Teaching Kids How to Read
If you can read this sentence, you probably don’t know what it’s like to look at a line of letters and be utterly baffled. Unfortunately, too many children throughout New York are struggling with such simple sentences as, “See Sam run.” While the debate on how to solve this problem has reached national proportions, there is one local program already in City schools that gives children the gift of reading.
Reading Reform Foundation of New York is a 22-year-old organization that trains teachers to use specially developed phonics-basedapproaches to teaching reading, making learning easier for the students by having them employ all their senses in the process.
Conceived by a group of teachers and Sandra Priest Rose, a founding trustee of the organization who spent part of her career as a reading consultant in Community School 9 District in the Bronx, Reading Reform Foundation seeks to leap past the current controversies in educational theory to put proven methodology to work on behalf of children.
How does the Reading Reform program work? While most teachers’ colleges emphasize “whole language” theory, even for beginning reading, the Reading Reform program breaks the English language into approximately 24 basic spelling rules and then encourages the use of specific multi-sensory techniques to imprint learning on the brain. Children participating in this program see letters and letter combinations, then say them, write them, and, finally, read them.
Reading Reform’s experts say that this method reinforces learning because what the student hears, sees, says and writes, he or she understands and remembers. This is essential, they say, for beginning reading; it helps prevent letter and word reversals and enables students to go on to write sentences and stories as well as analyze what they are reading. Once a good foundation is laid, the students can comprehend and read widely. But the success of the Reading Reform methodology lies not just in its curriculum. The Foundation trains kindergarten, first, second and third grade teachers who are selected by their principals to participate. The yearlong program begins in July with graduate-level courses held at the Foundation’s West Side headquarters. Then, a Reading Reform mentor works directly with teachers in their classrooms for a full school year, helping to design lesson plans and guiding the teacher through the implementation of the organization’sresearch-based techniques. Annual fall conferences on effective teaching techniques and workshops designed for parents and teachers round out the program.
Reading Reform’s success is evident. During a recent end-of-year visit to a third grade class on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, 30 children were reading and writing with ease, enthusiastically using advanced vocabulary words in new and challenging sentences. Since 1985, Reading Reform Foundation has provided in-school training in over 100 public schools, serving 590 teachers and almost 17,000 children.
During the summer, the newest class of teachers began learning the Reading Reform curriculum. Participants are becoming skilled at specific techniques for teaching sound-symbol relationships, syllable division and spelling rules. As the discussion rages on in the corridors of education departments around the city and the country, I invite you to observe a handful of New York’s public school teachers as they become effective reading teachers.#
Jill Lewis is a reading consultant in NYC.