New program raises reading literacy levels in Jordan School District

Oct 27, 2021, 5:39 PM
Third-grade teacher Leslie Fiskell teaches her class using a new reading literacy program at Heartl...
Third-grade teacher Leslie Fiskell teaches her class using a new reading literacy program at Heartland Elementary School in West Jordan, Utah on October 27, 2021 (Nick Wyatt, KSL Newsradio)
(Nick Wyatt, KSL Newsradio)

WEST JORDAN, Utah — A new reading literacy program in the Jordan School District is delivering impressive results at a West Jordan elementary school. 

Heartland Elementary pilot program

The new reading literacy program was piloted at Heartland Elementary School this year. 

“This program is teaching all the rules of our language, of how to read. So, it’s really good,” said Leslie Fiskell, a third-grade teacher at Heartland. 

According to Jordan District literacy consultant, Michelle Lovell, this program puts a heavier emphasis on phonological awareness and phonics. 

(Phonological awareness, according to Reading Rockets, is described as “a broad skill that includes identifying and manipulating units of oral language, such as words, syllables, onsets (the first letter of a word) and rimes (the string of letters that follow).” 

“They’re learning to work with words, break apart big words, really know how the language works, how the decoding system works,” Lovell said. 

The district says this new way of teaching is unlike anything they have tried before, and that it more accurately defines what ‘comprehension’ actually means. 

“Students need to be able to get the words off the page and … they need to know what the words mean. When those two pieces come together, you have a fluent reader,” said Lovell. 

Administrators built the curriculum piecemeal by looking at what was effective in other districts. 

New literacy program described as successful and fun 

Learning new programs is not always easy. Some at Heartland Elementary were worried this new reading literacy program might be a disaster (as they define other programs in the past.) 

“It’s a little bit of legwork to get up and running, but once it’s going in schools like this one, we just see amazing things happen,” Lovell says. 

After a year of learning from home, stay-at-home orders, masks, and uncertainty, Fiskell gets emotional thinking about how far her students have progressed. 

“Last year was a hard year for teachers, and students, and everyone,” she said. “With the pandemic year … and to have the children make the growth after being out of school. It was amazing.” 

Despite the difficulty, Fiskell says this new reading literacy program has helped nearly every one of her students succeed. In part, that has a lot to do with the scalability of the curriculum. Lovell says it’s set up in a way that it meets every student at their level and helps them move forward toward better reading skills. 

Perhaps more impressive than the progress, Fiskell and Lovell say students are excited to read. The women say kids have fun learning this new way and that helps motivate teachers. 

Teaching new program is easier on teachers

Teachers are also appreciative of this new program and how little effort it takes to teach. Fiskell said her preparation time for reading literacy lessons is basically unnecessary. 

“You don’t need to think about what you need to teach. It’s right there for you. It’s explicit, you just read it and you’re giving the kids the knowledge of the letters, the sounds, [and] the rules behind them,” she said. 

Lovell explains the program was meant to be standardized and systematic. This type of approach not only takes a burden off the teachers of preparing unique lesson plans, but it also creates a uniform approach to the topic. 

“In this new way, we’ve taken all the guesswork out of instruction. We have a very specific diagnostic where we can determine exactly what skills kids need to learn,” Lovell says. 

The district now plans to expand the program to more schools in the coming months. 

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