Focusing On Every Child

Inevitably, every year, I look up from my work, realize it is November, and say to myself, “There is so much I need to do this year – but the year is a third over!” How is it possible that time has flown so quickly?

Part of the reason time has moved so fast stems from the instructional changes we have put in place for many of our children this year. From implementing a new phonemic awareness resource for students in Kindergarten and 1st Grade, to new high school course options, we continue to focus on each of our students on a daily basis. Throughout the year I will provide various curriculum and instruction highlights from around the district.

Refocusing On Literacy Instruction

This year the district is heavily focused on literacy assessment and instruction for our students. Detailed screening assessments, which will be given three times a year, have been developed for all students in grades K-3. The assessments look at specific, developmentally appropriate skills within the following areas:

  • Phonological awareness (the ability to recognize and work with sounds in spoken language);
  • Phonemic awareness (the ability to focus on and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words);
  • Phonics (teaching how particular letters, groups of letters, and syllables sound rather than on individual letters or words);
  • Orthography (the set of conventions for writing, i.e. spelling);
  • Reading comprehension
  • Rapid automatic naming (the ability to quickly name aloud a series of familiar items, which is a predictor of reading success).

The results of the screening assessments are used by teachers to determine the instructional direction for the whole class, as well as specific intervention needs of individual students.

Kindergarten and 1st grade teachers have new phonemic awareness resources to help teach our youngest learners. Our students are having fun learning how to work with and manipulate sounds through verbal responses and hand movements. Watching our students fully engaged with their early literacy learning is such a joy!

Kindergarten and 1st grade teachers are also implementing the Units of Study in Phonics. This is a brand new resource which aligns to the Units of Study in Writing all elementary teachers are using. Phonics instruction is taught in a fun, interactive manner, rather than in the “death by worksheet” manner in which I learned! Ask your kindergarten or first grade student about Mabel or Rasheed, the Kindergarten and 1st grade phonics mascot.

Upper elementary students are learning phonics using Words Their Way. In addition to phonics, students learn spelling and vocabulary in a way which allows them to transfer their understandings to their individual reading and writing.

The district also sent many of our reading specialists to Orton-Gillingham training last year in order to provide services to our students who need additional support in their reading. The Orton-Gillingham approach is language-based and multisensory, and focuses on providing the necessary skills and strategies for students who have been identified as dyslexic, or for those who exhibit similar difficulties.

The tremendous amount of effort our staff has put in this year to learn new curricular directives and resources cannot be overstated. I am proud of each and every one of them! I also commend Julie Paur, the Webster Groves English Language Arts Coordinator for her dedication and work throughout this process. I am excited to see the results of our focused instruction with our learners!