When last year’s national test scores showed that two thirds of the country’s fourth graders were reading below proficiency, educators in Chippewa Falls, WI, were well aware of this persistent, sobering statistic. Over the past several years, they’ve been steadily and strategically tackling this challenge in their own schools using Wilson’s multisensory structured literacy programs.
Recently, literacy leaders from the Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District shared how administrators and teachers successfully implemented Wilson’s tiered programs as part of their K-5 English Language Arts curriculum, and how they are supporting students, teachers, and parents during the pandemic.
To address the literacy gaps among their own struggling fourth graders, educators reviewed options in multisensory structured literacy instruction and decided Wilson’s Tier 2 intervention program, Just Words®, would produce an immediate, effective response.
On a summer morning, reading teachers and interventionists gathered for the first of many professional learning sessions with their go-to mentor, Wilson® Literacy Specialist Janet Lorenz, a Wilson® Credentialed Trainer (W.C.T.).
That school year, as the students advanced in their skills, teachers saw firsthand the impact of multisensory structured literacy instruction, and realized the importance not only of effective intervention, but also prevention programs like Fundations®.
“We saw such great gains in these students that we decided to pilot Fundations in first grade with four teachers,” explained Title I Coordinator/Reading Specialist Jodi Erickson, who spearheaded the pilot and continues to lead the literacy team.
“Our data showed that the students who were receiving Fundations were outperforming students in the other classes,” she explained. “That was how we decided to continue with it. After that, we added first and second grade in our six elementary schools, and this year is our first year with kindergarten.”
“Chippewa Falls is working hard to improve literacy skills in their students,” Janet said. “They’ve noticed that the difference between huge gains and more modest gains is linked to program fidelity. They are becoming more systematic about collecting data, and they are seeing upticks in the benchmarks for reading.”
The implementation process has allowed teachers to build a shared understanding about the science of reading, dyslexia, and the critical importance of early intervention.
To support effective, consistent implementation, administrators emphasized and expanded coaching to allow all teachers to work with Janet directly, explained Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Sue Kern, who joined the district in 2018.
“There is a lot of modeling and coaching in all areas. It’s very intensive and a lot of work, but ultimately, if our teachers have a strong understanding of what kids should know and be able to do, they can respond quicker,” Sue said. “That is key to growth and student achievement.”
To support program sustainability and ongoing, internal learning opportunities for teachers, the district further developed its teacher leaders. Jodi became a certified Facilitator for Fundations Levels 1 and 2, and Jackie Dupey, an elementary curriculum teacher and reading specialist, became a certified Facilitator in Level 2. This year, both pursued certification as Fundations Level K Facilitators.
Additionally, both achieved their Wilson Reading System® (WRS) Level I Certification last year to provide intensive Tier 3 instruction to students with dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities. The gains their practicum students made “were phenomenal,” Jodi shared.
The momentum continues to grow. Members of the Chippewa Falls School Board were amazed last fall when students and teachers showcased what they can do. And, teachers across the district are impressed by students’ flourishing literacy and handwriting skills.
“The intensity of the work Jodi and Jackie have done – their dedication, commitment, training, and willingness to support our district staff so that our students are getting the best possible opportunities to gain those early literacy skills – is huge and commendable,” Sue said. “I feel very fortunate that they are on our team here, and that they are supporting the schools in the manner that they do.”
When state order closed Wisconsin school buildings in mid-March, Chippewa Falls educators used the upcoming spring break to develop a comprehensive plan for remote learning for its 5,100 students, including many living amid sprawling farmland.
“The main priority has been to continue to provide opportunities and support for student learning,” Jodi shared. This included a focus on maintaining and reinforcing material already learned in the Fundations lessons as described on Wilson’s Supporting Students During COVID-19 Closures webpage, although students and families have had the option of doing more if they wish.
“We already have an achievement gap,” Jodi explained. “If we did new learning right now, our achievement gap would get wider. That’s not what we want in our district.”
As this most challenging school year comes to a close, Jodi and Jackie were able to complete their certification as Fundations Level K Facilitators, concluding their final sessions with Janet online.
Similar to circumstances in districts across the country, there is still much to map out for the coming school year. However, this team is confident in the early literacy foundation they have been building, and are looking forward to continued student and teacher success in the future.
Pictured: From left, Wilson® Literacy Specialist Janet Lorenz coaches Chippewa Falls teachers Carolyn Melville, Sandy Warwick, Jean Wells, and Gina Galeazzi.