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Word Power




Lead and read rhyme, as do lead and read, but lead and read don’t rhyme, and neither do lead and read. Huh? 


As native English speakers, we have learned through years of practice and repetition how to decode and comprehend words, so it is not unreasonable that it will take time for our children to navigate all of the nuances and irregularities of our language, and it will take longer for some students than others.


There are two primary approaches to teaching reading: an approach rooted in systematic phonics instruction (evolving recently as The Science of Reading), and a balanced literacy, or “whole language” approach, which is rooted in the idea that students should learn how to read and write by learning words in context rather than in parts. Whole language began to dominate the educational system in the 1980s (although it was first introduced in the 1800s by Horace Mann), and targeted phonics and grammar instruction were set aside in most districts. Catholic schools, however, did not follow suit. While many adopted a whole language curriculum, they held on to phonics and grammar instruction with exceptional results. Catholic school standardized reading scores across the country have consistently been higher than their public and private school counterparts.


St. Michael’s School currently uses The Reading and Writing Workshop Model, a balanced literacy approach to teaching reading and writing in Grades K-8. Its founder and author, Lucy Calkins (who is a tenured professor but is now on sabbatical) at Columbia University Teachers College, has come under fire in recent years as New York schools have admitted less than half of their third grade students are reading at grade level. In 2023, they adopted a Science of Reading curriculum to counter this decline – so the pendulum swings again. SMS, however, never abandoned phonics instruction when we adopted the Workshop Model; rather, we continued to incorporate BOTH approaches because there is value in both.


This year, the Diocese of San Diego has partnered with the University of Florida Literacy Institute, and we, along with other schools in the Diocese, have adopted UFLI Foundations as our phonics curriculum for grades K-2. It is a systematic program that teaches students the foundational skills necessary for proficient readingEvery lesson follows an eight-step routine including phonemic awareness, a visual, auditory, and blending drill; followed by an explicit introduction to a new concept, word work, irregular words, and connected text. Students learn the rules and patterns, and rather than memorizing a list of spelling words for a Friday test, their assessment includes new unpracticed words that follow the rules and patterns they learned.


I have observed several UFLI lessons and I am amazed at how well our students are grasping and applying the concepts they are learning. Teachers have seen tremendous growth in students’ understanding, well beyond what we have witnessed in previous years. So, when our students encounter unfamiliar words, they will know whether to pronounce them read and lead, or read and lead, not only based on memory, but based on the rules and patterns they have learned.




In Mission, Kathy

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