BLOG > If you can read this, thank a teacher - Anonymous

Placeholder imageWhile humans have walked the planet for millions of years, they have read the written word for thousands. Speaking and listening is innate... but the ability to read doesn't come naturally. Today, good reading skills are taught by talented teachers that can help people learn the alphabetic code with explicit, structured literacy instruction methods. Timing is critical, as we know the ideal period to teach reading in this manner is from the childcare years through Grade 3. Experts also recommend that teachers must present interesting reading content that builds background knowledge, encouraging the practice of reading to gain speed and fluency. We all realize there are innumerable factors that have impact on a student's success in school, including a family's educational background, finances, health, neighborhoods, and personal characteristics. Even so, research shows that in a school environment the teacher matters most.

Placeholder image As J.D. Salinger said, “You can't stop a teacher when they want to do something. They just do it." As funders, Boon Philanthropy is committed to helping teachers "just do it,” in our case, to improve their reading instruction skills through professional learning in explicit, structured language instruction. After all, reading is a gateway skill that is the fundamental way for all students to gain the knowledge required to excel in the digital age. Whether the information is presented in a book, a Tweet, or a text, on a tablet or a Kindle, reading well is a necessity. There is no way around that fact.

Reading is personal to all of us. For me, it has always been a refuge, a place that is quiet, offering information and stories, providing entertainment and pleasure. In elementary school math class, which was always a struggle, I would place a smaller book, usually a biography, inside the math text book to keep myself from dozing off or panicking. A book was and remains my friend and ally, but for 66% of our kids that are failing to reach grade proficiency, will they read well enough to pass the test, fill out the job application, read the directions, let alone experience the pleasure of reading?

The motivation to start Boon's preliminary work came from my mother, Patty, who worked so hard to help kids read well. Because of her enthusiasm and passion, I really became aware that the joy of reading might be denied to a student that didn't receive the ideal type of reading instruction. I witnessed my mom's commitment to literacy, and I listened firsthand to how she taught students to decode in her home office. It sounded difficult and repetitious, but for 46% of our learners it is a necessity.

Patty earned a university degree in elementary education in the 60's, and went on to enroll in a 300 hour, Orton-Gillingham course taught by Alice Garcide at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Afterwards, she was certified in the Slingerland method, in a course held at the Charles Armstrong School in California. This training that she valued so much, led to work in public schools, like the Martin Luther King School in East Cambridge, Massachusetts, and as a private tutor.

Placeholder imageExtra training in explicit, structured language instruction with clinical experience to follow is expensive, which for many teachers is a major obstacle. One would think that since our public education system invests an estimated $6 billion on professional development, it might be relatively easy to find the funding and the training within the system. For the most part, this manner of training simply isn't available.

I learned another lesson from my mother about trying to change the system, since she also pressed to introduce OG instruction into public schools and districts. In her attempts she experienced the excitement of introducing teachers and parents to OG teaching, seeing it succeed, but then becoming deeply frustrated when the programs were abandoned as school leadership changed. Our research at Boon has shown us that reading instruction programs come and go depending upon the system dynamics. This fact motivated us to consider the strategic advantages of individual training scholarships in partnership with independent learning centers.

Why go independent? The system doesn't provide the training, and from introduction at a school or district to sustainability can take four years and require the commitment of many stakeholders. By funding training through successful independent 501(c)3 learning centers, both trainers and teachers benefit.

Patty Sherrill

In this way, teachers that want this essential skill don't have to wait for their school or district to offer this training, or to find the money to pay for it. Through Boon we want to be sure the tuition expense isn't a barrier to receiving the training for motivated teachers in Grades 1-3, and we want to be certain the training in an independent setting, away from the public school system.

Even if a teacher is the only instructor in a school with training in explicit, structured reading instruction methods, one cannot unlearn a better way to teach. And as mainstream educators become increasingly aware and cognizant of the weight of empirical research that favors explicit, structured literacy instruction, the teachers that receive Boon’s Orton Scholarships will be recognized as the leaders they are.

Henry Sinclair Sherrill
Boon Philanthropy