Why phonics was key in one district’s reading growth

Many college education programs do not teach courses in phonics, chief academic officer says
By: | May 11, 2021

One word—phonics—kept coming up as a solution when educators in Georgia’s Lumpkin County Schools looked into why students were reading at expected levels.

But administrators also realized that many college education programs do not teach courses in phonics, says Jennifer Moss, Lumpkin County Schools’ chief academic officer.

Two years ago, the district purchased an adaptive phonics platform that has also provided professional development for elementary school teachers. The ensuing focus on phonics has been highly successful, Moss says.

“This has not only taught students how to read,” she says “It has also taught our teachers how to teach phonics.”

One key to phonics is that it builds students’ confidence in reading by helping them identify uncommon words, Moss says.

“All of us, at some point, are going to come across words we do not know,” she says.

Though phonics is typically taught to the youngest students, Lumpkin County teachers are using the Reading Horizons platform in fourth and fifth grades and also with struggling readers in middle school.

“It’s important to us that we budget those gaps we were seeing with older students,” Moss says. “Our goal as we incorporate phonics in K-3 levels, we’ll slowly be able to pull phonics instruction back at the 4th- and 5th-grade levels.”

While using Reading Horizons over the past two years, students have made significant gains in reading, including the ability to transfer phonics skills, Moss says.

The phonics approach has also boosted the skills of English learners. The district does not have a big enough EL population to support a full-time ESOL teacher, so much of the responsibility falls on classroom teachers, Moss says.

“We can teach phonics all day long but if students don’t transfer the skills to the library, or to the textbooks they’re reading, the growth is isolated,” she says. “We’ve seen students transfer their skill to other areas and these are the skills they need to be successful readers forever.”

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