Beginning of the year blues

I have a love-hate relationship with the beginning of the school year.  The beginning of the year is always hard for me. I love meeting my students, sharpening pencils, and passing out boxes of unbroken crayons.  In the midst of all of these things, I forget that my students don’t know my expectations, classroom procedures, and are a whole year behind the students that just left my classroom in June.  But as Pete the Cat says, “It’s all good!” because that’s what makes each year different, challenging, and exciting.

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At the beginning, middle, and end of the year, the state where I teach mandates literacy assessments to measure student growth.  Each grade level completes assessments based on different skills. The assessments for my grade level consist of: phoneme segmentation, nonsense word fluency, and text-reading comprehension.  After finishing the assessment, I was amazed to see these results.

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This is the reality in my classroom this year. Out of 20 students in my class, 13 are significantly below level in phonic instruction, noted with the red dots on the left.  The letters on the right are my student’s reading levels.

After analyzing each student’s individual assessment, one question kept running through my mind: “How can you read above grade level but can’t decode words?”.  The district where I teach does not require teachers to follow a specific phonics program. In my opinion, this is problematic.  There is no sequential order to which teachers are suppose introduce sounds.  In my district, there are minimal resources to support teachers and students.  These said “resources” are very hard to come across. For example, I used my school based Literacy Teacher as a contact to get in touch with a Reading Foundations trainer who provided me with several resources and ideas, but because my school hasn’t purchased a specific program, I was not able to copy any of the resources.

After thinking about this for several days and having conversations with my colleagues, I am left with many questions:
-How do you choose a specific phonics program? {Letterland? Jolly Phonics? FUNdations? Orton Gillingham?}
-Do you choose a program or implement strategies from several programs?
-What materials do you use? {Magnetic letters? Dry erase boards? Decodable readers? Games?}
-What are the best strategies? {Tapping it out? Rollercoaster? Singing and rhyming?}
-How do you implement all of this? {Mini-lessons? Whole group? Small group?}
-Does a sequential order effect the way students learn phonics?
-Will learning phonics in mini-lessons effect student’s ability to decode words while reading? {Can students apply what they have learned?}

Throughout this semester, I will explore different phonic approaches and document their success with my students.  I will progress monitor these students every 10 days to see their growth.

~Stay tuned to learn about my successes and struggles as I navigate through this process!

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