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Foundational Skills at an Accelerated Pace for Grade 4 and Beyond

As educators and families roll out of a challenging school year and prepare for a new start this fall, the topic of getting students on track for grade-level success is top of mind. With national reading proficiency scores already low, the need to address illiteracy has intensified.

Have you met Wilson’s Tier 2 intervention program, Just Words®?

It is the word study component of the evidence-based Wilson Reading System® (WRS) curriculum and progresses at an accelerated pace. Just Words helps students in grade four and above master the foundational reading skills they’ll need to advance to more rigorous coursework in middle and high school.

Developed for struggling readers with mild-to-moderate gaps in foundational decoding and spelling skills, Just Words is a sophisticated study of word structure with explicit teaching of “how English works” for both decoding and spelling automaticity. It aligns with a school’s or district’s Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) or Response to Intervention (RtI) framework.

Skills explicitly and cumulatively taught include: phonemic awareness; sound-symbol correspondence; an in-depth study of high frequency words and phonetically regular words; syllable structure and the six basic syllable types and patterns in English; orthographic mapping; spelling with common Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes; vocabulary; and automatic reading and spelling of high frequency words.

Just Words is appropriate for students in grades 4-12 and adults with below-average decoding and spelling scores. English language learners, who are twice as likely as their peers to score below basic levels in reading and writing, also benefit from the direct instruction it provides. Students who score in the 15th–50th percentile but do not have a significant language-based learning disability, such as dyslexia, are best suited for this highly explicit and effective multisensory structured literacy program.

Just Words can be taught to up to 15 students in a group by general education teachers, reading specialists, or intervention personnel. The program is designed to be completed in one school year (45 minutes each day) to help students achieve grade-level reading. If scheduling only allows for three 45-minute sessions each week—the minimum needed for program fidelity—the curriculum can be completed in one and a half years.

“Just Words has always been an accelerated word study program to help students catch up on foundational skills beyond third grade, so they can move forward with more comprehensive reading instruction,” explained Wilson Senior Director of Professional Learning/Field Implementation Kimberly Gillingham. “The program fits all the criteria that researchers are telling us are necessary to move struggling readers forward, which makes it ideal for what educators are looking for now.”

Federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding may be allocated to support Just Words professional learning and implementation because the program specifically targets learning loss and recovery. The legislation also allows ESSER funds to be used for identifying and addressing unfinished learning, instructional materials, teacher pay, and technology. Likewise, the new Fundations® Ready to Rise™ Program for rising first and second graders is eligible for ESSER funding.

Student Screening & Placement

Now is the time to be thinking about screening your students to allow sufficient opportunity for group placement and class scheduling in the new school year.

Student identification and proper group placement are critical to the success of a Just Words class.

Determining which students would benefit from Just Words begins with screening, Kim explained.

“Look for your struggling readers across the board. When you know who is in that subset, test them for word identification and spelling using the Test of Silent Word Reading Fluency-2 (TOSWRF-2) and the Word Identification and Spelling Test (WIST). That will tell you who will most benefit.”

TOSWRF-2 measures a student’s ability to recognize printed words accurately and efficiently. It can be administered easily and quickly in a group format and serves as a quick screening tool. The WIST includes subtests that measure word identification, spelling, and sound-symbol knowledge, and then provides a composite score.

Assign students to groups or classes using the WIST Fundamental Literacy Ability Index Percentile rank, with students scoring between 15 and 30 percent placed in one group, and students scoring between 31 and 50 percent in another. For students in the 25th-35th percentile, use the sound-symbol knowledge subtest and other information to group appropriately.

Student groups should be homogenous based on word attack and spelling measures, and similar (but not necessarily exact) age, grade, and cognitive ability. Other considerations when determining a group include experience of the instructor at the level of instruction needed, availability of a teacher aide or support staff, and behavioral or attendance issues. For more information about assessments and placement, click here.

Cumulative Success

As teachers seek effective solutions to recover lost learning from the past 14 months, many are inquiring about Wilson programs for middle and high school grades, said Wilson Literacy Advisor/Literacy Specialist Turkesshia Moore, a former fifth grade teacher who now instructs and coaches educators in Wilson programs in the Southeast.

She advises districts to consider Just Words, which is age-appropriate for tweens and teens who do not require the intensive Tier 3 intervention of the Wilson Reading System® (WRS).

“When we look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, we know that lots of students are already scoring below proficiency in reading. Now, because of virtual and hybrid instruction, or not having school, those gaps may be compounded. There’s even more of an emergency for finding a program that works.” 

In short order, Just Words students become acclimated to the class and its activities, and see the benefits in all courses of study, Turkesshia said.

“They participate in their own learning; they track their growth. Just Words allows students to celebrate the many successes along the way.”

Teachers, meanwhile, learn to teach the program diagnostically, monitor student progress, plan lessons based on the explicit Instructor Manual, and enroll in the online Intervention Learning Community in Wilson Academy.

“I really love the accelerated pace of Just Words because it allows my students to see progress quickly,” said Lakesha Costello, a Wilson® Dyslexia Practitioner (W.D.P.) who teaches WRS and Just Words in a Philadelphia suburb.

“I always challenge my students to transfer the skills they are learning in my class to their core content area classes.”

Lakesha shared that one of her proudest moments as a reading specialist was the day a struggling reader ran into her classroom with tears of joy after decoding a difficult word in biology.

“For the first time ever, she was able to read aloud without being embarrassed. She attributed her success to learning how to divide words into syllables and learning prefixes and Latin roots in Just Words. This student went on to college and is currently enrolled as an education major.”

Instructor-led, online workshops in Just Words are offered this summer and fall through Wilson Language Training and Wilson® Accredited Partners. The four-hour Virtual Launch Workshops prepare teachers to use Just Words in a variety of in-person and remote settings.