In classrooms around the country, you may find “Heggerty” written on a classroom schedule. Teachers who use the Heggerty Phonemic Awareness curriculum in their classrooms each day have many different names for this short instructional time - Heggerty, Ear Exercises, Word Play, and Phonemic Awareness, to name a few, but not everyone knows the person behind the curriculum.
The Heggerty Phonemic Awareness curriculum was written by Dr. Michael Heggerty and was first published in 2003. Michael Heggerty was a 1st grade teacher for 28 years and was a teacher that most students have not forgotten. While teaching first grade, Michael learned about the DIBELS assessment and attended a training about its administration at the University of Oregon. After assessing his students, his results showed that his students were lacking phonological and phonemic awareness, despite his consistent instruction with a core literacy series.
Seeing this need, Dr. Heggerty decided to create lessons that would meet the needs of his learners. He researched the importance of phonemic awareness and began drafting lessons that would provide repeated practice and instruction each day. His goal was to create a curriculum that was engaging, as well as systematic, so that all of his students would be phonemically aware. The lessons he wrote focused on rhyming, phoneme isolation with initial, final and medial sounds, blending, segmenting, adding, deleting and substituting, and progressed in instruction from working with larger units of language (phonological awareness) to hearing individual sounds (phonemic awareness). He found that providing practice with all the skills everyday was the best way to provide consistent instruction. The lessons were fun and engaging for his students, as he brought in hand motions and silly sentences and nonsense words rhyming, joining the ranks of Dr. Seuss with word play.
The oral and auditory lessons worked alongside his phonics lessons and reading instruction. These lesson plans were soon shared throughout his school and district. As word spread about these engaging lessons, the lesson plans were compiled into a book, and in 2003, the first print copy of the Primary curriculum was published and Literacy Resources was born. Many school districts throughout Illinois were early adopters of Michael’s work, Phonemic Awareness: The Skills That They Need to Help Them Succeed. In 2005, the first version of the Kindergarten curriculum was released, and in 2010, in collaboration with a fellow 1st grade teacher, the first version of the Pre-Kindergarten curriculum was released. All three levels of the curriculum provided systematic instruction in 8 phonological and phonemic awareness skills in each daily lesson.
Dr. Heggerty left his role as a classroom teacher and took a position as the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum in a suburban school district. When Michael worked as an administrator, he made an effort to know every teacher by name, and many of the students as well. Michael provided professional learning opportunities for all teachers, not just about phonemic awareness, but reading comprehension, vocabulary and his 5-Day writing plan. He worked tirelessly to provide teachers with the knowledge and materials they needed to be successful. His goal was to equip all educators with the knowledge and resources needed to impact student learning. He had no ego, instead, only drive. He was driven to ensure all children would become readers. He knew it was possible, and did the work to help make it happen.
Michael created a team of dedicated reading specialists to provide support for students in both the elementary schools and middle school, so that all students had the opportunity to be successful. His mission was to “fill the gap” and his goal was to equip each reading specialist with the resources needed to create small group lessons with effective and engaging instruction. He provided the Reading Specialists with instructional materials to teach decoding, comprehension, and fluency, including student materials such as decodable texts to apply their learning in connected text reading. Michael provided multiple resources for instructing students as well as professional learning opportunities to further their knowledge in reading. He created a book club for this reading team with Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Schaywitz when it was first published. I’d like to think that Michael somehow knew that his inspiring work was preparing two of those Reading Specialists with the knowledge to one day lead professional development sessions about his curriculum, and continue his work.
Dr. Heggerty also provided professional learning and training for teachers across the state of Illinois through Reading First training, focusing on Phonemic Awareness. His passion and knowledge were contagious, and his professional development sessions provided teachers with foundational knowledge that could immediately be applied in their classroom instruction.
He has inspired many educators to be leaders in their field, encouraging teachers to pursue degrees in administration and leadership, and many are now principals, assistant superintendents and superintendents in school districts. His depth of knowledge and his passion transformed a district with curriculum, knowledge, and insight that helped many students be successful, and his work impacted teachers across the country.
Since Dr. Heggerty’s passing, Literacy Resources has continued to grow throughout the United States and the curriculum is now being taught in tens of thousands of schools and more than 10 countries, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Michael’s knowledge and passion for teaching students to read is something that is still impacting classrooms everywhere. The systematic curriculum he created was ahead of its time - working with phoneme manipulation activities and advanced phonemic awareness skills in each level and in every lesson. And even though the lessons are oral and auditory, the skills transfer into print as students read and write words, matched to the sounds they hear. You would often hear Michael say, “The best evidence of a child’s phonemic awareness is in their writing.” And this is so true.
The future for Literacy Resources is grounded in the attributes that made Michael Heggerty so special. We continue to be committed and passionate about our role in helping educators and students in classrooms everywhere. We strive to provide high quality materials that meet instructional needs, including providing digital products for the very first time this school year. Our commitment to equip teachers with the knowledge they need to provide effective and engaging classroom instruction is reflected in every professional development session we offer.
It is difficult to put into words how amazing Dr. Heggerty was. Dr. Heggerty’s depth of knowledge and his commitment to helping all students learn to read are just two attributes that made him so special. Through the publication of his curricula, educators across the United States and around the world have witnessed the power of systematic phonemic awareness instruction, and its impact on teaching students to read. To every educator, parent and student who has taught or participated in a Heggerty Phonemic Awareness lesson...thank you for honoring Michael’s legacy.