Community Spotlight: Mrs. Bartz & Mrs. Kitt Teach Multisensory Phonics

Posted by Dr. Caroline Robison, O.D. on May 04, 2017
Dr. Caroline Robison, O.D.
Mrs. Bartz teaches phonicsMrs. Kitt teaches phonics

If you can read this, thank a teacher!  Heritage Oak School is very thankful for the dedicated service of two special teachers.  They are Mrs. Betty Bartz and Mrs. Shannon Kitt.  Our Community Spotlight highlights this team teaching duo for our first grade class.  I had the honor of interviewing Mrs. Bartz and observing both Mrs. Bartz and Mrs. Kitt teach a multisensory phonics lesson.  Do you remember your own first grade teacher?  I know that I do.  And, because first grade was the year that I personally learned to read, I have been forever grateful to my first grade teacher, Mrs. Roberts.

It really impressed me that Mrs. Bartz has come to Heritage Oak School to teach after she had already retired as a teacher.  She has worked with many different literacy programs and was very impressed with the program that Heritage Oak School chose.  Her knowledge in literacy programs is demonstrated by the fact that she has previously designed and led special education reading programs.  She helped many children transfer to mainstream reading programs.  Here at Heritage Oak School, we are blessed to have a teacher who has the patience and experience of working with all levels of educational skill.

The phonics program chosen by HOS is called Phonics First.  It is a nationally accredited literacy course that uses a structured, yet flexible, multisensory approach to learning.  Students have an opportunity to see, hear, and feel the letters of the words they are learning to read.  Listen in on the pleasant interview I had with Mrs. Betty Bartz regarding teaching reading with the Phonics First program.

1. Has the reading program worked in your classroom?

Of all the fourteen children in the first grade class, ALL can read.  Some are better than others, but ALL can read!

2. How does this program help the students?

The program teaches to each child’s modality.  What type of learner are you?  Do you learn better by seeing, hearing, feeling, or doing?  This program allows the children to experience all of their sensory systems in the learning process.

3. What kind of professional development have you received for this program?

Any teacher who teaches this curriculum takes a lengthy self-study course.

4. What do you like about the training you have received?

The training is very organized and easy to review.

5. How does this program complement the phonics lessons that the children learned prior to first grade?

Because this program builds on what was learned previously, each child is brought up to speed on all the sounds that were learned in the kindergarten version of the Phonics First program during the first 6 weeks of school. 

6. What types of phonics lessons are the first graders learning now?

The students are learning rules about syllables and compound words.  For example they learn that the vowel in an open syllable word typically says its own name.  The vowel in a closed syllable word has a short sound.  An example word is “prevent.”  The syllable, “pre” is open and the syllable “vent” is closed.  The first “e” in prevent says its name and the second "e" has a short sound.

7. What is a special characteristic of the phonics program that you enjoy?

We often see students tapping the letters out on their arm or writing it in the sky before they put it down on paper.  It is very satisfying and fascinating to watch which method works with each child.  This also shows that the word is planted in their memory bank.

8. May I observe a phonics lesson?

Yes, that would be “great.”

I had the opportunity to observe Mrs. Bartz teach the children how to spell the word, “great” one day and I observed Mrs. Kitt teach the word , “which” another day.  Both of these words are considered to be “Red Words” within the curriculum of Phonics First.  Red Words are those words that do not follow normal phonics rules.  Recall that one phonics rule is that a word ending in “E” is silent while the preceding vowel says its own name.  (The kindergarten class has learned that rule.) One of my favorite phonics rules was “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking."  What rules do the words “great” and “which” follow?  They do not follow a rule. 

Why are these special non-rule following words called Red Words?  By assigning this type of word the color red, it helps to form a visual memory of the nature of each of these words.  The children spend a full 20 minutes focusing on one of these words per day.  They are given a paper with the word for the day.  They trace the word with a red crayon.  Then a red grid is placed under the paper and they feel the grid through the paper with their finger.  Then they use their pencil to write it a few times.  Then they spell it in the air and/or in sand.  They tap out each letter of the word with their hand on their arm.  They create their own sentences with the word and they write out dictated sentences with the word in it.  Later when they come across the word in reading a book, they remember that it is Red Word because they have it in their memory bank. 


Mrs. Bartz asked the kids to tell her some sentences using the word “great:”

“My shoes are great."

"You are great at making pies."

"You are great at making cakes."

"You are great, Mrs. Bartz.”


Aww, such sweet sentiment. I could see that the children loved learning to read from both Mrs. Bartz and Mrs. Kitt.  Thank you to both of you for your service and for teaching the future generation how to read.  They will remember you for a lifetime.

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Topics: Kindergarten, Community Spotlight, Reading