Last year Cheboygan Area Schools are implemented a new kindergarten-6th grade reading professional development program called “Unlocking the Reading Code.” The program is based on the scientific principal of neuroplasticity or the idea that you can build new pathways or “roads” from one part of the brain to another. Cheboygan student are completing daily, specific activities to rewire their brains to become better readers and writers.
To successfully build new pathways or “roads” in their brains, Cheboygan students use FIRM during Unlocking the Reading Code activities. Students use Focused Attention to make sure they are directing all their attention to the task at hand. Distractions are avoided so the brain can focus on the activity. Students use Intensity to get faster at the skill they are practicing. Repetition of skills allows students to build stronger and better pathways or “roads” in their brain while using Mental Force to make sure their brains are working as hard as possible.
Implementation of Unlocking the Reading code is a three year process. Year 1 of the program which teaches the basics of the English language including matching letters and groups of letters with their appropriate sounds, vocabulary, reading fluency, syllable structures, and spelling conventions. This will give all students a common language or set of terms that will be consistent from teacher to teacher and from grade level to grade level. Year 2 begins grammar and Latin, Greek and French orthography or where words come from. In Year 3, students will work on multiple meanings of words, sentence structure and writing, and the Latin schwa or “uh” sound. For example in the word WAS, the letter A makes an “uh” sound instead of an “a” sound.
Students do RAN Deck practice every day. This activity is designed to increase the brain’s ability to move information from one part of the brain to another. There are picture, letter, and word RAN Decks. When a class meets its targeted number cards in a minute, it moves onto a more challenging RAN deck.
Why Unlocking the Reading Code by Superintendent Troy Reehl
Last December Cheboygan Area Schools underwent a federal programs audit. A team came in from the State of Michigan and looked at our student data and our practices to help close the achievement gap and accelerate student learning.
We learned that our model at the time did not meet the guidelines needed under funding requirements. We also learned that more than half of our students struggled in the areas of reading and math. It was suggested that we look at our core instructional practices to see why our students were not meeting the grade.
Knowing that reading impacts everything we do and learn, we decided as a district that we needed to address the reading area first.
This led us to survey our staff to seeing what their strengths and weaknesses were in the English Language Arts area. We learned that the foundations of the english language were an area we all needed to grow in to help students learn.
We all have heard… “Knowledge is Power” Knowledge provides us with the power to help others, in a variety of ways. It is also something that is good for our own self esteem.
Knowledge can include skills, experience and education. At best, it includes all three! Knowledge can be practical knowledge of the kind used by an engineer or a carpenter, or it can be more abstract knowledge of the kind that a mathematician uses. Knowledge helps us to find the way to solve a variety of issues.
Unlocking the Reading Code addresses the Knowledge is Power idea. Our staff is learning that there are three layers to the English language and why words are spelled the way that they are. This knowledge is also passed on to our students with tools to see how the English language was built.
Much like building a house, reading needs to be built from the ground up on a solid foundation. Year one in Unlocking the Reading Code may seem very elementary but this gives the teacher the opportunity to see what students know, what they are missing, and the opportunity to make sure all students have the same foundational skills. Then students will be better prepared for the more intense year 2 and 3 when students learn grammar, orthography (conventional spelling) and root origin. These skills will help every child accelerate in all content areas.
The goal of Cheboygan Area Schools is to work collaboratively as a team to provide all students with the knowledge needed to excel in anything they want to do. We are progress monitoring all of our k-6 students weekly and have already seen an educational gain. We were able to move one third of our students from “below benchmark” to “at or above benchmark”. Earlier in the year, one 5th grade student stated that he was already a great reader and thought Unlocking the Reading Code was baby-like. Today he stated that he was impressed how it has taught him things he did not know about the english language and that it is now getting more challenging.
We are all learning things with Unlocking the Reading Code that will help every child be a better learner.