By Jeanna B. White
“When I say the word cuckoo, what do you think of? What does it remind you of?” asked Cindy Cooke as she prepared to read “The Cuckoo School” to a class of 2nd graders at Cooleemee Elementary School.
Cooke, a trainer from Letterland, was modeling a lesson using the Letterland methodology and materials for the school’s 2nd-grade teachers. She and fellow trainer, Reba Walden, traveled to each of Davie County’s elementary schools March 5-7 to model lessons for teachers from kindergarten through 2nd grade and to answer questions about best practices using the program. Teacher assistants stepped in to cover classes so that all of the teachers could participate.
Developed more than 45 years ago at a mother’s dining room table, Letterland is a unique, phonics-based approach to teaching reading, writing and spelling to 3-8-year-olds. The Letterland characters transform plain black letter shapes into child-friendly pictograms, and they all live in an imaginary place called Letterland.
Simple stories about the Letterland characters explain the full range of dry phonics facts so that children are motivated to listen, to think and to learn. These stories explain letter sounds and shapes, allowing children to progress quickly to word building, reading, and writing. As students progress, the lessons become more complex maintaining student interest.
The program works. Engagement in Mrs.O’Neal’s classroom was high as students read aloud, defined vocabulary words, answered questions, and brainstormed ways to personalize the story for their own school.
Letterland is an essential piece of DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), the Mebane Foundation’s five-year, $2.5 million grant to improve kindergarten readiness and to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.
Although all preschool-2nd-grade teachers received Letterland training last year, this was the first time they had the opportunity to meet in small groups and to ask the Letterland consultants specific questions about implementing the program in their classrooms.
“This training was tailored to meet our teachers’ specific needs and focused on what they wanted to work on,” said Amy Spade, literacy coach. “We know we need to elaborate and help our teachers in the areas they feel they need a little more clarification which also assists with implementing the program across the county with consistency.“
Cooke added, “When teachers attend initial training in Letterland, the information and materials can be overwhelming. Coaching is critical and necessary to help teachers implement the instructional practices built into the program. Reba Walden and I are here this week to provide teachers the support they need so they can teach the Letterland program with fidelity.”
The teachers appreciated the coaching and opportunity to ask questions.
“I found it really helpful to watch someone do an example lesson with students,” said Jennie Kimel, a first-grade teacher at William R. Davie Elementary. “I liked how we had the opportunity to debrief and ask questions afterward to clarify the techniques we saw. I found the visit to be productive and beneficial. I wish we did more training on site like this because handing us a manual is great but watching it in action is a completely different experience.”
Katie Sales, a kindergarten teacher at Cooleemee, agreed, saying, “It was nice to see what else the instructor did beyond the textbook instructions. It is always nice to see how others teach and get new ideas.”
The Letterland trainers, Cooke and Walden; and literacy coaches, Spade and Renee Hennings-Gonzalez, also met with Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction for Davie County Schools, to examine the instructional framework for the district and to assess the implementation of Letterland across the County as a whole.
Cooke and Walden will return in April to observe teachers in their classrooms and to provide ideas, tips, and tricks that will enrich future lessons.