New targeted training for teachers in Fauquier County aims to improve their ability to teach students to read. More than 100 teachers have received the intensive education in the last year.
Created in the 1930s by neurologist Dr. Samuel Orton and psychologist Anna Gillingham, the Orton-Gillingham method combines multi-sensory tactics and phonics-focused lessons to improve literacy, according to the website for The Institute for Multi-Sensory Education.
Two different levels of the training, comprehensive and intermediate, have been offered in Fauquier. This summer, 38 Fauquier County Public School teachers participated in the comprehensive level; 23 of these then participated in the intermediate level the following week. Training also took place in the fall of 2018 and January of this year. The comprehensive course costs $810; the intermediate costs $900. Each level totals 30 hours during a five-day period.
Katherine Nutt, Ph.D., lead dyslexia advisor for FCPS, has seen the effects of dyslexia firsthand; she said that multiple members of her family deal with the learning disorder. A teacher in Fauquier County for 17 years, she introduced Fauquier to the Orton-Gillingham multi-sensory program.
Nutt said students benefit tremendously when their teachers know how to teach reading from multiple angles, including listening and touching. “All school systems get teachers that have gone through great programs, but they really haven’t had the in-depth literacy training that they need nowadays,” Nutt said. “I’ve got more and more teachers that want to participate in this training.”
The entire cost of the most recent training for FCPS teachers –– $51,000 –– was privately raised by parents, local family foundations and individuals.
Heidi van Voorhis, who helped to fundraise, takes the literacy issue personally because her own child struggled with reading. She said students who pass reading Standards of Learning tests simply by guessing don’t get flagged as needing help. They hide their issue and it sets them behind their peers.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress reading scores in Virginia for the last decade have remained stagnant. Additionally, the scores show 63 percent of eighth-grade students are below proficient in reading; the seeds of the problem, however, started years before.
“This [training] is one of the best tools we can have in our toolbox,” van Voorhis said. “Our nation has a giant literacy problem and it all flies below the bar.”
The training program isn’t restricted to special education teachers. In fact, all teachers are encouraged to participate to learn how to recognize and help a child in need of extra attention when learning to read.
Alex O’Dell, principal of Mary Walter Elementary School, said the program would be a “great help” to all new elementary teachers.
“IMSE provides teachers with strategies to address the basic understanding of how letters and sounds connect to create words,” O’Dell said via email. “Many teachers, experienced and novice, do not receive in-depth training in how to diagnose or address issues students exhibit with regard to phonics and phonemic awareness. When teachers implement the skills they receive through IMSE, they are amazed at the progress students make, particularly the most at risk to be struggling readers.”
Hoping the program will expand, O’Dell wishes to see a few adjustments in the program’s implementation. “Trainings would be most effective if conducted during [the] summer months. The optimal model would include compensation for teachers,” he said.
Sharing her passion for literacy improvement, Nutt holds the training program in high regard.
“It’s a great supplement to the word study teachers are using in their classrooms and for students who just don’t quite ‘get it,’” Nutt said. “Because there are different strategies, if a student doesn’t learn one way then there’s other strategies that will probably meet their need. And it’s incredibly engaging.”
Nutt, among others, hopes to see a higher percentage of teacher enrollment in the training and is grateful to the county for being so receptive to the training.
“I have not spoken to a single person that’s participated in these trainings that has not been enthusiastic,” Nutt said. “It’s a life-changing experience. I’m very excited to see where we go.”