Tell us a bit about yourself:
I have always loved working with children, and have been active in:
- running my own government-sponsored summer camp
- volunteered as a tour guide for school groups at the AGO
- I began my teaching career in England in 2000, then returned to Canada in 2004, joining the Toronto District School Board (TDSB)
- I have a passion for learning languages, photography and dance
- served as Special Education/Resource teacher for 8 years at my current school before taking a leave of absence in 2019
- I started Spellbound Education last summer and it has been incredibly rewarding to work privately with students
- I currently volunteer with ONBIDA as a Mentor with the Ontario Professional Learning Circles.
For further information, please visit: spellboundtoronto
How did you first learn about Structured Literacy?
I first encountered DRA and Direct Instruction when volunteering in the Child Development department at the Hospital for Sick Children. At the time, I didn’t know that I would go into teaching; I wanted to become a pediatrician!
In 2017, I was introduced to Structured Literacy more formally through Orton-Gillingham (OG) Associate training. I took the course because I wanted to be more effective in my role as a Special Education Teacher, and I've never looked back!
What types of professional development and/or independent research have you found most useful?
Just over a year ago, I became qualified as an Associate with the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners. It was one of the most stringent courses of study I have ever undertaken. Under the supervision of my mentor, Liisa Freure, I learned so much from my practicum and theoretical courses. Over the past few years, I have discovered the IDA Ontario sponsored conferences, Structured Word Inquiry (SWI) courses with Dr. Pete Bowers, and Dyslexia Training Institute webinars.
I follow people in the field and am constantly collaborating with peers to discuss assessments, teaching approaches and strategies. The culmination of all of these different areas of study has completely changed how I teach English.
What courses, books or other resources would you recommend to colleagues?
I would highly recommend the Foundation and Associate level Orton-Gillingham courses. The IDA Ontario Branch has its own annual conference plus several webinars that I've found very useful.
In terms of books, I used to use the Road to the Code, Road to Reading, and Oral Language at Your Fingertips (TDSB). I am currently reading Stanislas Dehaene’s, Reading in the Brain.
TED Talks has some great videos on Grammar and the History of Language that I often share with my students. Currently, with the transition to online teaching, I’ve created interactive lessons through Flippity.net, Bookwidgets and Google slides.
What aspects of literacy instruction have you changed in your practice as a result of learning about Structured Literacy?
As a result of a deeper understanding of the history of English, and the mechanics of how we produce sounds and represent them; I am better able to explain why words are spelled a certain way. No more blaming English for all of its "exceptions."
I have a passion for history and storytelling. Students remember concepts in a deeper way when they can connect it to a story. I also spend a lot more time developing oral language skills. Creating my own decodable texts for my students has made reading more accessible to emerging readers.
Is there any specific story you can share about a student you were able to help as a result of your knowledge of Structured Literacy?
A few years ago, I worked with a bright, young boy who was having difficulty with reading and writing. About six months later, he was diagnosed with a Learning Disability in writing. The psychoeducational assessment expressly stated that without the intensive work we had done, his reading test scores would have been much lower. When we began with the OG approach, he was approximately two years behind grade level. When we finished for the summer, he had approached grade level in reading. His parents now report to me that he expresses a genuine interest in reading. We were all so proud of him!
With the support of our school administration within the TDSB, I initiated a literacy intensive for Grades 1-3 with my colleagues. We wanted to raise student levels in phonemic awareness, reading, and spelling. We met with our superintendent to share baseline and post-program data. It was clear that small group, focused intervention resulted in raising student performance in just a few short months.
Once I began OG training, I was implementing OG and Structured Word Inquiry in my Home School Program (HSP) and Resource classes at school. I was invited to present some of this work at Special Education Teacher meetings.
In my current practice at Spellbound Education, the students periodically do a self-reflection task. One of my students wrote, “Before, I used to feel overwhelmed with work, now I feel not overwhelmed with work. I still need help with spelling big words."
What is it about Structured Literacy that gives you the feedback that it is the right approach? Are there any examples of times that you learned from your student(s) about how you teach literacy?
Structured Literacy targets the students' areas of needs. It is systematic and deliberate in approach. Each new concept is built on previous ones and delivered in appropriate increments. When we can explain things in a logical, incremental way, it benefits all students - not just those with learning disabilities.
What I love is that the students often drive the next lesson. It is through their curiosity and questions that I develop what will come next. Lesson content is also inspired by student errors. Recently, one of my students noticed her spelling errors in the next lesson. She exclaimed, "These are all my words - how dare you?!!!" We both had a good laugh about it.
Students remain engaged in their learning when I use their work. I like to personalize stories and often ask students what will happen next. The older students often laugh out loud when they see their name in the story. (I think the parents enjoy seeing their names in there too!)
Finally, the biggest feedback is the students themselves. Student achievement is what keeps me inspired and motivated to continue teaching with this approach. I have never experienced such success in moving students ahead in reading, writing, and spelling.
I am really excited to share this work with others. I think Structured Literacy, like all good teaching, benefits all - not just the few. It is now up to us as educators to build a critical mass of trained teachers who can work with our youngest students to address these challenges as soon as possible.