The science of reading

Teaching and learning goes hand in hand for a group of local educators who have embraced a new method of instruction, one based on the science of reading. 

Science based research points to insufficiencies in the way students have been taught to read and the analysis goes further, providing  educators with insight on what students need to be successful in learning to read and write. 

“The science of reading is the compilation of meta analysis of how the brain actually learns to read and what methods you need to help a child learn to read,” said elementary school reading specialist  Katie Ludes. Through her own research on the science of reading, Ludes came to know about Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling [LETRS]. 

“The LETRS program has allowed our team to become experts in the new research related to reading instruction,” said Luke Kripple, the district’s director of student services.

LETRS is a comprehensive program that provides teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to be literacy and language experts, and how to teach and assess students in order to improve outcomes. 

The main components of LETRS focus on phonological awareness, phonics, word recognition, vocabulary, and oral and text comprehension. 

“LETRS walks you through all of that, along with  learning and understanding the neuroscience, plus the best ways and methodology to teach a child to read,” Ludes said. 

Through LETRS training, Ludes came to understand the brain reads every letter on the page, “so it’s very vital that we teach letter sound correspondence for a child to be able to decode and be able to fluently read and through that be able to comprehend,” she said. “Sounds are so vital. Playing with sounds and manipulating sounds is so important to the growth students can make.”

The skills educators have learned through the LETRS program has  also brought to light the importance of oral  language and the role it plays in a students oral vocabulary. 

There are eight components to the LETRS program and it's all based on the brain and how the human brain learns to read and write.

Ludes is one of 18 educators in the Coal City School District to be LETRS trained. The program was presented to the district’s director of student service and with the support of the lower grade principals and superintendent, staff members were given the go ahead to begin training in what is called the number one rated professional development program for educators. 

As a reading specialist who was engaged in the methods being presented through the science of reading, Ludes was already implementing some of the concepts with her students. 

"LETRS was a way for all of us to enhance reading instructional practices ," Ludes said of the experience her colleagues that range from kindergarten to middle school teachers accomplished. "Through LETRS we have learned how to tailor  our  instruction to skills students need. We have moved away from balanced literacy to structured literacy. We have become much more explicit and systematic in how we teach foundational skills as well as the components of comprehension, "she added.

“We no longer look at teaching comprehension as just a main idea and detail. We look at a broader picture of vocabulary development, background knowledge and syntax, because syntax plays such a role in how you understand what you are reading. LETRS has taught us how to explicitly teach everything,” she said, adding, “one of the teachers I have worked with closely says she even teaches math more explicitly, there is just an overall growth in how we teach,” 

The benefit of the training is already being seen in student assessments, according to Jennifer Kenney, the district’s director of curriculum and assessment.  Data from state assessments completed last spring show an increase in student growth and proficiency in English/language arts and Kenney said one specific third grade classroom at the elementary school had outstanding scores and the teacher is one who went through LETRS training and worked closely with Ludes on implementing the principles of the program. 

“It’s these types of things that we need to implement,” Kenney said. Through discussions with the  building principals, the department chairperson and Ludes, Kenney said  plans are in place to train teachers in the science of reading. 

Everyone taking part in LETRS has volunteered their time in the last two years to complete the training that includes eight units that take roughly 14 hours of on-line and  facilitator instruction per session to complete. 

“It’s so much knowledge and everyone is happy with the knowledge they have gained,” Ludes said. 

Participating at the  Early Childhood Center are special education teacher Katie Aichele, kindergarten teacher Kim Haab, first grade teachers Angie Phillips, Jen Rhodes, Tiffany Stewart and Tricia Togliatti, and reading specialist Kristen Strunga.  Elementary school staff trained and using LETRS in their classrooms are third grade teachers Mackenzie Smolik and Lori Watson, and Stephanie Vahle-Reck, cross categorical special education instructor. 

Intermediate School teachers applying LETRS in their classrooms are fourth grade instructors Allison Anderson, Betsy Cowherd, Rebecca Housman and reading specialist Tracy Schmitz. Participating teachers at the middle school are sixth/seventh grade science instructor Neil Nicholson, cross categorical teacher Angela Roudis and school psychologist Sarah Veronda. 

“This is a perfect example of a group of educators who really care about their students, going above and beyond to ensure their students are supported and set up for success. I want to thank the program participants who deserve the highest praise for their dedication to our students and for their time and efforts throughout this two year process,” Kripple said.