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The Ohio Department of Education’s commitment to implementing literacy instruction that aligns to the science of reading has impacted classroom instruction throughout the state. Literacy Resources has had the privilege of working with teachers throughout Ohio since 2017 by providing in-person and webinar professional development sessions through the Ohio Department of Education, multiple State Support Teams and within schools and school districts. During that time, I had the opportunity to work with Lisa Cook from the Mid-Ohio Educational Service Center when Lisa shared the Heggerty resources with the schools and teachers with whom she worked. Lisa sat down with me for a short interview, sharing her experience with implementing and using the Heggerty Phonemic Awareness curriculum.

Share a little bit about the schools with whom you work in Ohio.

Mid-Ohio Educational Service Center received a 1.2 million dollar Striving Readers grant ages Birth to Twelfth Grade in 2018 providing a pathway for all stakeholders to gain common operational definitions of high-quality literacy practices. Six districts participated in the consortium representing rural and suburban areas across multiple counties and impacting over 7,000 students. 24% of the consortium’s student population birth-fifth grade were identified as having developmental delays. 49% of the student population in Kindergarten-Fifth grade were identified as economically disadvantaged. An analysis of the consortium districts’ Kindergarten Readiness Assessment data showed that 57% of the kindergarten students were on-track, meaning 43% were entering Kindergarten lacking sufficient skills, knowledge, and abilities to engage with kindergarten level instruction. Learners who “start behind, stay behind!”

Early literacy skills that focus on decoding and recognition of words and language comprehension (i.e., The Simple View of Reading) are the foundations that lead to the development of proficient literacy skills. Researchers found that phonemic awareness is central in learning to read and spell (Ehri 1984). The lack of phonemic awareness is the most powerful determinant of the likelihood of failure to read (Adams, 1990.)

Therefore, we chose to implement the Heggerty curriculum in all six districts because it supported the development and awareness of the segments of sounds in speech and how they link to letters, which is a strong ESSA Tier 1 evidence-based practice. In addition, a review of the consortium’s English Language Arts curriculums showed gaps in phonemic awareness instruction. We believed we could impact the Kindergarten-Third grade ELA scores using the Heggerty Curriculum.

How did you make the purchase of Heggerty Phonemic Awareness and what was the roll-out like?

We purchased the Heggerty curriculum in August of 2018. With the help of the Regional Early Literacy Specialist from our State Support team, we conducted fourteen PreK-2nd grade level team professional development sessions from September to January. We also included trainings for Administrators, Intervention Specialists, paraprofessionals, and Speech Therapists. The trainings outlined the importance of phonemic awareness, defining how it was different than phonics, and how to scaffold instruction based on early, basic, and advance phonemic awareness skills to meet the needs of all learners. The teachers practiced performing lessons, and the Striving Readers Coaches modeled lessons in the classrooms as well.

In the spring, the Elementary Striving Readers coach conducted 86 fidelity checks in addition to the school administrators’ walk-throughs.

In year two, the Consortium districts held refresher PD live webinar sessions with Alisa Van Hekken. The Consortium districts then took a deeper dive into how the Heggerty curriculum could support Tier 2 and Tier 3 intense instruction in phonemic awareness.

We reviewed the data and can conclusively state that we saw marked improvement. In fact, we received an email from one of our School Psychologists that stated that the work we were doing in Heggerty was showing up on her IQ tests that assess phonological processing. She stated that in the past it was an area where the students tested low, but they were demonstrating much stronger scores since the implementation of the Heggerty curriculum! I also had teachers comment that they saw improved listening skills and spelling skills. This confirmed it was well worth the investment of time and money!!

Why did you choose to include professional development sessions for all schools who were going to be implementing Heggerty?

In Ohio’s Plan to Raise Literacy Achievement, they are committed to improving teacher capacity through focused, sustained and embedded professional learning and coaching in evidence-based language and literacy practices and interventions. We know that by deepening educators’ understanding of how children learn to read and gaining knowledge to diagnose why some children struggle, this leads to sharpening teachers’ abilities to select and implement evidence-based practices and interventions.

During the first year of the grant, Heggerty’s professional development was provided to administrators and teachers across all six consortium districts to support the development and implementation of the curriculum as well as to develop instructional leaders. This was provided by the Striving Readers Literacy Coaches as well as our State Support Team. Additional coaching and monitoring were provided to ensure the curriculum was being implemented with fidelity.

Walkthroughs, meeting with Teacher Based Teams to review Heggerty Screening data, and an annual review of the curriculum’s purpose and key components were essential to building capacity in their professional practice.

The follow up professional development coaching and support was vital for the sustainability of the curriculum. Monitoring the fidelity of implementation was important because teachers began “customizing” some of the instruction, leaving out skills in their daily instruction, and varying the hand motions used. In addition, the Coaches played an integral part during the second and third years of the grant in helping teachers refine their teaching practices by using data from the Heggerty screenings to inform instruction and track student improvement.

Why do you think Heggerty has been so successful at your schools?

We conducted a teacher survey and 88% of those responding stated that the Heggerty curriculum was positively impacting their students’ phonemic awareness. We know that after professional learning occurs, teacher behavior is the first thing to change. Therefore, we held high expectations that the teachers were implementing the Heggerty curriculum daily with fidelity. However, when the data showed the improved student outcomes in the second year, we were able to see a shift in the teachers’ beliefs. They no longer viewed it as just a grant requirement that would go away when the grant ended but were vested in continue to use it as an instructional evidence-based resource with proven results.

We also included phonemic awareness training at our family literacy events. The teachers modeled Heggerty for the families and demonstrated activities they could do at home to reinforce the skills. This created a community of learners and engaged the families as true educational partners.

Can you share what comes to mind when you think about Heggerty Phonemic Awareness

My first word is “fun”! Most of our teachers call it word “play”. The second word is “quick”. It does not take long to do the lesson. It is fast paced, engaging, and impactful! My third word from a teacher’s perspective is “Doable”! You can find the time in your schedule to do it daily, and it does not take any advanced preparation or materials.

Mid-Ohio ESC was fortunate enough to receive a K-5 Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grant this year. One of the first steps we took was to get the Heggerty Curriculum in place in our new partner school. In addition, through our Teaching and Learning team, we have introduced the Heggerty Curriculum in many of the public schools we serve in our area!

We are believers in the impact it has on early learning literacy skill development!

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