By Denise Morgan, Deputy Superintendent
Literacy is a problem that affects us all. High rates of illiteracy can lead to lower self esteem in individuals, difficulties in finding work, and higher rates of poverty or crime. If a parent cannot read to their children, those children are also more likely to drop out of school. This is a problem that is critical to our local county and society as a whole. According to a U.S. Dept. of Education’s, 2009 National Assessment of Adult Literacy, Grimes County has an illiteracy rate of 20%. On average 19% of adults in Texas cannot read a newspaper. These percentages, along with the need to help our students be successful in life are reasons why literacy is a priority for our district.
To help address literacy concerns in NISD, we have partnered with Neuhaus Education Center to assist our teachers with understanding and developing their instructional strategies or reading approaches, phonics, spelling and writing, including handwriting. Although, Neuhaus was founded originally to assist dyslexic students, the approaches used to assist these readers have proven to help all struggling readers.
The instructional strategies are designed to help educators understand how to identify reading issues and address these areas of concern with students in whole group, small group, and individual sessions. The approach to reading intervention is multisensory and draws the students into the lessons. A typical lesson lasts 20-30 minutes. It begins with a new concept introduction, practice of the concept, phonic card deck, spelling, handwriting, writing and coding reading passages, then reading. Once the Neuhaus lesson is complete, teachers move to their English/Language Arts instruction using the district curriculum.
What seems to excite and engage students about these lessons is the multisensory development. Students use hand signals as gestures to learn phonics. It appears to look like a sign language lesson, engaging students in verbal as well as physical and visual cues. Students then take these phonics lessons to their reading passage. If they need to code words using the phonics codes they do so, then they read the passages. We find the students very involved in the reading lesson. Initially coding every word because it is “fun”, but once they learn the cues and develop the understanding they break away from coding. Fluency is increased and they begin to enjoy reading.
Although this approach to learning is not new, the training provided the to the teachers has helped them to identify reading difficulties better as well as refining their skills on teaching the
basics of beginning reading. The ultimate goal is to have 100% of our students reading at or
above grade level and enjoying it.