Heritage Oak School's Multisensory Phonics Program

Posted by Jamie Daggett on March 23, 2017

 Multisensory Phonics First

"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you'll go."

-Dr. Seuss

We all have fond memories of stories at bedtime or the first book we read all by ourselves or the book that impacted our lives in a way we didn't know a book could and we desire those same memories for our children. But how do we create life long readers who have the ability to dig in and decode a classic?

We've talked about how multisensory phonics instruction builds strong readers.  Now we'd like to share about the multisensory phonics program we use to teach reading here at Heritage Oak School.

Brainspring's Phonics First is a structured, sequential, systematic, and multisensory approach to teaching reading. Phonics First is accredited by the International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council (IMSLEC) and the International Dyslexia Association (IDA). It is also a nationally accredited Orton-Gillingham course. Phonics First is set apart from other phonics curricula by its multisensory approach, small group teaching, and ‘dynamic and interactive’ professional development courses and workshops. 

1. Why Multisensory?

"We remember more of what we simultaneously see, hear and touch."  

A phonics lesson that utilizes a multisensory approach may have the children writing their letters in sand or whipped cream so that they can ‘feel’ the letters. It may use whole body movements or tapping to create a physical memory to what the students are saying and hearing. Teachers can also use building blocks to ‘connect’ sounds as a student learns to blend letters into words. When we have more senses to connect information, we tend to be able to remember things better.

Multisensory teaching, also known as the Orton-Gillingham method, was born out of Dr. Samuel Orton and Dr. Anna Gillingham’s work with special needs students in the 1930s. Orton was a Neuropsychiatrist and a Pathologist. He was a pioneer in bringing attention to reading failure and in 1925 identified dyslexia as an educational problem. Gillingham was an educator and Psychologist. She was a master of language. As early as the 1930’s, with the encouragement of Orton, Gillingham  began to compile instructional materials describing, what would become known as, the Orton-Gillingham method. The method was, and still is today, “language-based, multisensory, structured, sequential, cumulative, cognitive and flexible”. It is focused on the learning needs of the individual students and generally taught in small group settings. 

2. Why Small Group Teaching?

By working in a small group setting, the teacher is able to provide immediate feedback and constant encouragement. 'The approach provides for a close teacher-student relationship that builds self-confidence based on success.'

Because Phonics First uses the Orton-GIlligham principles, it is multisensory and made to be taught on a more intimate level. A typical lesson is comprised of 5 main components. Each class begins with a skill review. This is accomplished in a 3 part drill in which the teacher uses flash cards (visual) to go over what was learned in a previous lesson. The children then respond orally (auditory) and in writing (kinesthetic). The review period allows the teacher to focus on any problem areas before moving on to a new topic.  Next the teacher will then introduce new concepts and the applications of those concepts using other multisensory approaches including finger tapping or writing in a sand tray.  The introduction of new material includes sounds and sound rules, syllabication, sight words, and oral reading.

3. Why Professional Development Courses?

To ensure that every teacher is correctly using the highly praised techniques of Phonics First, Brainspring offers professional development courses. These courses provide complete and highly intensive training in the Orton-Gillingham method and give the teachers the tools necessary to effectively teach in the classroom. Brainspring also offers workshops, refresher courses, webinars, and job-embedded coaching where teachers can see the approach being modeled and give feedback. Teachers can receive graduate level credit or professional development credits for completing the Phonics First courses.

Heritage Oak School is proud to be the only school in the greater Tehachapi area currently offering Phonics First in their Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. The program combined with the teacher training has had a great impact on our student body. Our students have a smoother transition from kindergarten to first grade and our teachers are better able to collaborate between the grades and classes.

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