“A student (of mine had been) labeled as ‘needing special assistance, specialized instruction,’ and as a student with ‘learning disabilities,’” recalls Marcy Christensen. “She was a sight-word reader, so she only recognized the sight words. … As far as phonics skills or even phonemic awareness skills, she was very weak in those areas.”
Christensen, a Kindergarten through third-grade special-education teacher at Iron Springs Elementary School in Cedar City, Utah, knew that she had her work cut out for her. But with a little hard work, Christensen’s careful assistance, and the aid of a literacy program titled Reading Horizons, this student was finally able to find the success in the classroom that had eluded her to that point.
“As I started (working with her), I started using some phonemic awareness activities leading into the phonics lessons,” Christensen continues. “And as we started to go, I could start to move faster and faster with her. Today, she is able to decode her words using the phonics program.”
“It is systematic and explicit,” she says. “The other programs that I’ve used or attempted to use in the past have not been so and haven’t provided the support that I’ve needed from going from one skill to the next skill. It’s just been an incredible program, and I’ve seen a lot of success. … I have several success stories about the phonics with my students.”
Additionally, Christensen speaks very highly of the administrative and teaching staff’s combined collaborative effort at Iron Springs as a means of ensuring that no child is left out of the learning process.
“When a student doesn’t respond to Tier II intervention, we meet as a team,” she mentions. “We come all together, and we do what we call a student-to-teacher assistance team review. And we come up with additional interventions for that student.”
“Collaboration is so important to Tier III intervention,” Christensen says, “because it allows us to have that background information of the student to set specific goals for the student and then work on those goals. … (We may bring) them into a small-group situation of maybe two-to-three students, providing a more intense or systematic approach such as the phonics program, or we may do some one-on-one interventions.”
It is in Tier III instruction, she has found, that Reading Horizons has proven to be especially useful.
“The way that I supplement my Tier III reading instruction is through the use of the Reading Horizons as well as using guided reading,” Christensen states. “And during the guided reading, I try to get the students to transfer what they’ve learned during our phonics time by reminding them of the phonetic skills we’re working on.”
“The way Reading Horizons makes the one-on-one instruction work,” she adds, “is that it provides a systematic approach to the phonics. And so, as we are working, we can go systematically through the different skills. And as I work one-on-one with the student, I can see – easily tell – if they’re picking up the skill or if we need to continue and remain at that level.”