This is my superhero origin story.
In my teacher training courses, I'd learned about pedagogies that warmed the cockles of my hippie girl heart: reading workshop, guided reading. These methods rely heavily on students reading "just right" books, often of their own choosing. What could be better?
When I got to my campus, however, I found that I was going to be using SRA Open Court Phonics, a direct instruction program in letter-sound correspondence. Even as my mentor teacher assured me that kids would be reading by January, I remained skeptical. This skepticism wasn't based on any research or knowledge of how kids learn to read. I just didn't like it.
I had to admit, the kids seemed to enjoy the rapid-fire, explicit lessons, which were accompanied by a puppet lion. (The furry puppet was much too hot for the Houston weather, and so he went on vacation to the "puppet hotel" and had so much fun he never came back.) I found the whole practice stultifying, at odds with the progressive practices I'd learned about and my own vision of who I would be as a teacher. I swore that if I had a choice, I would teach a different way, even as my students learned to read.
After my first year, I taught summer school at another campus that had not used the program. I was astonished that, every time they came to a word they didn't know, my new students simply looked at me.
"Say the sounds," I said, a prompt that would have had my own students using their letter-sound knowledge to begin blending the word -- although my kids didn't need much prompting by the end of the year.
Still, my summer students looked at me blankly.
I realized: they didn't know the sounds letters make. And therefore, they could not attack unfamiliar words with meaningful strategies.
That was it for me. I went back to my campus in the fall with a new belief in the power of direct phonics instruction. I never looked back.
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Catlin Goodrow, M.A.T