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Jump to the post written by Shannon Elliott, Instructional Coach
Jump to the post written by Ainsley and Laurie, teachers

In February 2022, the Ontario Human Rights Commission 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).   Since then, educators across Ontario have been working to better understand and implement these recommendations to improve student success and improve best practice.

LD@School asked a group of educators from Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board to share some of their journey into evidence-based literacy. Our bloggers include classroom teachers, instructional coaches, and superintendents.

We are grateful for the teams from the school board for sharing their thinking and experiences regarding the change in literacy instruction in Ontario.

Jump to the post written by Shannon Elliott, Instructional Coach

Building Capacity

Written by Ainsley Norlen, Grade 1 teacher and Laurie Carambetsos, reading intervention teacher, King George VI School, KPDSB

Laurie: In the spring of 2022, Keewatin-Patricia DSB offered a book study to those interested in digging into Wiley Blevins' A Fresh Look At Phonics. This was a fantastic opportunity for our staff across the board to learn together, share experiences, and ask questions. It was the beginning of our next adventure in introducing phonics back into our classrooms.

Ainsley: I was developing an understanding of and a comfort level with phonemic awareness through our work with Heggerty Phonemic Awareness Curriculum; learning about direct phonics instruction was the next step in the structured literacy journey. Prior to this, any phonics instruction in my classroom was loosely based on what I thought most of the students needed and was not based on any scope and sequence. Phonics concepts were introduced during whole group lessons (in a shared writing activity or a worksheet) but did not allow my students enough practice time for mastery. During this book study and the ensuing discussions with participating colleagues, I learned how important it is to follow a logical, evidence-based scope and sequence, and to give students enough review and repetition of those skills. At the end of the book study, we met with Wiley Blevins via Zoom and were able to ask deeper questions and celebrate what we had learned.

Implementing New Strategies

Moving forward, I experimented with phonics lessons that included blending lines, dictation, and word awareness activities. I realized that dictation was an important component of writing instruction that had been missing from my practice; struggling students needed the scaffold of dictated words and sentences so that the mental load of writing could be reduced into more manageable pieces.

The impact of integrating what I learned from Wiley Blevins around Phonics was enough to motivate me to take on another challenge in the fall.

Laurie: Our board’s superintendents and upper administration fully supported the transition to structured literacy and knew the importance of teacher learning. They organized a summer symposium and invited all our Kindergarten to Grade 3 teachers as well as special education teachers. At the symposium, we had many guest speakers and learned more about structured literacy and phonics instruction. As part of the KP team, we created a presentation around phonics and introduced our teachers to the newly purchased phonics program, Fundations. We knew that this was going to be a big shift and a big year ahead.

At the start of this school year, we were introduced to Fundations, a comprehensive phonics program that includes spelling, reading and handwriting. It was the most scripted program I had ever used, and it took some time to get used to teaching out of a “textbook.” The Fundations program came with letter cards to drill sounds, magnetic boards with letters for word building, and special whiteboards for handwriting practice. At the beginning of each unit, there was information to share with parents, extra practice activities for home, and a test at the end of each unit to assess student progress. One of the most obvious and immediate visible measures of success in using the Fundations program was the improvement in student handwriting. As a whole class, students are taught proper letter formation in Unit 1 while they are learning and solidifying their letter sound knowledge. With a whiteboard and marker in everyone’s hands, all students are engaged and participating. At this point in the year, most of my students are correctly forming letters and have control over the shape and size of each letter. Writing is less physically demanding, allowing students to spend more energy on generating ideas and attending to the conventions that have been taught.

Laurie: Along with Ainsley’s Grade 1 class, we have also implemented Fundations into our Kindergarten, Grade 1 and a few Grade 2 classrooms. It has had its challenges in the Grade 1 and 2 classrooms because these students did not have the opportunity to complete the scope and sequence of the program in Kindergarten. We spent much extra time reviewing and backfilling skills that had not been taught. However, it will be exciting to see what the next few years hold for our students at KP. All of these students will come into the next grade having experienced explicit phonics instruction, letter formation, phonemic awareness and so much that teachers can continue to build on.

Ainsley: With Heggerty, Fundations and Flyleaf, I feel like I have the right tools to ensure that my students become confident readers and writers. Discovering and implementing three new programs in under two years and completely changing my teaching practice in the literacy block has been very challenging but rewarding. I still have many questions about how to fit everything in. I continue to look for ways to make connections between resources that have their own evidence-based scope and sequences. Having one year under my belt and a solid understanding of structured literacy, I am looking forward to next year.

Jump to the post written by Ainsley and Laurie, teachers

Moving Into the Science of Reading and Decodable Texts

Written by Shannon Elliott, KPDSB Literacy Coach

A Shift to the Science of Reading

Like many teachers, I am sure, I often felt unsure about the way I was teaching reading. From Kindergarten to struggling readers in grade 8, I remember telling students, “I like how you used the picture to help you figure out that word. That’s what good readers do!” Then one day in 2020, my daughter came home from Kindergarten and said proudly, “Mom, I can read this book with my eyes closed!” (because she had memorized a series of repetitive sentences). None of it was sitting right, and because of all of this, I think the buzz on social media about this “thing” called, the Science of Reading, caught my attention. Down the rabbit hole I went! It started with a podcast from Amplify’s “Science of Reading: The Podcast” explaining Scarborough’s Reading Rope (see figure 1). My exact thoughts were, “This is the missing link!” But what I should have said was, “These are the missing strands!” I couldn’t get enough. I then read “Shifting the Balance” by Burkins & Yates, and “The Knowledge Gap” by Natalie Wexler - it all made sense!

Figure 1.

In response to the Ontario Human Rights Commission's (OHRC) Right to Read Report my board moved quickly to start implementing the recommendations so that we could improve reading instruction for all students. The shift began with the primary division. Educators were given training and resources to implement sound walls (Tools 4 Reading) and phonemic awareness lessons (Heggerty). There were growing pains at first, of course moving from a word wall to a sound wall, learning new terminology, and making time in the literacy block for new skills to be taught. But teachers quickly saw how it was making a positive impact on students. Many teachers commented on how they noticed a difference in students’ writing—there were vowels! Because of this, many teachers made the connection to why it was important to switch to decodable texts and they wanted them NOW.

Exploring New Programs

Our board purchased the Flyleaf decodable program. FYI, this can be a very overwhelming program. We suggested teachers start with the Foundational Skills lessons only, and then move on to the Close Reading lessons once they felt more comfortable with the resource. There are also a lot of pieces that need to be prepped before jumping into teaching the lessons, especially if you are not using the online SmartBoard resources for the Foundational Skills lessons. Speaking of the online portal, it is currently free and fabulous! Anyone can access the books, lesson resources, model lesson videos, and more.

A concern that came up over and over was: But how do these books compare to the levelled books? We as educators have been so ingrained to use the levelled system that for some, using decodables felt like jumping into the ocean without a life preserver. Several questions arose: How will I know which book to put them in? How will I know if they are at grade level? How do I group the students? It was a whole new way of thinking when we had to think about skills and not levels. Another interesting comment from many teachers using the decodables with their students was that the students were reading painfully slow. With predictable texts we are so used to having students quickly read off sentences because they are all practically the same. So, this switch to decodables was a little unnerving for some teachers. The good news was that the students were doing exactly what we wanted them to do — decode!

“The kindest thing you can do for beginning and struggling readers is to give them the time and encouragement they need to grunt and groan their way through sounding out words. You’re rewiring their brains and it’s hard work.” (Dr. John Shefelbine)

Positive Results

It has been about a year since many of our primary teachers started using decodables, and everyone is still finding a way that works best in their class. For some that is giving whole class lessons, for others it is small groups based on skill, and for some it is a mix of both. With the implementation of a few different programs, teachers are now seeing where there is some overlap and where they can make minor adjustments to lessons. Decodables have also caught the attention of teachers outside of the primary division to support their struggling readers - but that is a whole other blog post.  

I am happy to say that my daughter now comes home from school and reads books by using her decoding skills (with her eyes open!). She is also more willing to pick up and try to read ANY book instead of thinking that one levelled book is THE book she can read.  

My suggested resources: 


Books   Podcasts Online Training/Resources 
Shifting the Balance” by Jan Miller Burkins  and Kari Yates  

The Art and Science of Teaching Primary Reading” by  Christopher Such  

“Know Better, Do Better: Teaching the Foundations so Every Child Can Learn to Read” by David Liben and Meredith Liben  

“The Megabook of Fluency” by Melissa Cheesman Smith and Timothy Rasinski  

“A Fresh Look at Phonics” by Wiley  Blevins  

The Writing Revolutionby Judith C. Hochman, Natalie Wexler  

“Equipped for Reading Success” by David  Kilpatrick 


Science of Reading: The Podcast

IDA Ontario  

Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN)  

Really Great Reading

The Six Shifts  

Melissa & Lori Love Literacy Podcast

Reading Science Academy  

Triple R Teaching  

The Reading League  

Reading Teachers Lounge  

UFLI Foundations Toolbox  

Amplify Brain Builders Video Series 

Shannon Elliott is an Instructional Coach for the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board in northwestern Ontario. Over the past 19 years, she has had experience teaching students from K-8, with the last 2 years of her career being an Instructional Coach, where she supports teachers across her board in literacy and numeracy.  She is grateful to live and play on the shores of Eagle Lake, in Treaty #3 territory, with her husband, daughter, and pets.