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Davie County Schools Implement Heggerty to Support Phonemic Awareness

By Jeanna Baxter White

Susan Shepherd guides her first-graders at Cornatzer Elementary identify initial sounds in words.

“Deep,” says Susan Shepherd to her first-graders.

“Deep,” they repeat. 

“Replace the /p/ with /l/,” she says.

“Deal,” shouts her students. 

Shepherd is guiding her students through their daily Heggerty Phonemic Awareness lesson. Phonemic awareness is the ability to understand that spoken words are made up of individual sounds called phonemes, and it’s one of the best early predictors for reading success.

Recognizing the importance of phonemic awareness as a foundational reading skill, Davie County Schools (DCS) in Mocksville, North Carolina, adopted the curriculum this year as part of DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), its five-year early literacy initiative funded by a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation to improve kindergarten readiness and increase third-grade reading proficiency.

Phonemic awareness builds what DavieLEADS Literacy Coach Amy Spade calls “the parking place for phonics.”

If a child cannot hear that “man” and “moon” begin with the same sound or cannot blend the sounds /s/ /u/ /n/ into the word “sun,” he or she may have great difficulty connecting sounds with their written symbols and the ability to decode words. Without phonemic awareness, phonics makes little sense.

Engaging in phonemic awareness instruction develops students’ understanding of sounds, which also directly impacts their reading, spelling, and writing.

Examples of Phonemic Awareness Skills include

  • Blending: What word am I trying to say? Mmmmm…aaaaaaaa…n.
  • Segmentation (first sound isolation): What is the first sound in man? /m/
  • Segmentation (last sound isolation): What is the last sound in man? /n/
  • Segmenting Phonemes: What are all the sounds you hear in man? /m/ /a/ /n/

“As the LEADS team worked with curriculum leaders in the county looking at DCS K-1 students’ data, the team saw a need to increase core instruction in phonemic awareness. After attending training, doing research, and talking with literacy leaders from around the state, we chose Heggerty because it is really intentional, but also easy to implement. Thanks to its explicit and systematic approach, teachers are able to complete the lessons in just 10-12 minutes a day. Everything we’ve heard so far has been positive and teachers are saying they are already seeing a difference,” said Spade.

“The preschool component of Davie LEADS collaborates with the elementary component to ensure vertical alignment of curriculum from preschool to kindergarten,” explained Stephanie Nelson, LEADS preschool collaborative teacher. “After Amy Spade and Renee Hennings-Gonzalaz (LEADS literacy coaches) shared their kindergarten data and the idea of using Heggerty, we were interested immediately. Preschool data from the Cognitive ToyBox assessment games showed that preschool students needed more instruction in rhyme, which is one component of Heggerty.  Even though we didn’t have data to support other phonemic areas, we saw that the curriculum could support teachers in creating explicit, multisensory, and systematic phonemic awareness instruction.”

Each level of the Heggerty program provides 35 weeks of daily lessons, focusing on eight phonological awareness skills, along with two additional activities to develop letter and sound recognition, and language awareness.

Daily lessons teach early, basic, and advanced phonemic awareness skills such as:

  • Rhyming
  • Onset fluency
  • Isolating final or medial sounds
  • Blending and segmenting compound words, syllables, and phonemes
  • Adding, deleting, and substituting compound words, syllables, and  phonemes

The program is now used in more than 7,250 school districts across the country.

DCS introduced the curriculum at the end of the 2019-2020 school year as a pilot program in four pre-K and five kindergarten classes two weeks before schools closed and remote instruction began in March. Despite the pilot program’s short duration, the response was so positive that Heggerty was introduced into all kindergarten and first-grade classes in August, all NC pre-K classes in December, and was added to select second-grade classrooms based on student need.

Carrie Carter and her assistant Alisa Allen guide students through Heggerty at William R. Davie Preschool.

Phonemic Awareness Benefits Reading, Writing, and Spelling

“As teachers, we like that it is written in an easy-to-use format and we aren’t having to come up with these activities on our own,” said Shepherd, who teaches first-grade at Cornatzer Elementary School. “I would tell other schools looking at the program that it is easy to implement and not a lot of extra work on the teacher, but it is a really effective program.” 

Based on the benefits she saw while piloting the program, Shepherd even recorded Heggerty videos at least twice a week during remote learning so that families would have the option to continue using the program if they wanted to.

“In the past, we’ve done phonemic awareness activities but not to the level that this program offers. I have been doing a lot of research about reading and how children learn to read and it appears phonemic awareness is one of the missing pieces for struggling readers. If you think about the building blocks of reading, it’s the first step they need to learn before they move on to other reading skills. I think this program will provide the solid foundation our children need from the beginning.”

Josey Redinger and students at Central Davie Preschool delete phonemes during a Heggerty lesson.

She commented that many struggling readers have difficulty spelling which also translates into their writing. Heggerty is helping to resolve those issues as well. “If you can’t hear every sound in a word you aren’t going to be able to spell and write as well. There are eight skills we do every day. Sometimes we are segmenting words and then we are blending them back together and then we are taking off sounds and then adding sounds and switching sounds in words. This also helps them in reading.”

Jill O’Toole, a pre-K teacher at Pinebrook Elementary School who also piloted the program, said, “It has given me a quick way to incorporate several key phonemic awareness activities into one short lesson that keeps the children engaged. I see that the repetition gives them confidence in what they are doing and gives them many chances to succeed.”

Josey Redinger, who teaches pre-K at Central Davie, has seen significant improvement in the area of rhyming, specifically,  when comparing data from last school year to the current school year.  “I understand that this greatly benefits my students in the future when they are beginning reading in kindergarten!”

As a 28-year teaching veteran, Shady Grove Elementary Kindergarten Teacher Traci Richardson has seen programs come and go, but says Heggerty is proving to be worth keeping.

“I like the way it provides a quick and easy way to teach phonemic awareness skills to my students each day. It has also helped me to detect early on if my students are struggling in the different reading areas and allows me to address those weaknesses when I break my students up into small groups.”

She is impressed by the way her students have connected with the program. “Heggerty uses hand motions for many of the different areas like making a roller coaster motion with their hand to isolate the medial sound in a word. As my students are learning to read this year, I’ve noticed many of them applying the strategies they’ve learned and using the hand motions to help them sound out or blend a word.”

“Children in kindergarten learn through structure and repetition and Heggerty provides that in each lesson. My students know every day what to expect and they are used to the routine. Repetition is key for foundational reading skills for 5 and 6-year-old kids and these oral and auditory word games are laying that foundation.”

Nikki Whiteheart and first-graders at Cooleemee Elementary School.

Combating and Preventing Learning Gaps

Carrie Carter and students at William R Davie Preschool demonstrate the hand motions that go along with deleting sounds as part of a Heggerty exercise.

After training and implementation occurred in the fall of 2020, the teachers noted that they love the way the program is combating learning gaps caused by the sudden transition to remote learning and hopefully preventing new ones.

“I really, really like this program,” said Nikki Whiteheart who teaches first grade at Cooleemee Elementary. “It has helped fill in a lot of gaps we’ve noticed that kids are having with being able to identify sounds and manipulate the sounds in words. Because they are now used to hearing the sounds in words and are better able to sound them out, they are better at reading and writing as well.”

“Even if last year and this year had been typical school years I think Heggerty would have helped fill in gaps but with these students having to suddenly transition to virtual kindergarten it has been doubly helpful. Heggerty has been great all around.  I am very grateful to our school system for seeing our childrens’ needs and finding a program that will meet them.”

Tina Dyson, who teaches kindergarten at William R. Davie Elementary, is equally impressed with the curriculum. “To see these kids and where they started kindergarten and where they are now has been amazing, and it is all because of the Heggerty program!”  

“I started the year with 21 students and maybe four of them could say the alphabet. I had to take a step back. Many of my students didn’t get to finish preschool. They were just getting into the meat of Letterland and alphabet recognition when we transitioned to remote learning.”

“Thanks to a combination of Heggerty and Letterland, all of my students can now say the alphabet, recognize the letters, and blend and segment sounds. This week they wrote sentences. I don’t think they could have done that without the Heggerty lessons and that background. We started with little chunks and now we’ve really built something here in March. If a five or six-year-old can do this, imagine what would happen if the program was carried over across the grades?”

Students Find Heggerty Fun and Engaging

Beyond the academic benefits, all of the teachers interviewed said their students find Heggerty fun and engaging and look forward to their daily lesson.

“We start our day with breakfast and morning meeting and then my students are so excited because it is Heggerty time,” said Dyson. “I’ve heard them say ‘This is my Show What I Know Time!!’ They watch as I turn the pages of the manual and when I reach the third page they are asking me ‘are we on the last part already?’ Through the daily repetition, they’ve come to know the program so well that if I forget to do a hand motion, they are quick to point it out to me.”

She teaches her lessons on Google Meet so that children who are out for the day have the option to participate in both Heggerty and Letterland. “They never want to miss Heggerty or Letterland!” she said with a laugh. Parents who have observed a Google Meet lesson have been equally enthusiastic. “I’ve had parents stick their head in the screen and make comments like they can’t believe what they are seeing and hearing!”

I had the pleasure of observing one of the lessons on Google Meet and had to agree. I watched the students wiggle in their seats as they eagerly waited for the start of the lesson and then was amazed by their enthusiasm and focus as they mimicked the hand motions and completed each word exercise.

Dyson added, “I wish there had been a way to document where we started with Heggerty from day one until now, but what I do see is their happy eyes.”

Traci Richardson and kindergarteners at Shady Grove Elementary School are punching out final sounds.

Different But Not Different

During the spring of 2019, the Mebane Foundation began piloting a unique tutoring program that utilizes a retired teacher to provide the Hill Reading Achievement Program (HillRAP) to students who don’t receive the powerful literacy intervention during the school day.

Luwonna Oakes, Davie HillRAP teacher; Honor Draughn, a third-grade student at Mocksville Elementary School; Petra Murphy, a third-grade student at Mocksville Elementary School; Amelia Battle, a third-grade student at Mocksville Elementary School; Brynlee Logan, a third-grade student at Pinebrook Elementary School

“Our number one goal is to help children succeed in reading,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “Secondly, we are trying to assist the Hill Center by testing a tutoring model that makes the Hill methodology accessible to a lot more families and students.” 

Note: This article by Mike Barnhardt was originally published in the Davie County Enterprise-Record and is republished here with permission.

We’re all different, but not different.

Even as a fourth-grader at Mocksville Elementary, Honor Draughn knows that. And she knows that the message would be great for her peers.

Luwonna Oakes, a tutor at the Mebane Foundation in Mocksville, helped children last spring to write, edit and publish their own books.

“All of the students did a superb job on their books and they were each special,” she said. “I had them decide on a targeted audience they were writing for – their author’s purpose.

A Message With An Impact

Honor Draughn wrote an endearing book about showing kindness to those who are ‘Different, but not Different,’ the title of her book.”

She donated a book to each elementary school guidance counselor in Davie County. And according to at least one of those counselors, the book is working.

“Honor is a young child making a difference in Davie Schools, impacting peers with a book on such a needed topic is so special,” Oakes said.

The book, Honor said, is dedicated to everybody who may feel different.

“Do you know some people are different, but not different? Some people do not get it, but it’s true. People think that some children are different, but inside they are not so different.

Honor Draughn author of Different but not Different a book making a difference for students in Davie County schools

“Take the time to get to know them,” she wrote. “Some people that seem different have been through a lot. Difficult things have happened to some children and other people make fun of them and judge them from the outside because of the way they act.”

The children, she wrote, may have lost a parent. Some parents who make bad choices have children who are confused, upset or angry.

Don’t Judge

“Some people do not give these children a chance to prove what is on the inside, behind the way they act.”

Some of the children may be less fortunate. She urges her peers not to brag about expensive toys or lavish vacations. “I do not want to make them feel like they don’t get to do fun things in life.

“If you see someone that is being judged or if you are being judged, remember, I am unique for who I am. This makes me who I am. You do not have to change to fit in. I want you to remember this, you are you, you are who you are, and do not let anybody stand in your way of you being you.”

She urges her peers to be kind to one another, “even if someone is mean to you.”

Tell an Adult

If hit or kicked, tell an adult. “This is not being a tattletale, but dealing with a problem in the right way.

“Be a good friend. Do not judge people by the way they act. You can be a good influence and be there for others.”

Helping Others Helps Us Too

Helping a child with a problem can help you and the child, she said.

“We all are different. No one is perfect,” she wrote, encouraging peers to look for ways people are like you, not different.

“I want you to remember this. Everybody is different. We all are really different and that’s what makes us unique. It makes me be me and you be you.”

Teacher Collaboration Impacts Classroom Instruction and Student Achievement

By Jeanna Baxter White

First-grade teachers at William R. Davie clarify standards during a PLC meeting. From front left: Nancy Scoggin, Bobbi Marroquin, Jennie Hughett, Bridgett Bailey, Kristin Alexander, Sunni Collins.

Every Student Matters

William R. Davie Elementary School’s motto is “Every Student Matters, Every Moment Counts!” That sentiment was evident during a recent first-grade PLC meeting as the teachers clarified the next North Carolina ELA (English Language Arts) standard and brainstormed the best way to teach it to their students.

Teachers Collaborating

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) allow teachers to meet regularly, share expertise and work collaboratively to improve teaching skills and drive the academic performance of students.

These meetings are a fundamental component of DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), the Mebane Foundation’s five-year, $2.5 million grant with Davie County County Schools to improve kindergarten readiness and to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade. 

The grant includes funding for professional development and specialized support staff, including two full-time literacy coaches and two professional consultants, to develop and build the professional capacity of the kindergarten through third-grade classroom teachers in Davie County Schools.

Reaping the Rewards

The first year of professional development focused on implementing weekly grade-level PLC meetings to clarify standards. Although the process was frustrating at first, now in year three, teachers and students are reaping the rewards.   

“PLCs were the perfect place to start because these meetings are foundational to teachers sharing expertise and collaborating around student growth,” said Nancy Scoggin, DavieLEADS consultant. She and fellow consultant, Barbie Brown, are both retired educators who have worked as classroom teachers, curriculum facilitators, and instructional coaches.

Learning From Each Other

“Everything we do as 21st Century educators depends on this. Meeting as grade-level teams to gain a common understanding of our standards transforms us from good to great,” Scoggin said. “It takes time and commitment from every teacher and administrator in the school.  When we started three years ago, meetings were happening, but there were no county-wide structures in place to provide the needed focus. 

Our teachers in each of the six elementary schools have persevered through the growing pains necessary to do this work.  We have been leaning into the processes of questioning each other and learning from each other. This work is difficult at first but gets easier with practice.  When we see student growth it is so rewarding. We are getting better at “getting better!”  

Support from DavieLEADS is Evolving

Initially, the consultants facilitated the meetings. Now they take a backseat, supporting the teachers and instructional coaches leading the meetings. 

During a recent PLC meeting at Pinebrook Elementary School, first-grade teachers analyzed the results of a common formative assessment (CFA), discussing the questions the students missed, whether they graded it consistently, and determining if any of the information needed to be retaught. They then discussed the next unit and how it should be taught and evaluated. Brown listened and asked a few questions. The teachers still appreciate her support but also recognize how far they’ve come.

“Our PLCs have helped focus my classroom lessons and enabled me to be more intentional about what I teach,” said Sandy Hendrix, a first-grade teacher at Pinebrook. “We analyze the standards to make sure that we are teaching all parts of the standards. Our PLC meetings have gotten easier over the last few years.  We know how to break down a standard to make it’s understandable to our students. We bounce ideas off one another to decide what is best for our children. Barbie has been wonderful to guide us in our meetings. We have seen our students make progress in their comprehension skills.”  

Pinebrook First-Grade Teacher Anita Bradshaw appreciates the collaboration and clarification on standards that PLCs and the coaches provide. “I believe it gives us even more confidence in the classroom.” 

Anita Bradshaw teaches a lesson to her first-grade class at Pinebrook Elementary.

“PLCs have been a learning experience for classroom teachers,” said Bridgett Bailey, a first-grade teacher at WRD. “We have come a long way with our PLCs.  When we first started, our PLCs were very basic and now we are breaking apart standards and planning lessons and assessments…”

“The concentrated focus of PLCs through the LEADS grant has helped us streamline how and what we teach across the grade level, so no matter whose class your child is in they are all getting the same content,” said Jennie Hughett, a first-grade teacher at William R. Davie (WRD). “The process has changed over the past 2.5 years because we have become more efficient at planning and going through all the PLC steps. We also dig deeper into the rigor of the standards because each year we get more and more familiar with each individual standard.” 

Professional Learning Communities Inspire Teachers and Administrators

Recognizing the value of the PLC’s for both teachers and students, both WRD Principal Karen Stephens and Pinebrook Principal Brooke Preslar sit in on the meetings at their school.

“PLC’s are a valuable opportunity to collaborate intensely while digging deeply into our understanding of the standards,” said Stephens. “I attend all PLC’s to support our staff in growth. I have enjoyed learning alongside our staff. I am amazed at the tools and input brought by staff members to assure students are getting the best instruction possible…We also use that time to celebrate successes within the grade level on our CFA’s and student growth.” 

DavieLEADS Program Influences Student Achievement

Preslar agrees, adding that she has all the grade-level PLCs on her calendar and makes as many of them as possible. “The PLC process can have a significant impact on classroom instruction…This protected time each week makes our grade level teams stronger and our instruction better. It also gives teachers the opportunity to ask what’s working in other classrooms and get ideas from each other.” 

“The connection that I make with my teachers in these meetings helps me understand the challenges they face in the classroom and what they need from me. Being part of the conversation sharpens my skills as an instructional leader and keeps me informed about what is happening in classrooms… It’s how I connect to the learning conversations that take place in my building.”  

We are getting better at “getting better!” Nancy Scoggin, DavieLEADS consultant