When educators in Park City, Utah, recognized the need for more explicit reading and spelling instruction for young learners, they took a strategic approach to meet that objective.
Working in collaboration with community organizations, they pursued a vision which included providing effective reading instruction for all students regardless of reading ability, increasing teacher awareness and understanding of why students may struggle, and better ensuring all struggling readers are identified early and receive appropriate interventions.
Below, Park City School District Elementary Literacy Specialist Julie Hastings shares the district’s successful roll out of Fundations® in its four elementary schools and some lessons learned along the way.
A few years ago, our elementary teachers began to wonder why their reading instruction was working for most students, but not all.
As we evaluated our curriculum, we realized that systematic and explicit instruction in critical foundational skills was an area that needed improvement. After researching several options, we decided to add Fundations instruction into the literacy block as a supplemental Tier I and Tier II reading program to our core/literature-based language arts curriculum in grades K-3. In order to implement this change, we knew that effective professional development and teacher buy-in was essential.
We began by piloting Fundations Levels K-2 at McPolin Elementary School during the 2016-2017 school year, guided by a dedicated team of Wilson® Literacy Advisors, Wilson Literacy Specialists, and Trainers who provided instruction and year-long embedded coaching.
I met with the seven pilot teachers monthly to discuss how the multisensory, systematic, and explicit instruction provided in Fundations reinforced necessary aspects in the science of reading, that we were simultaneously learning. Common tools better encouraged collaboration during this learning phase.
Gathering consistent feedback from teachers also proved to be a successful and effective step in implementation. For instance, pilot teachers emphasized that using the same language, materials, and instructional methods across all grade levels allowed them to better identify which students were struggling with reading, and why, and then adjust instruction to match the skill deficits. As a result, teachers felt more confident and intentional with their Tier I and Tier II reading instruction and meeting the needs of all students.
In the spring, the pilot group also opened their Fundations classrooms for observation for the rest of the K-2 teachers in PCSD. This approach alleviated some teacher anxiety about including the explicit instruction in their literacy block for the upcoming year.
It was important to make sure the vision was attainable before expanding the implementation to other schools. During a district-wide meeting at the end of the pilot year, the McPolin teachers shared their insight and experiences with colleagues who would be coming on board the following school year. Our pilot group noted that students made gains in a shorter amount of time than in previous years, students became confident in their abilities, and whole-class engagement had increased substantially.
During the 2017-2018 school year, we expanded Fundations to 3rd grade at McPolin, while Fundations K-2 rolled out at the district’s three other elementary schools. Then, the following year, Fundations was in full implementation at McPolin and added to third grade at the other elementary schools. The Park City School District also trained educators in the Wilson Reading System® as a Tier III intervention for students in need of intensive instruction.
Now in our fourth year of Fundations implementation, here are some of the lessons we learned:
- Beginning with a pilot year helped identify obstacles teachers and administrators may encounter. Pilot teachers were able to inform colleagues at the other elementary schools of strategies they used and how to avoid pitfalls they might encounter. Gathering constant teacher feedback allowed for transparent and consistent messaging. It takes time to shift mindsets and teacher perceptions matter.
- Establishing a district internal stakeholder team made up of a teacher leader and interventionist from each school helped us build capacity, address impediments to a successful implementation, maintain follow-through in schools, and increase district collaboration. Each teacher leader became the “go-to” person in their building to answer questions and the interventionists helped drive the process. The team helped motivate teachers and monitor implementation to ensure fidelity to the program. This team was led by the district literacy specialist and met consistently.
- Principals and district leadership must be engaged and knowledgeable about the purpose of the initiative. Consistent messaging of the goals and vision with the school board, community, teachers, parents, and students is vital to work toward a common goal.
- Training at least one educator to be a Fundations Presenter helps sustain program implementation and teacher training, especially for on-boarding new teachers in the future.
- Providing consistent, high quality reading instruction in all grade levels will decrease the number of students needing support beyond Tier II. There were many benefits to improving overall reading instruction by starting with a focus on Tier I instruction.
By continuing to focus efforts and resources on our goals, we believe we are making gains toward closing the achievement gap, while creating an achievable model for others to emulate.
Pictured: Park City Elementary Literacy Specialist Julie Hastings, front row, center, led the district’s implementation of Fundations in grades K-3. McPolin Elementary School teachers who participated in the pilot year include Joanna Hammel, front left, Jodi Downard, front right; and back row from left, Heather Iverson; Tory Kendall; Jana Tullis; and Denine Therrien.