The Orton-Gillingham Approach to Phonics Instruction
At the very heart of all that we do at The Schenck School is the teaching of reading. Our students come to us because they are not strong readers, and we address this area all day and each day. Research has shown that the most successful intervention for dyslexia is intensive instruction in phonics and phonemic awareness, and our use of the Orton-Gillingham Approach provides this intervention daily throughout all grades. The Orton-Gillingham language retraining method is a diagnostic and prescriptive program that teaches reading and spelling simultaneously in a multi-sensory approach.
Reading instruction at The Schenck School begins at the letter/sound level in order to lay a foundation of strong and reliable phonemic awareness in the struggling reader. In ways that are appropriate to the age and academic need of each student, all pupils are taught each of the letter sounds as well as all combinations of English letters and sounds. Students study the structure of sound patterns that make up syllables and words as well as the rules that govern how vowels sound within syllables and how words can be separated into syllables. In increasingly sophisticated steps, students in grades three through six study prefixes, suffixes and word roots in depth. Direct instruction, repetition and guided practice through multiple modalities are the methods effectively used in each Orton- Gillingham lesson.
As students begin to decode text, they begin guided practice in a wide variety of reading material, from the controlled phonics based texts designed for the emergent reader to the rich content of award-winning children’s literature appropriate for the stronger reader. Reading comprehension is taught explicitly, modeled and practiced daily. Specific strategies designed to strengthen comprehension such as visualizing, predicting, questioning, summarizing, and drawing conclusions are routinely taught and practiced.
In grades four through six, basic literary elements such as theme, plot, character development and setting are explained and discussed as they are encountered. As their reading skills develop, students are guided to infer information not explicitly stated, to note the author’s point of view and historical context, and to determine the meaning of new vocabulary by context alone.
In math, science, social studies, and study skills classes as well as reading classes, specific metacognitive skills to enhance reading comprehension are also taught: engaging with the text, bringing focus to the text, reading at a rate appropriate to the text, highlighting key portions of the text, questioning of the text, frequent checking for understanding, rereading, making use of prior and related knowledge, making one’s own connection to the text and making connections from text to text.
Research in reading proves the strong link between fluent reading and strong reading. Fluency is practiced in a variety of ways each day at The Schenck School. In addition to such structured fluency training programs as Great Leaps and Read Naturally, students benefit from frequent reader’s theater experiences in the classroom, as well as responsive readings, repeated readings and paired readings.
As research has shown, skill in vocabulary and reading are tightly linked. For this reason, the teaching of vocabulary is included in each grade’s curriculum. In the younger grades, words for study are taken from the context of read-aloud books, author studies and chapter books read during reading group. Grades four through six augment such vocabulary study with the Wordly Wise series as well as the study of vocabulary specific to the subject matter of math, social studies and science.
At The Schenck School, students write every day. From basic letter formation and dictated sentences traced on the wide-lined paper of the first grader to the expository, research-based writing done on the laptop of the sixth grader, written expression is a vital part of the School’s curriculum. Students learn and practice building strong sentences and basic paragraphs with increasing complexity. The steps of the writing process are taught and rubrics for good writing are established for each grade from the second through the sixth. Graphic organizers, story webs, outlining techniques, and Kidspiration/Inspiration software are among the writing tools used throughout the grades.
In fourth grade, the emphasis in writing class shifts from creative to expository writing, and frequently the writing project is a collaborative one across disciplines which involves some research. Across all grades, the mechanics of good writing are taught directly in English grammar classes and, along with the spelling rules, are practiced and reinforced in each writing class. All students enjoy publishing a piece of original fiction or non-fiction in the School’s annual literary magazine, D.R.E.A.M.S.
Handwriting and Keyboarding
Handwriting, both manuscript and cursive, is taught using the HandwritingWithout Tears series. Correct keyboarding skills are practiced in the classroom with the use of AlphaSmarts and laptops as well as in the computer lab. A writing lab adjacent to the library provides additional opportunity for research based writing using Grolier, Galileo, Surpass and NetTrekker.
Direct instruction in the most basic rules of English grammar begins in the first grade with the use of end punctuation and simple capitalization. At each grade level, the rules of grammar, correct usage and mechanics are taught at increasing levels of complexity. By understanding the parts of speech, the role of words within a sentence and the proper use of punctuation, students can construct stronger, clearer sentences, paragraphs and compositions.
Most dyslexic learners will have significant trouble with spelling. At The Schenck School this difficulty is addressed through daily instruction using the Orton-Gillingham Approach which stresses mastery of the sound and symbol relationship in order to enable more accurate spelling. In addition, the basic spelling rules, patterns and generalizations of the English language are taught and practiced daily at each grade level. Time in phonics class is also dedicated to mastery of the spelling of essential non-phonetic, high frequency words.
Math concepts and skills are taught with sequential and spiraling manipulative- based programs that emphasize understanding processes while encouraging critical thinking and problem solving. In order to individualize instruction according to the learning needs of the student, the School uses three programs: Everyday Math, Saxon Math and the Houghton Mifflin series. Curriculum topics include numeration, patterns, counting, geometry, measurement operation, data analysis, probability and algebra concepts. Students gain automaticity with basic number facts in order to improve computational fluency and accuracy. Practical application which encourages logical thinking about real world situations makes math fun and challenging.
Using a modified science and social studies curriculum to provide textbook experience and relevant content, students at each grade level learn and practice the skills required to become successful students. Organization of one’s self and one’s materials as well as effective time management is practiced with each student every day in all classrooms. Beginning in grade three, textbooks in the content area are introduced primarily as a means of teaching how to effectively read and efficiently use a textbook. In grades four through six, previewing, skimming, scanning, highlighting, note taking, outlining, summarizing and test preparation are taught through guided practice. In these upper level study skills classes, students learn to use a variety of resource materials and appropriate technology to complete research projects on science and social studies topics. Students also experiment with multiple study strategies to find the methods that are the most beneficial for them.
Study Skills and Science
The science curriculum adapted to the study skills classes encourages investigation, exploration and observation. Teachers capture students’ natural interests and curiosity about the world around them through the study of the earth and its diverse regions, our solar system, plant and animal life, and the physical properties of matter and energy. Broad topics in science are these: basic characteristics of plants and animals (grade 1); the human body, sea creatures, weather, planets and stars, earth (grade 2); the solar system (grade 3); water, oceans, weather, air, matter, rain forest (grade 4); classification of organisms, electricity, magnetism, plants and animals; matter and energy (grade 5); kingdoms of life and classification of plants, the cell, cells to ecosystems, biomes, protists, fungi and bacteria, earth, energy, circuits, and electricity (grade 6). Students in grades four through six practice using the Scientific Method in all experiments and study. In addition to hands-on experiments in the science lab, students extend their learning by doing research in the library or computer lab as well as by creating special projects and oral presentations.
Study Skills and Social Studies
The social studies curriculum adapted to the study skills classes helps students understand and value the connection between themselves and other people in the community, the country and the world as well as begin to understand the historical context in which they live. General areas of study in the early grades emphasize broad concepts with a focus on these general areas: major land features and American history figures (grades 1 and 2); Georgia history (grade 3). The fourth grade content surveys American history through the Civil War, and the fifth grade content surveys the Reconstruction to modern times. The sixth grade content includes basic civics and government concepts as well as a broad survey of the major developments of European history since the Renaissance. All students in grades three through five receive in-depth instruction in basic map skills.
Library – Media
The time-honored topics of library class, such as responsible care and use of library materials, location of specific types of books and periodicals, the study of genre and authors, and read-aloud opportunities, continue to be addressed in each student’s weekly session in the School’s library. The School’s librarians also reinforce specific study skills taught in the upper grades, especially the location of research materials, the discrimination of relevant and irrelevant or unreliable information and the correct citation of sources. Each week’s library class also provides additional practice and experience in reading comprehension and vocabulary skills. To this traditional library class fare has been added 21st century instruction in the use of an electronic catalog, navigation of electronic databases, understanding of Boolean searches, and the best management of the endless stream of information available through the Internet.
The fine arts curriculum seeks to foster confident self expression. Both art and music classes balance allowing the students enough freedom to be creative with giving them enough direct instruction to be successful. In weekly art classes, students explore drawing, painting, clay sculpture, collage and ceramics along with lessons in art history and art appreciation. Each spring, the children’s creative talents are celebrated with a special event showcasing their accomplishments in art, music and creative writing.
Orff instruments are at the core of the music curriculum. Endlessly versatile, the Orff instruments make everything from keeping a steady beat to composing original compositions challenging and fun. Every grade level also enjoys singing, moving, listening and performing. Older students learn to read music and play other instruments such as hand bells, recorders, dulcimers and simple percussion instruments. Music classes include lessons in basic music history and appreciation. In lieu of weekly music classes, the School’s sixth graders participate in a year-long field trip series of fine arts performances of opera, ballet, orchestra and theater.
Adaptive Physical Education
In addition to daily outdoor play and organized games, students attend a weekly adaptive physical education class in which they learn a variety of skills needed to enjoy volleyball, rock climbing, baseball, football, soccer, floor hockey, track and field, basketball and gymnastics. The goal of the program is to practice necessary skills which have been broken down into manageable steps and to systematically build skills to ensure success. Since students learn at different rates, instruction is tailored to their needs with additional help provided as necessary.
During a weekly computer class, students learn to navigate several different software applications including word processing and desktop publishing. They also create spreadsheets, art and multimedia presentations. After an introduction, each new skill is imbedded in a project, and students experiment with the skills they are acquiring. Schenck School students are encouraged to be creative problem solvers in ways that emphasize critical thinking. The computer teacher also works collaboratively with the classroom teachers and the librarians to provide assistance with research projects and presentations.
Technology is making the world of words more accessible for the dyslexic learner. All classrooms first through sixth grade are equipped with SmartBoards which put both the computer desktop and the Internet at the teachers’ and students’ fingertips. This interactive technology is engaging, versatile and instructive.
Some of the School’s students are greatly aided by laptop computers. When it is appropriate, selected fifth and sixth graders are beginning to use voice recognition software to facilitate the transfer of their thoughts to paper. All students are taught how to use writing software that helps organize their thoughts in preparation for writing. The School’s library has many professionally produced books on CD and a school-wide membership in Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic so that students can access their textbooks by listening to assignments rather than reading them when that accommodation is appropriate. Handheld spellers available in all classrooms fourth through sixth grades turn phonetically spelled words into the conventional spelling.
A student who has difficulty with handwriting, completing assignments, interacting with peers or participating in school and home activities may benefit from occupational therapy. The School’s program provides services to students enrolled in kindergarten through sixth grade who have been identified as needing extra attention in gross and fine motor skills, visual perceptual skills, motor planning, postural stability and social skills through activities that focus on building strength, balance and body awareness. Our occupational therapist has a dedicated space complete with a climbing wall, a variety of swings and balancing activities, many fine motor manipulatives and a zip line. The occupational therapist collaborates with teachers and parents to provide an individualized treatment plan ranging from classroom modifications to group or individual sessions. Beyond individualized treatment plans, the kindergarten works with the occupational therapist once a week throughout the year. All classes go as a group five times during the school year.
Speech and Language
Children who need additional help with articulation or receptive and expressive language benefit from individual or small group work with our staff Speech and Language pathologist. Through games and exercises students learn strategies that strengthen their ability to effectively communicate their ideas, follow directions and actively listen. Each student that qualifies for extra help in the area has individual goals and periodic re-evaluation to assess progress.