Park Academy serves students in grades 3-8 with dyslexia and other related language-based learning differences. Families who arrive at our doors are often at different stages in their journey to support and advocate for their child with dyslexia and often find that our structured literacy program is central to their reason for being here. At Park Academy, every student has a 50-minute, daily, small group reading class that helps to normalize and destigmatize this instruction.
Park Academy’s reading approach is based on Orton-Gillingham principles and is diagnostic, prescriptive, explicit, and sequential. We use assessments from both previous and current evaluations to understand a student’s reading needs and prescribe tailored instruction to address lagging skills. Instruction is explicit and sequential, meaning that students are taught skills directly and practice them, in a multisensory way, until they have been mastered and can move on to more complex skills. At Park Academy, groupings are flexible which allows us to make changes in pacing and content throughout the year.
Reading is a complex task and requires many skills to work in conjunction with each other to become a skilled reader. It is helpful to define some of our terms to build a common basis of understanding, which is where Scarborough’s reading rope is a helpful place to start. We view reading as a skill that weaves together two strands, language comprehension and word recognition, and within each strand are several threads, representing individual skills. All these threads are necessary to become a skilled reader. Students must be able to read the words on the page, and then use their language comprehension skills to make use of those words.
The primary focus of our Orton Gillingham class is to work on the word recognition strand of the reading rope and on the individual skills of phonological awareness, decoding, and sight recognition. Park Academy reading classes address each of these threads, providing explicit instruction and abundant practice to build these skills. The other strand, language comprehension, and its component skills, vocabulary, background knowledge, language structures, literacy knowledge, and verbal reasoning, are primarily the focus of language arts class, where students’ different reading skills are accommodated to access grade-level work. In reading class, students are still learning to read and become proficient at word recognition, while in language arts class, they are reading to learn and practicing language comprehension skills with accommodations to allow for differing reading levels. By addressing both these threads separately and providing full access for students, Park Academy’s academic classes are building skills toward the ultimate goal of becoming skilled readers.
When you walk into a reading class at Park Academy, each class follows a daily routine that may look a little different depending on the needs of the group. So, what do these three “word recognition” threads, phonological awareness, decoding, and sight recognition, look like in Reading Teacher, Rachel Greenough’s 2nd period reading class? Check out our video and read to learn more below!
Our daily practice in phonological awareness involves short oral exercises in which students segment, blend, and manipulate the individual sounds in words. For instance, the word chant has 4 phonemes: ch-a-n-t. An exercise might involve segmenting or separating those sounds or saying that word and then changing the first sound from /ch/ to /k/ to make the new word “can’t.” These exercises are completed orally, then tied to phonics, the connection between sounds and letters, during daily word dictation exercises. The first part of our video highlights what this looks like in the classroom for each individual student and the second part, Simultaneous Oral Spelling, highlights the connection between sounds and letters.
Simultaneous oral spelling (SOS) is an exercise where the teacher dictates a word that students can spell based on their existing knowledge of phonics and spelling rules (i.e. “stack”). Students repeat that word and break it into its individual sounds (“stack, /s/ /t/ /a/ /k/”). Then students write the word while saying the letter sounds or letter names aloud (“/s/ /t/ /a/ /k/” or “S T A C K”), read the word back to themselves (“stack”), and have the teacher check it. The word “stack” requires knowledge of letter-sound correspondence for the consonants S and T, knowledge of the short vowel sound of A, and knowledge of the “long spelling right after short vowel” spelling rule that dictates the use of the -ck ending right after a short vowel sound. By breaking up the word, and breaking up the task, this knowledge becomes explicit and multisensory. Students hear, see, speak, and tap the sounds while connecting them with written letters and spelling patterns. This multisensory practice strengthens connections and strengthens the students’ reading brains!
The third part of the video highlights decoding practice helps students achieve sight recognition, which is the ability to recognize and read both decodable and irregular words automatically. When decoding, we use words and stories that the students in that group can read successfully and accurately. We want students to practice reading so we discourage guessing and encourage sounding out and blending of sounds. To keep things interesting and engaging, we use games and activities to review and provide a lot of practice. Some words are sounded out, and others are practiced as “sight words” because they are such frequently used words in English or because their spellings are irregular and don’t follow the rules (or follow a rule that will be taught much later).
Thank you for taking the time to learn a little bit more about Park Academy’s structured literacy program and what a routine looks like in the classroom. The joy of reading class at Park Academy is that our groups are small and individualized. With flexible groupings that can be shifted as needed, we prioritize instruction focused on each student’s individual needs with pacing that allows them to be successful. If you have any questions about our program, please feel free to contact us at 503.594.8800.