BV teachers get training on phonics program

Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Amy Justice, center director for Reading and Language Arts Centers in Brighton, Mich., shows Berryville teachers how to use a sand tray to help students learn phonics. (Photo by David Bell/Carroll County News)

The instructor pulls up a PowerPoint slide with a blue circle and a yellow circle on it. Inside the blue circle is the letter 'c,' and inside the yellow circle is the letter 'h.'

"This is what we call a digraph," the instructor tells the room full of educators. "It's where two consonants come together to make an entirely new sound."

To illustrate this concept to students, she says, she has put the consonants in two different colored circles. The instructor changes the slide, and the blue and yellow circles merge to form a green circle with the digraph 'ch' inside it.

Berryville teachers Sarah Logan (left) and Rachel Frank pay close attention during a training session on the Phonics First program. (Photo by David Bell/Carroll County News)

"This way the students see that the two circles combine to make a new color just like the 'c' and the 'h' combine to make the 'ch' sound," she says. "The visual component reinforces their understanding."

Amy Justice, center director for the Reading Language and Arts Centers (RLAC), worked through sample lessons on teaching individual letter sounds Monday with Berryville educators as part of the district's Phonics First training. Phonics First, Justice said, is a multi-sensory approach to teaching phonics based on the Orton-Gillingham curriculum.

The Berryville School Board approved a contract with Phonics First at a special called meeting Monday, June 28, to provide training in the program to all kindergarten through fifth grade employees. Training will be taking place Monday through Wednesday for the elementary staff and Monday through Friday for the intermediate staff.

The first day of the training, Justice said, focused on learning how to teach individual letter sounds. Throughout the week, Berryville staff will cover teaching spelling patterns and other aspects of phonics education, she said.

"They will also be learning how to do a diagnostic assessment," Justice said, "which helps them isolate exactly what skills a student needs to improve upon. It's a very individualized program that works to serve each student's specific needs."

She said the multi-sensory techniques utilized in the program aim to provide visual, auditory and kinesthetic, or hands-on, components to help students understand phonics.

One example of the kinesthetic learning, Justice said, is sand trays. She pulled out a small tray filled with colored sand and wrote the letter 'a' with her finger.

"The sand is for the individual sounds. So let's say we were going over 'a.' The student would write down the letter and then make the 'ah' sound," Justice said. "Nothing is more kinesthetic than using the sand tray."

By having kids use their eyes, ears and hands for phonics lessons, she said, they will absorb and retain the information better. Justice said the strategies help reach more students because, while some students may be visual learners, others may be auditory learners or kinesthetic learners.

Berryville educators said they were impressed by some of the lessons and strategies covered during Monday's training.

Heather Ogden, the literacy facilitator for K-2, said she liked the three-part drill that Justice introduced.

"It's where you have students look at the letter with a visual component, an auditory component and a tactile component, such as them writing the letter," she said. "It really works on the letter sounds and helps them associate that sound with the symbol for each letter."

Rachel Frank, English as Second Language (ESL) instructor, said she was impressed with the sand trays.

"I love all the multi-sensory stuff we got to do, especially the sand trays," she said. "It's more than getting to play in the sand. It's getting to use your hands to learn in a tactile way."

Sarah Logan, third-grade teacher, said the emphasis on repetition stuck out most to her.

"Amy has really stressed that. It's important for kids to be able to hear the sounds and know the difference between them," she said.

Ogden said that she and other teachers are looking forward to learning more techniques as the Phonics First training continues this week.

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