Lifelong Learners, TECS Teachers Walk the Walk

Amy Weisberg, M.Ed.By Amy Weisberg, M.Ed.

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Lifelong Learners, TECS Teachers Walk the Walk
Topanga Elementary Charter School (TECS) teachers are lifelong learners themselves. The primary team has embarked on an intensive professional development program offered by LAUSD to enhance their approach to literacy (reading) instruction. From left: Amy Weisberg, Jeff Pook, Julie Tobisman, Principal Kevin Kassebaum, Linda Kort, Moria De la O, Raquel Galindo, and Youmna Haddad.
As teachers, we are tasked with teaching students to become lifelong learners, to develop the love of learning, to give students a variety of experiences in both academic subjects and the arts, and help them discover their path to further education. We are aware of the multiple paths students can take on the way to adulthood and the variety of opportunities both in traditional higher education and in vocational career paths; not all students need or want to go to college. There are many roads to careers that involve vocational schools, the Armed Services, apprenticeships, training in the arts, working in retail, or becoming an entrepreneur. Our job as educators, is to prepare our students and empower them with the ability to choose for themselves. A large part of this preparation is developing the skills necessary to succeed in any area they choose. The skills students will need, regardless of career choice, are life skills: literacy, mathematics fluency, knowledge and understanding of science and social studies (our world and society), and social-emotional skills (the ability to interact and relate to others). With these skills, students have choices that enable them to evolve into self-sustaining adults who contribute to society and, one hopes, make the world a better place. As educators, we too, are lifelong learners, continually improving our ability to have a positive impact on our students. With this in mind, the primary team at Topanga Elementary Charter School has embarked on an intensive professional development program, offered by LAUSD, to enhance our approach to literacy (reading) instruction. We all know that reading opens the door to further learning in all subject areas, and the ability to read with fluency that enables students to comprehend content in all areas. The TECS primary team consists of myself (Transitional Kindergarten (TK) teacher), Kindergarten teachers Mrs. Kort and Ms. Galindo; First Grade teacher Mrs. De la O; Intervention Teacher/Coordinator, Mrs. Tobisma; Resource Specialist Program teacher, Mr. Pook; and our Speech Therapist, Ms. Haddad. TECS principal, Mr. Kassebaum, is also taking the course as an administrator. Wow! This is a team of dedicated educators! The Professional Development course is the Orton-Gillingham approach, which according to Wikipedia, “is a multi-sensory phonics technique for remedial reading instruction developed in the early twentieth century. It is practiced as a direct, explicit, cognitive, cumulative, and multi-sensory approach. While it is most associated with teaching individuals with dyslexia, it is highly effective for all individuals learning to read, spell, and write.” Developed by a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist, Samuel Torrey Orton, and an educator and psychologist, Anna Gillingham, this technique integrates kinesthetic (movement) and tactile (sensory) learning strategies in combination with visual and auditory teaching. It is a systematic approach that can be modified for individual students and used in group settings as well. The approach focuses on phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Phonemic awareness is the study of letters and sounds. We begin teaching this in Transitional Kindergarten, using fun, interactive strategies that include games, guided instruction, manipulatives such as magnetic letters, songs, and computer programs. Phonics instruction follows with a focus on letter sounds combined into syllables, then words. Introduced in late TK and taught in Kindergarten and First Grade at increasingly advanced levels, phonics instruction is the next step to fluency. The instruction of reading, begins with the reading of words, short sentences and then longer sentences, paragraphs and books. Vocabulary is the introduction of sight words, content-related words and progresses from simple to more complex words. As in learning to talk, the steps build on each other, creating a solid foundation for literacy. Comprehension is the understanding of what is being read. As students learn to decode words, they build their vocabulary and, with practice, increase fluency. Using critical thinking skills, and with instruction and practice, students can comprehend and discuss what they read. Therefore, a solid reading foundation is critical. Beginning in Second Grade, students are increasingly reading to learn versus learning to read in the early grades. With this understanding of reading instruction, one might ask why experienced educators need further education in this area. It’s because we are continually learning and growing as educators and our students are also changing. We have students with dyslexia who need a different approach to deciphering symbols and words. We have English language learners who need phonemic awareness and a strong phonics approach as they master English. We have students with speech delays, who need support articulating letters, sounds, and words to build oral language fluency (speaking, public speaking). We have students with a variety of processing delays that need support as they build fluency. As educators, we want to be able to support all learners, so it is important that we continue to learn and develop our teaching strategies in order to meet the needs of our students, to use the best practices available, to grow, improve and learn, to remind us of why, even during this stressful time of COVID, it is important to keep learning fun, exciting, and relevant while giving them the best possible chance at living their dreams and becoming lifelong learners in their own right.
Amy Weisberg, M.Ed.

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February 4, 2022