Ann C. Sharp, Ph.D.
When I was an elementary school teacher I had many students come into my classroom who couldn't read. I remember working hard to help them, but for many I saw little progress. As a teacher I needed to know more. I needed to know what works! After several years of teaching, the University of Utah opened up a new master's degree program for educators with an emphasis on scientifically-based reading research. I couldn't sign up fast enough.
My new found knowledge transformed my teaching. No longer was I stumped when a non reader came through my classroom. I had answers that worked! I became fascinated with scientifically-based reading research and began to realize how helpful the science of reading was in solving the problems most teachers face. I also started tutoring struggling readers outside of school hours, using techniques I had learned from my master's program, and I began to feel the joy of watching children overcome their reading challenges. In my quest to learn as much as I could about how to help struggling readers I decided to pursue a doctorate.
At the University of Nevada Las Vegas during my doctorate years, I received several awards for several research projects that I had conducted focused on helping struggling readers. The research I conducted for my dissertation investigated children's orthographic development. Orthography is the study of spelling. I was motivated to research this issue since I was always a poor speller, as were all eight of my children, and I wanted to find out why. My spelling research earned me the dissertation of the year award and allowed me to graduate with distinction. This work was recently published in a prominent journal for the field. It was exciting to me to be a part of the conversation that had inspired and improved my own teaching, but I wasn't working directly with students anymore, and I missed them.
Following my graduation, I took a job at Brigham Young University as an instructional researcher and worked for three years on different research projects related to literacy. I was part of a team of experts that was helping to develop an early childhood literacy curriculum of which I am responsible for the word study component. It was during this time that I met Reading Horizon's, a company that creates supplemental phonics materials.
Reading Horizon voiced to me a dream that had been percolating in my own head. They wanted to make more of a difference in the lives of struggling readers. We both agreed on important issues of how that could be accomplished. We felt we could help struggling readers of all ages and of all ethnic backgrounds with instruction that would allow them to overcome their reading problems. Together we decided to join hands and create a reading center that would do just that. We knew that we needed to keep doing research and developing best practices, so our reading center would have to do more than just teach. Research, sharing information, and educating others also needed to be a part of the center. As we planned and set goals the R.I.S.E. Institute of Literacy was born.
R.I.S.E. is an acronym that stands for the four purposes of the reading center, which are research, instruction, supply information and education. The Superhero Training Center is the instructional arm of R.I.S.E. The instructional strategies we use at the STC draw from the very best, most current reading research. For instance we know that there are five components of reading that must be learned in order to read. Those essential components are phonemic awareness (the ability to discern small sounds in speech like /c/-/a/-/t/ for cat), phonics, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary. In 1997 Congress formed the National Reading Panel (NRP) to determine the most successful types of reading instruction. They studied the results of over 10,000 research projects on reading to see what worked. They found that the five components listed earlier (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary components) were of most value. Teachers often refer to them as the big 5. Since then reading scientists have also learned that oral language proficiency and writing are important contributing factors for learning to read as well.
One of the important findings of the NRP showed systematic phonics instruction as the most effective type of instruction for helping struggling readers. This was exciting because that is what my studies and practice had taught me and is the very basis of Reading Horizon's supplemental instruction. Several years later after the publication of the NRP report, Dr. Sally Shaywitz discovered through her research that intense phonemic awareness training and intense phonics training allowed students with dyslexia to overcome its devastating affects!
Even though research shows that one in every five students struggles to learn how to read, reading problems can be overcome! We here at Superhero Training Center believe that there is a super reader within every person, and because it often requires tenacity and hard work, we also believe every individual who overcomes their reading problems is a superhero! Because reading acquisition can be a difficult undertaking, our goal is to provide every person with the best training in reading available. We emphasize scientifically-based reading instruction, tailor made to each individual's unique needs. We include phonemic awareness, phonic skills, fluency, comprehension instruction and vocabulary building, starting with the first lesson.
I believe that everyone has one or more life's missions. I believe that one of my important life's missions is to share the knowledge I have been privileged to acquire through my university training and experience as a teacher. My top priority is to develop your child’s reading skills. Learning to read is often hard work, but it is worth every bit of effort. That is why our motto at the Superhero Training Center is, "Find your inner super hero!" Successfully reading is an attainable goal, and we are here to help individuals reach it.