Parents get crash course in phonics program
Pleasantdale Elementary School first-grade teacher Lucy Leone-Arroyo explained the school's phonics program to parents. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 21, 2012 1:15PM
BURR RIDGE — Jumping out of chairs, tapping on desks and even occasional shouting are all part of learning to read at Pleasantdale Elementary School.
“We cheer our red words,” said first-grade teacher Lucy Leone-Arroyo, speaking of the words that the Orton-Gillingham Phonics system teaches new readers to recognize on sight.
Those words are the exception. Most follow the basic rules of phonics, which are at the heart of the system that has been used at Pleasantdale Elementary District 107 school since 2003. Originally designed to teach children with dyslexia, Orton-Gillingham teaches not only reading, but writing, spelling and even proper pronunciation.
“When you make the ‘i’ sound, your nose should crinkle a little bit,” Leone-Arroyo told her first-graders as she taught her class all about the sound used in words like “hit,” “pit,” and even “pencil.”
Each fall Leone-Arroyo leads a workshop at which parents of children in pre-kindergarten through second grade learn the basics of the phonics program and the language that goes along with it.
Principal Matt Vandercar said a record number of parents turned out at the Sept. 11 workshop to learn about how their children are learning to read, write and spell.
While learning terms like “red word,” “green word,” and “popcorn words,” parents practiced writing letters in sand and tapping — a system that encourages children to use their fingers to find each sound and letter within a word.
“We have a new letter each day,” said Leone-Arroyo.
Orton-Gillingham breaks the entire English language into 42 basic sounds, which are taught one at a time.
After practicing how the day’s letter sounds and writing it on paper, students might trace their work by running their fingers over a mesh screen placed over their work, or they might practice drawing the letters in sand.
The plastic screen is one of several kinesthetic tools used to help solidify the lesson in the brains of early readers. By reinforcing each lesson in several ways, each multisensory lesson reaches a wide variety of children, including audible learners, visual learners and even those who need to move around more than others.
And according to test scores, the program is working.
Sixty-nine percent of Pleasantdale third-graders met or exceeded Illinois Standard Achievement Test standards in reading in 2002, before the district adopted the Orton-Gillingham program.
By 2009 that number rose to 93 percent.
Eighth-graders who took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills scored in the 69th percentile nationally in 2002. In 2010, that number rose to 80.“It’s amazing,” Leone-Arroyo said.