Science and Reading, Together

Science and Reading, Together
Posted on 10/25/2023

Learning: Uniquely Alleghany Highlands

Science and Reading, Together

Did you know there is a science to teaching reading? 

The Science of Reading refers to research that breaks down how children learn to read. It also outlines ways teachers can help children learn to read. Reading involves skills that are taught to children clearly following a prescribed plan.

The Science of Reading includes research from education and several areas of psychology. In Alleghany Highlands Public Schools, our teachers work hard to improve students' reading skills through the Science of Reading. Our teachers also develop other ways to better reach their students.

You can learn more about the science of reading by visiting the  University of Virginia’s  website.  U.Va. provides teachers in Virginia with additional training and resources to help students learn to read. Several AHPS teachers have completed advanced training in the Science of Reading through programs such as LETRS and Orton-Gilligham. 

LETRS helps early childhood and elementary school teachers who work with students on reading, spelling, and language skills. Orton-Gillingham is a teaching method that aims to help students who are struggling with reading. Orton-Gillingham connects sounds with letters. Students learn language by ear (listening), mouth (speaking), eyes (seeing), and hands (writing). 

AHPS teachers are trained to help students associate sounds with words.  This means that students learn to “decode” words, or understand how to read them because they understand the sounds that go with letters. For example, students learn that the letter o can sound like the o in the word hot or the o in the word hope.  A letter o can also combine with an i to make the sound in oil and can be influenced by letters like r to make the sound in for.  


Kim Halterman from the AHPS leadership team recently visited Gina Middleton’s classroom at Callaghan Elementary School to see how teachers are using the Science of Reading to improve their students' reading skills. Middleton teaches second grade at Callaghan, and her students made large gains in reading during the 2022-2023 school year. These improvements resulted from Middleton’s use of Science of Reading techniques. She and her teammates at Callaghan are working to use these strategies to help her current students.

“While I was in Mrs. Middleton’s classroom, I saw the Science of Reading in action with students identifying sounds and using new vocabulary words. At times, students worked as a whole group. I also witnessed students working independently, in small groups, and with partners,” said Halterman, discussing her visit.

Middleton also taught reading concepts through direct instruction to her students. Headers were used to help the students improve their reading comprehension by altering them to important information.

Students also took quick dance “brain breaks” and enjoyed children’s book Stellaluna.  Importantly, the book Stellaluna uses factual science content. It is really important for students to learn to gain facts and separate from fiction or opinion. This aspect of reading is important for students because it improves their critical thinking skills. In the lesson taught by Middleton, students learned to compare and contrast to better understand the facts they learned about bats and birds.  A play including Stellaluna in part is being presented by Roanoke-based Mill Mountain Theatre actors at AHPS elementary schools this fall, adding to the arts experiences of students.

Middleton also uses Responsive Classroom Morning Meetings to help her students learn important social skills. All the while, she teaches reading skills during these important conversations. Halterman observed students identifying different sounds in words as they discussed kind actions in their lives. Middleton also skillfully used different activities to keep her students engaged. Discussions, videos and classroom displays were used to support learning.

On a recent October morning, students practiced identifying different sounds in words right after they discussed kind actions in their lives. Frequent transitions between activities helped kids remain engaged, and they used discussion, videos, and class displays to support their learning. 

That’s the beauty of the Science of Reading. It improves reading instruction through the use of fun and everyday classroom activities. As a former classroom teacher in primary grades, I was excited to see students enjoy their work and practice reading skills with each other.  

“My colleagues and I  are always looking for ways to improve our instruction, especially in reading, due to its complexity. The Science of Reading, which encompasses phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension has been the missing link. Through LETRS and Orton-Gillingham training, I feel more empowered as a teacher. As a result, students are making huge strides in decoding words, reading, and  spelling. The entire process is very rewarding for students and teachers alike,” said Middleton. 

Funding for teacher training is provided through a variety of resources including Title I federal funds, ESSER (pandemic) funds, ALL in Virginia funds, and yearly state and local funding. Science of Reading training has been available to teachers in AHPS and the previous Alleghany County Public Schools and Covington City Public Schools for several years.

Middleton attributes student success in her reading classroom and in others across AHPS to collaboration with her colleagues and AHPS’ participation in the Comprehensive Instructional Program (CIP), a collaboration of interested school divisions around Virginia that provides instructional resources.  At Callaghan, Middleton also serves as a mentor teacher and a Responsive Classroom lead teacher.

Lisa Hansford, principal at Callaghan Elementary, enjoys spending time in classrooms to see instruction like this. It is an example of the good work occurring at the school each day.

“All reading teachers at Callaghan Elementary have fully embraced the science of reading in their classrooms. The structure that is in place provides a more systematic phonics instruction approach for our students. It truly is an amazing experience to watch our students grow and facilitate a love for reading,” Hansford said.

“From my classroom experiences, the teaching and learning of reading has always been complicated. My colleague, Melinda Snead-Johnson agrees. She helps lead AHPS today, and she spent several years in the classroom before she became an administrator,” Halterman said.  

Both Halterman and Snead-Johnson are former reading teachers, a relative rarity among superintendents. 

“Melinda and I are so pleased to see the training and professional development that is offered to our teachers in this important area of instruction. We are so proud to see these teaching methods in action when we visit AHPS classrooms,” Halterman said.

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