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Transformative Teaching

Recently nicknamed “Kindness, USA,” Gilbert, AZ, is noted as one of the fastest growing communities in the country. As the ever-expanding town in the Phoenix suburbs prepares for its centennial celebration in 2020, the Gilbert Unified School District is also marking 15 years as a Wilson district.

In the mid-2000s, Gilbert educators paid heed to recommendations regarding the science of reading: All early learners, particularly those showing signs of reading difficulty, benefit from explicit, structured literacy instruction to develop foundational literacy skills that are crucial for academic success.

Recognizing the need to incorporate strong foundational reading skills instruction, the district piloted Fundations® as a Tier 1 and Tier 2 program in early elementary classrooms in 2005, then went on to embed Fundations in its 27 elementary schools, with particular attention to fidelity of implementation.

In 2008, Gilbert began training its reading specialists and all elementary school instructional coaches in the Wilson Reading System® (WRS) as a Tier 3 intervention for students in need of intensive instruction. Just Words® was added next, as a Tier 2 intervention for students in grades 4 to 6 with mild-to-moderate gaps in decoding and spelling skills.

By strategically building in-district capacity to train, coach, and mentor teachers in Wilson’s explicit, multisensory, structured programs, Gilbert Public Schools is now ahead of the curve in meeting the ELA foundational literacy skills requirements that were defined in Arizona State Standards in late 2016, as well as new dyslexia legislation adopted this year.

“Wilson training has been very powerful for our teachers because they get to see how to target instruction for students, and how to be direct with helping struggling readers in the exact areas they need,” shared Misty Castillo, the district’s ELA Title I specialist and Wilson® Credentialed Trainer (W.C.T.). “It’s exciting to see them walk away with this experience and say it has changed their way of teaching. They look at things differently now. Providing training focused on the pedagogy, best practices, and reasons behind why this type of instruction works has helped tremendously in the use of the practices so all students can benefit.”

The districtwide endeavor began years ago under ELA teachers and administrators Sandi Apuna and Carolyn Cain, who went on to become Wilson® Credentialed Trainers.

Early on, Gilbert educators collaborated with Wilson Literacy Advisor Anne Treadwell and a Wilson Implementation Team to identify the district’s literacy goals, develop a customized, strategic plan to meet the needs of students, teachers, and administrators, and then implement the plan with direct support from Wilson.

Fundations training was provided to teachers across the board in grades K-3. Additionally, administrators appointed an instructional coach at each campus to support teachers as they learned the content and activities for the foundational skills standards. Each coach models, co-teaches, supports, and conducts study groups for teachers as they perfect their craft.

In addition to these coaching models, Gilbert was among the first districts in the country to train Wilson Facilitators and Presenters as part of a professional learning pathway that Wilson developed in 2011. This allowed the 33,000-student district to continue to cultivate and build program capacity.

“It was extremely beneficial when Wilson developed a process to create in-district Fundations and Just Words Facilitators and Presenters,” Misty shared. “We jumped on the opportunity to develop the capacity to help sustain and support Wilson programs in our district. All of these talented educators are the heart of bringing Wilson alive to teachers and students.”

Gilbert Public Schools’ leadership has been “very supportive in the development of teacher leaders and the delivery of professional development,” said Misty, who also serves as a Fundations Presenter and Facilitator. “They recognize the value of the standards taught in Fundations and show this by providing an allotted time across our elementary schools.”

As a Tier 3 intervention, WRS has been “lifesaving” for students in grades two and above who exhibit characteristics of dyslexia, said Misty, who was recently appointed to the Board of Directors for the Arizona Branch of the International Dyslexia Association.

“The biggest lesson learned in our years of implementing Wilson programs is that the training, coaching, and continued support of teachers are essential. Even when we think we have it, there is always more to learn!”

Pictured: Gilbert Public Schools’ Literacy Team includes, from left, K-6 ELA Coach Amy Yanez, W.D.P.; Instructional Coach/Reading Specialist Kristin McCord, W.D.T.; ELA Title I Program Specialist Misty Castillo, W.C.T.; Reading Specialist Krista Roth, W.D.P.; and Instructional Coach Christine Hill, W.D.P.