way to provide our students the best possible way to meet their literary potential. With a mission to change our students’ educational experience and improve their future opportunities for success, we embarked on a multi-sensory reading initiative.

Haleyville Elementary is a rural school in northwest Alabama serving a population of 839 students. The combination of a poverty rate of 70% with high truancy and transiency rates has given our faculty and staff a sense of urgency, inspiring us to make every moment with every student matter. Our school family and community have dedicated themselves to making sure our students’ needs are met, no matter what their financial situation.

Our biggest literacy challenge was that some students were not demonstrating sufficient progress in reading. The same students sat in our tiered instruction groups year after year. We were determined to find a more effective way to reach our students and to provide them with a key to foundational literacy. So, we did some digging, and after coming across Reading Horizons’ multi-sensory approach to instruction, began developing a plan that would help us close the achievement gap. Reading Horizons even provided online teacher training that taught me and my fellow teachers how to instruct our students with this new, all-encompassing method. Our staff, motivated to see our students achieve, dedicated themselves to the approach.

In order to get the most out of the program, the school decided to adopt a full multi-sensory approach to reading instruction. This meant using a combination of decoding, word games, dry erase boards and hand motions to help incorporate all aspects of learning into lessons instead of relying solely on sight words and memorization. The lessons became more thorough than any approach we had tried before. With these interactive and easily accessible lessons, learning to read no longer felt like a chore for our kids. It became something fun and engaging that everyone had access to. The results we’ve seen have been amazing, but they hardly compare to the joy we all feel when our students come to us excited to learn how to read.

By taking a “decoding” approach to literacy, our students gain a strong understanding for the reason behind the words and letters they’re reading. This method removes the pressure to memorize and drill sight words into their minds. Now they take their time to understand why letters make certain sounds when arranged a certain way. This puts the power into their hands and even makes the challenge of reading fun.

This approach changed my perception of teaching, too. By learning how to teach the method, I found a confidence in my lessons that I hadn’t had before. The multi-sensory approach broke down reading in such a way that when I taught it, I could see my students understanding the process--interacting with it with their writing, their speaking and their hand motions--and I could feel assured that they were actually walking away with a skill that would stick with them for the rest of their lives, not just memorizing something because of how it looked on the page.

Prior to the mid-point of the school year, we were already seeing students make tremendous strides in comparison to years past. The results were so significant that we rallied to have the program extended into the second grade. According to our most recent progress reports, 100% of our kindergarten students are now on target in reading and more than 70% of both our first- and second-grade students have demonstrated improvement in reading since the fall benchmark. We’re so excited about the progress we’ve seen that Haleyville has decided to expand the program into our third-grade classrooms this fall.

As one teacher put it, the multi-sensory approach “has changed our entire school climate, and we want to shout its praises from the rooftops!” We have seen our students’ success and interest in reading soar, along with their confidence and belief in themselves. When I talk to my fellow teachers, I hear a renewed passion and vigor. Because of these strategies, we feel fully equipped to provide the strong reading foundation our kids deserve.

With the ability to read comes knowledge, and knowledge is power. Literacy is an invaluable, lifelong tool. Reading Horizons and its multi-sensory method have inspired both our teachers and students here at Haleyville. Our classrooms are now filled with confidence and a renewed passion for learning.

Shanda Barnett is a second-grade teacher at Haleyville Elementary in northwest Alabama. She can be reached at sbarnett@havc.k12.al.us.

The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.