MRIn in the news
Official praises school's early reading program
By: Frederick A. Hesketh, Correspondent
Reprinted from the Bloomfield Journal, May 5, 2005
She also will receive an invitation soon to visit Bloomfield's Laurel School.
Dr. G. Reid Lyon, chief of the child development and behavior branch at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), made the announcement at Laurel School during a visit on May 4.
As one of her first priorities as First Lady, Bush convened the White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development. Prominent scholars and educators shared research on how infants learn and how parents and caregivers can prepare children for lifelong learning.
Lyon was at the school to observe firsthand the current reading program for kindergarten and first-graders in Bloomfield and came away very enthused and impressed with what he saw. "They are doing everything that our research shows must be done in order to teach children to read," he said."
I've traveled the country a lot, and what they have here is great. Oh man, this is wonderful." Lyon said. "You can see that with good teachers, everyone can learn to read," he added.
Bloomfield received a grant from Haskins Laboratories in 2000 to train teachers to apply techniques developed in what Lyon called "clinical trials as applied to reading." Haskins is a private, non-profit research laboratory associated with Yale University, which focuses research on problems in human communication.
Lyon said, "Studies have shown children who are most at-risk for reading failure are those who enter school with limited exposure to language and who have little prior understanding of concepts related to phonemic sensitivity, letter knowledge, print awareness, the purposes of reading, and general verbal skills, including vocabulary. In Connecticut you have a big gap between the 'haves' and the 'have nots,' but you're not going to have that here."
Lyon spent 30 minutes each in both a kindergarten and a first-grade class to observe the teaching methods and the children's reactions.
Teacher Irene Glassman was leading a group of kindergarten youngsters through the recognition of letters, the associated sounds, and the making of a word,"N-A-P is nap. P-I-G is pig. Your turn." "Phonemic awareness," Lyon calls it. "That is key," he explains, "understanding that words are made up of sound segments called phonemes."
Phonics is the next step. Lyon's research found "the would-be-reader must understand that our speech is segmented or broken into phonemes and that the segmented units of speech can be represented by printed forms known as phonics."
"The techniques are properly applied here at Laurel," Lyon said. "They are learning reading development and its complexity: sounds, then sounds with letters followed by combining sounds to make words and now apply that skill to reading. What I see here shows me the teachers are well trained, and the techniques are being properly applied."
Moving to a first-grade class demonstrated the advancement achieved as the children demonstrated the ability to read and comprehend whole paragraphs.
Teacher Ms. Agar then had the children search words for open, closed, or "magic" vowels (open-mE, -closed-mEn, "magic"-makE). Lyon's reaction was, "Great. Ten years ago we believed kids would learn this on their own. Phonics was the big thing then. We still need phonics, but the teachers here teach recognition, sounds, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. We still need phonics but not in the absence of everything else.
After spending time in the classrooms interacting with students, Lyon and the teachers, along with Superintendent David Title, retired to the library for a discussion. Title displayed the results of the "Substantially Deficient" rating on state-mandated Development Reading Assessment (DAR) at Laurel by the state of Connecticut assessment method.
The data showed 34 to 41 percent of first-graders deficient in the 2000-2002 period being reduced to 9 percent, 14 percent and 6 percent in the last three rating periods. Grade two results of 26 percent, 9 percent and 16 percent in the first three tests were down to 9 percent, 3 percent and 10 percent in the last three rating periods.
"This is a truly professional program," Lyon told the teachers, adding, "What I see here is what we normally see in an affluent suburb. I will relate my experience here when I talk at the (Connecticut) state legislature tomorrow (May 5). I will give them evidence of why this program works.
"Superintendent Title would welcome such a visit. "This is not a program only at Laurel School," he said, "We have implemented the same program with the same teacher dedication in all three elementary schools."
Lyon said, "Some people operate on philosophy instead of evidence. We have research that teaches us what works, but sometimes we have to overcome the philosophical arguments," and he asked
Title if there had been any resistance to the program.Title indicated that there was a limited opposition to the program from some who are no longer involved, but he said, "Our teachers believe these kids can succeed." Title then addressed his teachers: "You are professional, and we are going to support you and we are going to get results."Maybe Laura Bush will be here soon to see those results.