BLOG > The best teachers are life-long learners.

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When good teachers learn that a method does not work for their students, they want to learn a method that will. In America, when it comes to literacy, we are failing our students and doing nothing to help teachers change their game. Boon Philanthropy believes the answers lie in giving individual teachers a chance to learn the best, proven way to teach a child to read.

We at Boon are not educators or reformers, but we are funders, and we think we have a duty to understand the facts that have led to our national reading crisis. We discovered that America could reduce its 66% failure rate in reading grade proficiency, if at least 46% of our kids receive explicit, structured reading instruction that begins early in their lives and is sustained in the first three years of school. Why aren't they getting this kind of education when teachers are so extraordinarily dedicated to serving their students? Consider this:

Placeholder imageFact 1: The public school system fails to provide our teachers with a literacy curriculum that meets the needs of almost half of their students.
Fact 2: The majority of colleges and graduate schools that prepare teachers do not even teach explicit, structured reading instruction methods.
Fact 3: Professional learning opportunities fail to offer evidence-based instruction. Further, the professional development that is offered by the system omits vitally important training that could make the difference between success and failure for young readers. This is not conjecture. Professor Heather Hill at Harvard School of Education said, "We have known for a long time that a lot of professional development is not actually effective at helping teachers improve their craft."

A complicating aspect of the reading crisis is that there are two camps on best practices for reading instruction, with a bias toward teaching with whole language methods. Because of this debate and bias, explicit, structured language instruction—proven over 60 years of research and practice, beginning with Dr. Samuel Orton, and funded by the Rockefeller family—is generally ignored by public education.

This attitude persists when time is of the essence to solve our reading crisis. Imagine for a moment that educators were building contractors. Would it be acceptable for a building contractor to be satisfied that only 34% of their buildings could stand on their foundations?

Reid Lyon, former chief of the National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD), said, “The resistance in the educational community, particularly at the higher education level where teachers are trained, is enormous, almost unbelievable.” Ironically, the very same education professors are “working with their own kids at home, from birth onward by reading to them from day one, and a professor’s children are taught the relationship between letters and sounds and vocabulary.”

Placeholder imageOur understanding was clarified in part by Mel Levine's description that "expressive language is the production of converting thoughts into the code of words and paragraphs." His pyramid is instructive for people who want to help teachers work successfully with the next generation of readers.

By studying the expertise in the LD field and the teachers who educate the most challenged learners, we found that children struggle to learn for many reasons. One certain and contributing factor might be that 1 in 5 students has a learning disability of some kind. Learning disabilities can diminish a student's capacity to learn how to read, write, maintain a suitable amount of attention for study, or understand math concepts and manipulating numbers. Generally, teachers are not educated to instruct these challenged students, particularly those with dyslexia, and because of this omission, many of the 1 in 5 students with a learning disability fail to reach their potential in school, and in many cases, life.

Boon Philanthropy seeks to increase the number of students that read effectively by 4th Grade by improving the reading instruction training that teachers receive. Our preliminary grants and research lead us to know that thousands of individual teachers that must work within the system would appreciate an Orton Scholarship at an independent learning center and to receive this training in a supportive environment. The instruction is offered by experts in the Orton Gillingham method. It takes place in a supportive environment and has the fundamental feature of fostering sustainable knowledge through a teaching practicum. The practicum adds a "boots on the ground" experience, along with professional feedback and follow-up.

Funding individual teacher scholarships in explicit, structured reading instruction techniques is something all donors can do who want to act immediately so that this generation of students, and generations to follow, are effective readers who master comprehension strategies for a real understanding of the text, and who achieve the fluency needed to recognize words while reading sentences quickly and accurately.

Orton Scholarships will give individual teachers the chance of a lifetime: to learn how to teach each student her undeniable right—the right to read.

Henry Sinclair Sherrill
Boon Philanthropy