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“How do you teach phonemic awareness?” I asked my new team when I transitioned from teaching second grade to kindergarten. Little did I know, this question would catapult me into falling in love with the Heggerty Phonemic Awareness curriculum.

Co-teaching a lesson with a first-grade teacher.

Hunting for the Missing Piece

That year wasn’t the year I found it, however. Instead, I spent that year putting post-it notes on pages I thought might be important to hit in our adopted curriculum - flagging any page that mentioned PA. I was squeezing in isolated moments of PA instruction, and always knew something was missing. I didn’t even know Heggerty existed at this point, but was soon going to start hearing about it.

At the end of that year, I applied to be a literacy coach. In preparing for my interview, I knew I needed to find an answer for that missing piece. I reached out to any kindergarten teacher I knew, and I learned about Heggerty, both the scope and sequence and ease of use. That process planted the seed for my Heggerty journey, but still wasn’t the moment I began using the curriculum.

I landed the job as a literacy coach and we were trained by CORE (Consortium on Reaching Excellence in Education), truly a life-changing professional experience. I learned about how the science of reading instruction worked, and, during the Elementary Reading Academy Training, when we practiced phoneme segmentation I was almost in tears. I realized I hadn’t given my kindergarteners the most essential element of reading instruction in an explicit and systematic way.

During my first year coaching, I was lucky to partner with one of the most talented coaches around. She taught me so much about PA instruction and showed me how to make it FUN! When attending an ILA conference together, we watched leading literacy experts segment sounds by hopping in hula hoops. At that moment, we had a dream of bringing FUNemicAwareness to our district and beyond. We taught a professional development session to a large group or PreK-2nd grade teachers, which I’ve molded and continued bringing to many others since then.

Observing a kindergarten teacher who I had been coaching. She presented to the Curriculum Council and  Board of Education about the impact Heggerty made on her as an educator and on her students.

Love at First Sight

Our second year of coaching, we welcomed a new coach to our team who had a great deal of early literacy experience from her days teaching in Chicago. I will never forget when she brought what she called “the blue bible” with her to train our coaching team on the Heggerty hand motions. Immediately, I made the connection to the seed that was planted before and knew I had to implement this program immediately. Once I had the curriculum in my hands, I did some research online to see it in action. Then I came across this video which showed how engaging the lessons could be with some fun transitions built in! I loved the “It’s time to rhyme chant,” and have always kicked off my lessons using it! For years I’ve wanted to track down this teacher to thank her, so I’m hoping perhaps this blog will one day be shared with her! With this catchy inspiration, I began adding in my own transitions, and even partnering with some teachers who had added in their own, collectively creating some fun ways to keep the students’ attention. You can view these routines here if you are seeking out ways to make the lessons engaging and have students take ownership of the skills they are practicing.

That same year our district rolled out AIMS Web and phoneme segmentation was a measure we used in kindergarten and first grade. It took some difficult conversations to explain why students needed to be able to “chop” sounds. It wasn’t easy, as many teachers, like me, still needed to deepen their understanding of the difference between PA and phonics instruction. But this gave me an entry point with them, since I had been there too. Together, we grew through our data analysis and coaching conversations, and I was quickly welcomed in to model and co-teach Heggerty lessons. Once we officially launched Heggerty in our TK-1 classrooms, we began to see immediate results in our AIMS Web data and that in turn made our students more confident readers and spellers. Many even brought out their “choppers” during the assessment.

In a book study in which we participated as coaches, we read Jim Knight’s Instructional Coaching where he highlights the idea that successful coaching is like a “healthy virus”. Heggerty PA was this healthy virus that quickly began to spread...even across districts when I made another transition, and I became the reading specialist at the school where my daughter was beginning TK. Immediately, I knew I had to share Heggerty with the teachers and students. I remember one teacher asked me, “Is there a scope and sequence?” She had also been looking for something systematic and I was so excited to have an answer for her. Once I began intervening with kindergarten students in January, the same teacher came to me later on and asked me what I was doing with the students. One of her students who was receiving intervention had scored above benchmark on a phoneme segmentation screener. I knew this healthy virus was just what the students AND teachers needed.

As word spread, I was asked to present my FUNemicAwareness sessions at the district level and we went through the process of adopting Heggerty by Curriculum Council. Some of the most passionate teachers who had piloted the program came to share their incredible results. One of these teachers worked at my site and was the driving force in getting this healthy virus to spread within our district since she would share about Heggerty in the grade-level lead meetings. The passion she had for Heggerty was proof that it worked and she still always reminds me that it was her missing piece too. Eventually, I was asked to showcase our love for Heggerty at a Board of Ed meeting - so I of course brought along my students who could really show how fun reading with our ears could be!

Presenting Heggerty to Curriculum Council for adoption

Dibels data that was shared with the Curriculum Council and our Board of Education. The data displays the increase in the kindergarten class average for first sound fluency and phonemic segmentation fluency.

Soon after Heggerty was approved as a supplemental program district-wide, I began working as the district language and literacy coach.  We had just adopted a new core ELA program and my job was to help teachers with their implementation.  One common theme that came up was that students seemed to still need more support developing phonemic awareness. Having Heggerty ready to go was an incredible blessing.  That year I attended the International Dyslexia Association Los Angeles conference and Anita Archer was the keynote speaker.  She began talking about phonemic awareness and asked which districts represented in the audience used Heggerty.  She had those of us who raised our hands stand up and asked everyone to give us a round of applause.  That was the moment I knew I had to keep Heggerty at the heart of my work.  

Heggerty Happiness at Home

When Covid-19 caused schools to shut down, we scrambled to figure out a plan for learning at a distance.  Knowing I needed to keep Heggerty at the core, I immediately began filming lessons for each of the levels.  Sharing these with teachers, who then shared them with their students and families, became another way for the healthy virus to spread.  I found I could still be very explicit, and took advantage of the close camera angle to be able to show my mouth position and hand movements.  I began receiving positive feedback that these lessons not only were helping students, but teachers also shared that they felt like it was PD for them since they could learn about the pacing and hand movements by watching.  After the first week of lessons, and learning that we were going to be out more weeks than initially expected, I knew I had to add in some FUN.  So I began to create themed lessons and had students send requests.  Since my children were at home with me, they learned (and sometimes even taught) beside me, dressed in costume.  These themed lessons continued into the fall of 2020 with virtual backgrounds and funny filters.  I taught live via Zoom to both students learning at a distance and on campus.  Teachers, students, and families reached out to share how much fun they were having while also recognizing their kids were acquiring some very important ingredients for their reading recipe!

In January of 2021, I had to make the difficult decision to take a leave and was devastated thinking I was leaving a major void without being able to continue making the videos. Remembering that Heggerty had created their own videos, I pointed teachers in that direction if they felt they needed them. Many were so happy to keep the videos going in that way, and felt ready to make the instruction their own and add in their own FUN! I’m so happy to know the healthy Heggerty virus will continue to spread!

As I continue to keep Heggerty at the heart of my work, even as a mommy, I am documenting on Instagram my journey teaching my 4-year-old. Follow me @funemic_awareness and @funwithliteracy to see how my Heggerty love story continues!

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