Back to all

Plain Talk 2023

Our team had the privilege of attending the 2023 Plain Talk About Literacy and Learning conference in New Orleans. We left feeling grateful for the hard work of researchers, educators, and the Center for Literacy and Learning (CLL). We also left feeling inspired to implement and share our new or reinforced learning. 

However, we know that not all educators have the ability to attend conferences such as Plain Talk. That’s why we wanted to share our key takeaways from the sessions we attended. Our hope is that these insights will provide all educators with access to the fantastic resources and knowledge that were shared at the conference. Whether our takeaways offer new learning or reinforce the amazing work you are already doing in your classroom, we hope you find them helpful and gain different perspectives as each of our team members shares their takeaways!

➡️ Follow Heggerty on Twitter for upcoming webinars, free resources, a first look at NEW curriculum & to see how our community implements Heggerty in their classrooms during #heggertytime!

Session 1- NAEP and Covid Learning Loss by Dr. Katie Pace Miles

Marjorie Bottari, Director of Professional Development

This session covered extremely important topics in such a short amount of time. While we are all aware of the learning loss that occurred due to Covid, Dr. Kaite Pace Miles drilled down, beyond NAEP scores, to share the deep inequities within our education system. NAEP gives us a picture of our literacy rates as a country, and the picture isn’t pretty. Historically, pre-covid as well as post, our literacy rates as a county have been dismal. 33% of students in 4th grade are proficient in reading. Consider that only 33% of students are proficient readers when research tells us 95% of students can be taught to read. While that number – 33%- is heartbreaking and unacceptable, it actually doesn’t tell the true story for minority or low SES students. 42% of White/Caucasian and 58% of Asian are reading at or above grade level, while only 17% of Black and 21% of Hispanic students are.  Dr. Miles shared that we need to dig deeper than NAEP scores to really know what literacy rates are in our community. What we will find when we dig deeper is that none of the proficiency rates in high-needs communities are 33% – they are all lower. She suggests looking at your ELA scores for your state to find more specific information about your community’s needs. 

So, what do we do with this information? We recognize the urgent need to increase literacy rates, but how do we go about that? Dr. Miles shares the importance of drawing on all of the resources we have available. She encouraged using NAEP and state ELA scores to write grants for funding. While we know Covid had a huge impact on student learning, funding for Covid relief runs out in 2024. Research shows it can take some students up to five years to close the gap from Covid learning loss. Funding is needed to support tutoring, teacher preparation, resources, and more. 

While many schools are equipping teachers with new curriculum that aligns with the Science of Reading (SoR) or Structured Literacy, that simply is not enough. We need to ensure proper professional development for the implementation of the curriculum, as well as ensure that administrators and teacher leaders have the knowledge to support teachers. This change needs to make its way to teacher prep programs as well. In addition to academic support, we need to consider the support for social emotional needs and connection across the community.

It is important to recognize that our literacy crisis is multi-faceted.  While the movement of SoR or Structured Literacy is impactful and necessary, it is simply not enough. If we do not consider and support the many other needs, we are not going to see the increase in student literacy that we are so hopeful for. 

💻 Blog Post: Read our “11 NEW Science of Reading Resources” blog post here! Our literacy specialists curated a list of 11 NEW resources for educators who wish to further their knowledge about the Science of Reading.

Session 2- Teaching Beyond Decodables by Judi Dodson

Brittany Snyder, Content Marketing Specialist 

Decodable texts have become a hot topic in literacy, and educators are exploring ways to enhance their instruction around them. I was eager to attend Judi Dodson’s session on “Teaching Beyond Decodables” to learn more about how to do this effectively.

Throughout the session, Judi emphasized the importance of considering the relationship between language and reading. She reminded us that while foundational skills are essential, language provides velcro for word learning, making our instruction more impactful and engaging. Judi shared various strategies for including language-rich instruction in the literacy block, such as making morphological connections, teaching words and their relatives, and connecting content to the pictures in the texts provided.

Judi also highlighted the value of using paired reading to enhance comprehension. By choosing books that use important words in context, students can build a cohesive mental model that can assist comprehension of the original decodable text. Paired texts that share a similar theme can also provide students with increased language opportunities to help build a more comprehensive understanding of the topic.

In conclusion, Judi’s session was a reminder of the importance of balancing foundational skills and language when planning literacy instruction. By incorporating language-rich instruction and using paired reading, educators can elevate their instruction around decodable texts, providing students with opportunities to build their language skills and develop a deeper understanding of the texts they are reading.

🎥 Free Webinars: To learn more about Decodable texts, watch our On-Demand webinar- Navigating Decodable Texts and Leveled Readers: What Are They and How Can We Use Them?

Session 3- Teaching Phonemic Awareness in 2023: Teaching PA to Support Decoding by Jane Ashby

Janine Henley, Customer Success Specialist (Supports Louisiana, Texas, and Georgia) 

In this session, Jane Ashby highlighted the crucial role of phonemic awareness in learning to decode, recognize, and spell words accurately and automatically. Phonemic awareness, which focuses on the sound sequences that make up words, is often the missing link to mastering other word recognition skills, such as decoding and automatic sight recognition. Using the metaphor of “Building a Home for Literacy”, Ashby reminded us of the necessity of having a strong foundation of phonemic awareness and letter sounds in order to lay the subfloor of phonics and spelling skills. When the foundation has cracks, and students are not able to perform phonemic awareness tasks, they will struggle to retain phonics concepts. This, in turn, has negative impacts on students’ reading fluency and comprehension. 

While phonemic awareness (PA) is relatively easy for students to learn when taught explicitly and systematically, struggling readers often need more scaffolding and support during phonemic awareness activities. For these students, “Phonemic awareness is not THE answer, but it is part of the answer.” Ashby recommended using a screener, such as the Rosner TAAS, to determine if phonemic awareness instruction is needed. While accuracy on a screener is important, automaticity should also be a consideration when determining if a student has mastered a phonemic awareness skill. When administering the screener, sit across from the student so they can see your mouth and speak the word naturally, being careful to not over-enunciate. If a student struggles with automaticity or accuracy, she recommends small, consistent daily doses of PA instruction.

While the goal of phonemic awareness is an automatic oral response, students who are having difficulty mastering a PA skill would benefit from tangible manipulatives to support their learning. When introducing and practicing a new phonemic awareness skill, blank chips support memory for the sounds in words. For students who need even more support, you could include a picture to help them remember the word and Elkonin boxes to help show how many sounds are in the word. 

Ashby also reminded us that phonics and phonemic awareness are parallel word recognition strands, and it is important for educators to knit the two together. To help make the connection between phonemic awareness and phonics more concrete for students, Ashby suggests utilizing the same chips that were used during an oral phonemic awareness warm-up when decoding or encoding. She also recommended teaching new skills orally before introducing letters (for example, practicing blending and segmenting words with beginning blends before introducing beginning blends in your phonics instruction). By coordinating your phonemic awareness instruction with phonics concepts, students will understand phonics concepts faster and improve their decoding.

Understanding the importance of phonemic awareness in learning to read is one of the most significant scientific discoveries to impact reading instruction in the last 40 years! It is amazing how many educators are becoming aware of this importance and making adjustments to their instruction, ensuring that phonemic awareness is taught consistently. 

📥 Free Download: Heggerty Lesson Plan Samples in English & Spanish – Each sample phonemic awareness lesson plan previews a complete Heggerty weekly lesson plan. The full curriculum manuals include between 12 to 35 weeks of daily lessons, teaching 7-8 phonemic awareness skills and 2 early literacy skills. A lesson takes 8-12 minutes to complete, and the lessons are oral and auditory.

Session 4- Making Words Stick by Lyn Stone

Marjorie Bottari, Director of Professional Development

In this session, Lyn Stone shares how to make “words stick.” We often say that reading and writing are reciprocal, but Lyn is clear to note that learning to spell is not reading in reverse. For example, if a student spells keep using the letters CEP, they have phonemic awareness and phonics knowledge. If they saw the word keep in print, they most likely could decode it. Using the spelling CEP for keep is what Lyn called “phonetic transcription,” not spelling. 

While phoneme-grapheme mapping is important to spelling, it is not the only resource. To teach spelling, we need to teach conventions. Our language is a morphophonemic language, so while phoneme-grapheme (P-G)  mapping is a great first step, we must not stop there. For example, that tricky word said. If we only taught this through P-G mapping, we say s and d are making the expected sounds and put a heart of the ai and tell students this is the part of the word that you need to know by heart. However, Lyn shares the close family of: lay, pay, say. When we change it to past tense, laid, paid, said.  Sharing the structure allows students to transfer this knowledge to new and unknown words. 

Lyn also explains there are orthographic expectancies in uncommon spellings. Teaching morphology is critical. As we think about the bound base pter. When reading or spelling words from a phoneme-grapheme view only, we would think this is a tricky spelling. However, pter refers to wing or feather, as such in helicopter and pterodactyl. Lyn suggests when students can reliably form, transcribe and read the letters e,r, n, u, morphology instruction can begin. 

While we all know the importance of teaching phoneme-grapheme mapping, we must remember that it is just a first step. As our students’ knowledge grows, we need to teach them the close families and meanings – the structure of words. This will allow the words to “stick.”

🛒 Heggerty: Learn more about our curriculum, download free resources & shop on our website.

Session 5- Tier 1 Instruction is Risk Reduction by Stephanie Stollar

Sarah Albanna, Customer Success Specialist (Supports Midwest states & Canada)

This session explored how to use universal screening data to clarify student needs and design a universal system of reading support that reduces risk increases intervention effectiveness, and improves reading outcomes for all students. Stollar had many focus points throughout her jam-packed session, but perhaps the most important takeaway was ensuring the audience members had a shared understanding of the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support framework (MTSS). 

Some of you have probably heard the phrase before, “My triangle is upside down.” When people say their triangle is upside down, they are referring to the MTSS triangle graphic, and it means that they have more students who are at risk than those who are on track.  

But the three-tiered model is about instruction, not students. Stollar emphasized that there are no Tier 1 students, Tier 2 students, and Tier 3 students, only Tier 1 instruction, Tier 2 instruction, and Tier 3 instruction. The three-tiered model is about the prevention of reading failure and shows that interventions increase in intensity as you move up the triangle with the ultimate goal of having all students reach grade-level reading expectations.

The largest section at the base of the triangle is the Tier 1 system of support which represents the primary prevention of reading failure. This system involves the instruction provided to all students in the general education classroom. Tier 2 supports are provided in addition to, not instead of, Tier 1 instruction for the purpose of accelerating learning for the students who are at risk after receiving effective Tier 1 instruction. Tier 3 includes the most individualized and intensive supports needed by the few students who are at risk (Stollar 2021).

If teachers meet the needs of most students through effective whole-group instruction, then the number of students needing intensive intervention will decrease.  Stollar passionately spoke when she said, “We must shrink the number of students in intervention.” For example,  if less than 80-85% of students score at benchmark, the grade level team should collaborate and analyze the needs of students and make changes to their Tier-1, whole group instruction, rather than assigning students to interventions. We can’t look for improved learning outcomes by delivering the same Tier-1 instruction and expecting the interventionists at our schools to solve the problem. 

When too many students are at risk, even well-resourced interventions are quickly overburdened and ineffective when they are trying to support 50%, 60%, or 70% of the students in a grade level. In most cases, students spend most of their instructional minutes allocated to reading in the regular classroom; therefore, classroom reading instruction in Tier 1 offers the best opportunity to meet student needs. “Many schools fail to realize the critical role of Tier-1 classroom reading instruction as the key contributor to the power of prevention”.

If we truly want to maximize the opportunity to prevent reading failure, then we have to align the needs of students to Tier-1, whole group instruction, and that will flip your triangle right side up. 

Reference Stollar, Stephanie. “My Triangle is Upside Down.” Reading Science Academy, February 25, 2021,

FAQs from Heggerty Booth at Plain Talk

Annie Henry, Education Sales Consultant

Q: What is the difference between the Heggerty PA manuals and Bridge to Reading?

A: The lessons within Bridge to Reading are composed of two parts: phonemic awareness (PA) and phonics. For those using the Heggerty Phonemic Awareness Curriculum, the PA part will look very familiar—because it’s the same lessons you’ve come to know and love. What makes Bridge to Reading different is the inclusion of phonics instruction, too! Following your PA instruction, teachers will move seamlessly into phonics, referencing and building upon what was taught in during the PA portion. This creates a consistency and flow appreciated by teacher and students alike.

Q: What is included with a Bridge to Reading purchase? 

A: The Bridge to Reading curriculum provides everything teachers need to implement daily whole-group phonemic awareness and phonics lessons in 30 minutes or less, including:

  • detailed teachers’ guides
  • student practice books 
  • multisensory learning tools
  • decodable texts
  • classroom visual aids
  • progress monitoring assessments
  • access to interactive classroom tools and digital curriculum
  • a robust learning library for teachers, including on-demand professional learning courses

Click here for more information and a detailed list of curriculum components for kindergarten, first and second grades.

Q: How long does a daily lesson of Bridge to Reading take to complete? 

A:  Classrooms participating in our Bridge to Reading trial have reported that lessons are taking on average, 30 minutes. 

Q: When can we expect Bridge to Reading to ship?

A: Bridge to Reading for kindergarten or first grade will begin shipping to classrooms in June 2023. We have begun accepting pre-orders for kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. Bridge to Reading for second grade will begin shipping in August 2023.

📥 Free Download: Download a free sample of Bridge to Reading, which includes- the curriculum scope & sequence, a full lesson from the Teacher’s Guide (including both phonemic awareness and phonics instruction), and pages from the student R.E.A.D. practice book.

Q: How are the 2022 editions different from the older editions? 

A: The Heggerty Phonemic Awareness Curriculum got an upgrade in the spring of 2022. In these new editions, you’ll find:

  • QR codes directly link the weekly lesson page to videos and other supportive resources, enabling easy access to professional development and helping teachers to implement the curriculum with fidelity.
  • Explicit teacher language better enables teachers to support all students’ development.
  • The new Skill Focus can be shared as an explanation for each skill or task when teaching the lessons.
  • Overview pages support teachers with changes and shifts that take place throughout the weekly lessons.
  • New opportunities for Phoneme/Grapheme connections. (English Kindergarten and Primary only)
  • A revised scope and sequence get kindergarten and primary students working at the phoneme level sooner.
  • Optional weeks for review or intervention have been included for some skills after 24 weeks (English Primary) or 30 weeks (Spanish Primary) of Tier 1 instruction is provided.

Q: What is the Primary Extension curriculum, and how is it different from Bridge the Gap?

A: The Heggerty Primary Extension Curriculum was created in 2021 in response to feedback from teachers battling pandemic learning loss. This curriculum includes 12 weeks of daily phonemic awareness lessons to help 3rd, 4th, and 5th-grade students become phonemically proficient. This curriculum provides explicit instruction in both basic and advanced phonemic awareness skills; lessons are designed for whole group instruction, with a unison response. Bridge the Gap is a series of systematic phonemic awareness intervention lessons for students in 2nd grade and above. The lessons can be used in small groups or with individual students who struggle to decode words automatically.

Heggerty’s new foundational skills curriculum brings together explicit phonics instruction with phonemic awareness lessons for a comprehensive approach to early literacy instruction that’s easy to implement (and easy to love!) Learn more >

Leave a Comment