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On February 28, 2022, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) released the findings of the Right to Read inquiry and their recommendations for improving literacy instruction in Ontario (click here to access the OHRC Right to Read Executive Summary and Key Recommendations). 

The OHRC’s Right to Read report has highlighted flaws in reading instruction in Ontario schools and brought to light the need for educators in Ontario to adopt evidence-based classroom instruction methodologies and programs to teach students to read.  Although the report focuses on word-level reading and associated early reading skills, the recommendations are far-reaching and have implications for supporting students at all levels of education. 

LD@school asked a variety of educators to reflect on what the Right to Read Report means for their classroom and instructional practice. 

The following response was written by Sheri Betteridge and Andrea Dario. They are experienced Grade 1 teachers with the Greater Essex County District School Board. 

Our shift towards a “Science of Reading” focus in teaching literacy began about a year ago. Our school’s Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) drew our attention to the Right to Read inquiry, and we began having conversations with her about evidence-based practices that we could implement in our instruction. We knew that we wanted to delve into this once we became aware that our balanced literacy approach was not evidence-based.  

We continued our learning through many resources available online that are rooted in the Science of Reading. We also had the continued support of our SLP who had developed a resource to create a "sound wall" that incorporates actions and jingles.

Click here to view an example of a sound wall on the Reading Rockets website. 

We implemented this in September and have used it all year long. Our board has also begun using the Heggerty phonemic lessons.

Click here to view free webinars on the Heggerty website. 

Many of the other instructional decisions we have made throughout the year were based on the scope and sequence suggested by our SLP.  

Our process has been gradual, starting with explicit and systematic instruction in phonological awareness and phonics. We now use the “heart” word method of teaching sight words and use decodable texts.

Click here to view examples of the heart word method on the Really Great Reading website. 

We felt it has been a slow and natural progression in our professional development and we implemented these activities over time. We have noticed that our students are applying phonics more consistently and with more confidence. Having scopes and sequences, screeners and diagnostic assessments at our fingertips has allowed us to target instruction for both whole-group and small-group with more confidence.  

Before the report was even released, we committed ourselves to moving toward evidence-based practices and away from balanced literacy. We embraced structured literacy and made the commitment to provide explicit and systematic instruction for all our grade one learners. 

We know our journey will continue to evolve and we look forward to what the Ministry of Education and our school board will provide in terms of professional development and resources. This first year has been fun and exciting, even though it was daunting to shift our instructional practices in the beginning. The progress of students was slow at first, but now we see that our students have developed the tools they need to become independent decoders and readers. Our philosophy will continue to be “when we know better, we do better” as we further develop our research-based practices. 

We hope the Right to Read inquiry and report will change how reading instruction is taught for all learners in every school board and every teacher education program. The report helped us reframe how we think about all learners in our classroom. Of course, we were always dedicated to a rich literacy program. However, now, when we plan and implement through the lens that all students have an equal right to learn to read, it has pushed us to ask "what are the best practices to do so?" Our focus is more tightly centred on what is needed to be able to support all children. 

Sheri Betteridge and Andrea Dario 

Grade 1 teachers, Greater Essex County District School Board