by David North
I was first introduced to the Heggerty curriculum last year – coincidentally, I began working with it through the DC Reading Clinic while simultaneously my instructional coach presented it to us during LEAP. Right away the impact was clear. Even during virtual instruction which, I think we all can agree, was less than ideal, students responded (and even kept their cameras on!) when it was Heggerty time. Here was an activity that everyone could do together! Well, not physically together, but…you know. The Heggerty activities simply made sense to them and to me – words are sounds, we have ears, let’s play with sounds because it helps our reading (see Hulme, Bowyer-Crane, Carroll, Duff, & Snowling, 2012).
Fast forward to this year. We’re in person. However you feel about it, I’ve probably felt that way too. Insert sweatpants joke. It’s been a roller coaster…maybe a Tilt-A-Whirl. Please do not lick the mask. Please do not chew the mask.
But one element of this year has been an unqualified success. That is, of course, those few minutes after Morning Meeting where we all chop and swipe our way through some sounds. My students love it. They’re engaged, waving their hands around, giving me intense eyes, and someone in the room is answering. But for the life of me, I can’t really decide who. Did you say splat or spat? Let me just lean in closer and oh-wait-no-shouldn’t-can’t-get-that-close.
The irony here is terrific. I’ve finally been introduced to a type of instruction that helps my students no matter what their level in reading and it’s entirely dependent on the one sense that we must dilute in this Covid-laden era. So that part kind of stinks. But here’s what it comes down to (Oklahoma for you Ted Lasso fans). For those ten minutes, every pair of eyes is on me, every pair of hands is chopping, every pair of lips is…behind a mask, but I think moving. My class is hooked on phonemic awareness. And we know it works. (See IES guide, 2016, here.)
What am I, a cartographer? How should I know? The early returns are promising though – after just a month of in-person Heggerty instruction (whole and small groups, of course) our NWF Letter Sounds are improving steadily. One student went from reading zero letter sounds to reading twelve in just a month. So not all leaps and bounds, of course, but the routines are now set and we’ll continue down the path we are on. If you’re like me and you’ve been in teaching for… a while…you’ve probably seen a lot of educational trends (nice word for fads). Fair enough. But this one is for real. You don’t need to take my word for it – definitely do not actually. Take some time and go through the rest of this site to get a toehold in the phonemic awareness world.
So there it is. Try it out in your room. It’s not going to be perfect. You’ll miss a chop, they’ll miss a blend. Maybe you’ll catch their mistakes, maybe the sounds will fade away behind some elastic and cotton. But you owe it to yourself and to your students to give this research-based instruction a try.
David North is a 2nd grade teacher with DC Public Schools. He loves crossword puzzles, hates but plays golf, and believes the Denver Broncos should fire their head coach. He just finished Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and is looking forward to reading it again tomorrow and the next day. He is currently pursuing his 20-month old daughter who ran away without a diaper.