At the Stillwater Correctional Facility in Bayport, Minnesota, Steve* and his students have discovered that the key to knowledge begins with literacy. A multi-sensory reading program known as Discover Intensive Phonics (DIP), which utilizes direct-instruction techniques to help low-level readers and ESL students struggling to learn English, is aiding them in that quest and assisting them to reach their full potential.
“It has become an integral part of our curriculum,” he says. “We plan to continue using it as we teach our students to read and write.”
Employing the DIP remedial reading method, Steve’s strategy includes having Stillwater students come together in a group setting to practice reading and writing words as part of each lesson. After writing the words on their own writing boards, each student, in turn, then reads his or her list of words aloud to the entire group. According to Steve, this process not only improves the students’ reading and writing skills, but it also helps them to realize that they are not alone in their struggle to learn how to read and write.
“At first, they are apprehensive about reading their words out loud,” he states, “but once they get comfortable with it, they enjoy seeing their own improvement as well as the improvement of their fellow students.”
Gene*, a graduate of the reading program, is just one of the many students at Stillwater who have had success with DIP.
“Gene came to us with a third-grade reading level,” Steve recounts. “After completing the … program, his reading has continued to improve, and he is now at an eleventh-grade reading level.”
One of the best things about phonics instruction, Steve says, is that it is very easy to teach.
“I quickly learned that each (skill taught) is a stepping stone for the next (skill),” he recalls. “As the students learn new skills, they are able to use what they learned in previous lessons to help them understand why words are pronounced … the way they are.”
In addition, Steve has found that teaching phonics has been especially beneficial for his English as a Second Language (ESL) students.
“(It) helps with teaching the difficult parts,” Steve explains, “of the English language – those words that don’t follow any of the (phonetic) rules.”
Ojulu*, who is from Sudan, speaks both Anuk and Amharic but has struggled to learn English. Now that he has completed the reading program at Stillwater, Ojulu is writing a book – in English – about his life and experiences in Africa.
Steve, like his students, is thoroughly convinced of the importance of getting back to the basics of teaching phonics. With the ability to read and write well come increased feelings of self-worth, and that is, possibly, the best discovery of all.
*Names have been changed