A year ago, following several months of remote learning, social distancing, and pandemic-related challenges and uncertainty, educators in Madison, CT, met via Zoom to plan for an unpredictable school year ahead. The spring 2020 disruption of critical foundational literacy instruction for emerging readers was a top concern.
To remedy this, elementary school literacy coaches, teachers, principals, and other administrators made a bold decision for a pandemic year. Noting the success of Fundations® as a Tier 2 intervention in their district, the educators rolled out the multisensory, structured literacy program as a Tier 1 curriculum in grades K-3 to support the overarching English language arts program.
“At the conclusion of the 2019-20 school year, we reflected upon the experience of our students during the 60 days of distance learning. Of immediate concern was the limited way our youngest students were able to access the development of reading skills,” explained Assistant Superintendent Gail Dahling-Hench.
“As we looked to start the new year, we knew that our Tier 2 intervention, Fundations, provided a multisensory approach that would be applicable for learners both in person and at a distance. In addition, the individual student packets would be safe for the engagement of all learners without sharing materials. We decided to make an immediate implementation plan to ensure that our youngest students would not lose any more time learning foundational reading skills.”
Despite summertime professional learning already having been allotted to introduce new protocols, technology, and state-mandated training due to the pandemic, teachers and literacy coaches Lisa Caldwell, Erin Chester, Celina DaSilva, and Michelle Horn stepped up to learn and implement Fundations as well.
That decision led to virtual training and support with Wilson® Literacy Specialist Pam Swan, who presented grade-specific Fundations Virtual Launch Workshops and ongoing Virtual Implementation Support (VIS). In addition to providing explicit instruction to the teachers, Pam walked them through the resources available in Wilson Academy® and the FUN HUB™, including videos introducing each new concept.
VIS is professional learning geared toward Fundations teachers in their first year of program implementation and it “was instrumental in providing the greatest success” not only for teachers, but for students, shared Lisa. “While the VIS program offered the support needed to implement Fundations more successfully, Pam went above and beyond to accommodate our needs.”
Last fall, schools reopened for the 2020-21 school year with a hybrid model: students attended in person as well as online with livestreamed lessons. Initially, the district rolled out Fundations in grades one and two.
“We were concerned about how challenging it would be to have a new program in such a disrupted year, so we prioritized grades one and two,” Gail said. “Due to the high-quality training and implementation in those grades, our teachers in K and 3 requested training and implementation in the same year!”
“We couldn’t have felt more supported when it came to our training with Pam,” said Celina. “She understood our needs and provided us with the most accurate and usable information. She was a delight to work with and our meetings always left teachers feeling reassured.”
Added first grade teacher Drew Sellitti, “Fundations provides the sequencing, structure, and predictability that allowed our students to be the most successful through a pandemic year. The online, interactive resources and tools allowed us to seamlessly transition from in-person to remote learning when it was necessary. Even in those instances, the predictable structure that Fundations provides simplified the planning process and allowed me to focus more on instruction of skills.”
“Although we were all new to virtual teaching and learning, Wilson worked with us to make sure that training was meaningful and valuable,” Gail said. And the results have been impressive.
“As a teacher, I want my students to have a toolbox of strategies they can use to decode words. I don’t want them to look at an unknown word and feel overwhelmed,” shared first grade teacher Lindsay Ciccone.
“Fundations has given my first graders the confidence to look at a multisyllabic word, break it into its parts, and then look for recognizable chunks like blends, glued sounds, and v-e patterns. When I look back on the growth my students have made this year, I think what I’m most impressed by is the sophistication with which six- and seven-year-olds can talk about a word!”
In the coming school year, the district of 2,500 students will build out its Fundations K-3 implementation and add the Fundations Pre-K program and training, Gail said.
“I think you know when you have a home run in professional learning.”
Pam noted that the district’s commitment was commendable.
“Their ability to move the students forward with really purposeful instruction stood out to me. That shows great leadership and a great community.”
Pictured: Fundations teacher Lindsay Ciccone taps out a word with one of her first graders.