Literacy Across Subjects

Ensuring that literacy activities occur in all subjects can seem overwhelming but is often easier to implement than we think! As a Student Support Teacher, I spend most of my non-English Language Arts time teaching math and health concepts. Our current Gr. 1 health unit focuses on healthy choices, relationships, and mindsets and I wanted to tie it back into our phonemic awareness learning – identifying initial, final, and medial phonemes in CVC, CVCE, and CCVC words. Today we worked on phoneme identification when completing a healthy eating word search. The word bank had healthy fruit and vegetable words. I would state the word that we were searching for and the kids would tell me what sounds they heard at the beginning and end of the word; some learners would pick out the medial sounds. Then students would point to the word in the word bank that they believed was stated, before working together to search for the word. I was able to differentiate the activity so that those learners working on alphabet sounds could focus more on the individual letter sounds and identification. Using health content to work on literacy skills was both beneficial and fun for the kids.

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Learning is healthy and fun with this spelling and word recognition practice! Be sure to check out for more learning resources.

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Amygdala, Hippocampus, and PFC on Grade 1 Terms!

My Grade 1s have been reviewing the five senses and applying this knowledge to the parts of the brain. We are learning about the amygdala (safety guard), hippocampus (memory), and the prefrontal cortex or PFC (decision maker). We did lessons on mindful seeing, listening, and touching. Today the students had a lot of fun learning about mindful smelling and tasting. I put 9 food items in brown bags and numbered the bags 1 through 9. Students got to smell an item and track their guess on the whiteboard tables. At the end, I revealed each item and we discussed how our hippocampus reminded us of a time we had smelled a certain food. Some students were reminded of a person or place. We also discussed how the amygdala can signal us that it was scary to not be able to see the foods and that students had to make the decision to trust me. The students agreed that it was easier to do mindful seeing than mindful smelling. The next step was to have students taste the food. We discussed salty, sweet, savory, bitter, sour, and spicy foods and students got a chance to categorize the foods and explain why.
During mindful smelling, she easily identified pickles and connected the smell to family meals in the summer.
“This is sour, Ms. Gorham!” – Student “Do you like it?” – Ms. Gorham “I like that it makes me think of my family… but can I eat something salty?” – Student
Honestly, I was a bit worried about teaching parts of the brain to Gr. 1s but they have surpassed my expectations and are easily labelling the terms and learning about how they can use their brain and senses to explore the world around them!

Sask. Reads Instructional Approaches in My Classroom

The Saskatchewan Reads: A Companion Document to the Saskatchewan English Language Arts Curriculum – Grades 1, 2, 3 is a document that every Saskatchewan teacher should familiarize themselves with. It highlights curriculum connections, learning environments, big ideas of reading, assessment for, as, and of learning, instructional approaches, and interventions. Today I want to focus on how I use the instructional approaches in my classroom. There are four instructional approaches aligned with the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR):
  • Modeled Reading – “I Do”
  • Shared Reading – “We Do”
  • Scaffolded/Guided Reading – “We Do Together”
  • Independent Reading – “You Do”
Utilizing the GRR allows the teacher to “gradually transfers increased responsibility to the students” (Saskatchewan Reads, 2019, n.p.). It is an evidence-based strategy that allows for student growth and achievement. Modeled Reading involves verbalizing reading strategies and thought processes in a planned way while reading to the class. Basically, the teacher is repeatedly practicing the reading skill(s) that students will eventually be expected to do. This can be accomplished through various forms of literature across any subject matter. It extends beyond a simple read-aloud because reading behaviors are emphasized, modeled, and then practiced by students afterwards. Modeled Reading in My Classroom: One of my favorite modeling lessons involves fairy tale stories. I like to use fairy tales because students are often familiar with them and there are many different versions. During a reading of the Three Little Pigs, I modeled ‘skippy frog’ (skip the tricky word, read to the end, and then go back and try again) and ‘chunky monkey’ (chunk the words into smaller parts that you know). The comprehension strategies that I focused on were retelling in order (sequencing) and using prior knowledge. I am expecting my students to start using these strategies more independently and modeling them is the first step. The next day I modeled another version of The Three Little Pigs and emphasized comparing/contrasting in addition to the other strategies. Shared Reading involves using different genres to share in reading and strategy use. It goes beyond choral reading or round-robin reading because the students and teachers are working together and the teacher continues to model their thought process. Shared Reading in My Classroom: My students love poems and this genre is often perfect for shared reading. We read the poem “Straw, Sticks, and Bricks” which also supported their comprehension. I modeled the poem the first day utilizing ‘stretchy snake’ (sounding out the words) and ‘flippy dolphin’ (changing the vowel sound). Then the next day we reviewed the events of the poem together and any phonics generalizations. Students then got a chance to share in the reading. Afterwards, students practiced the reading strategies that we had been focusing on with our reading strategy cards.
Decoding Strategy Cards purchased from:
I also will be completing this sentence strip One Pig, Two Pigs book with the students to further practice our strategies in a shared way. Sentence strip stories lend themselves nicely to all four instructional approaches, especially when repetition occurs.
Scaffolded/Guided Reading involves targeted reading instruction in flexible groupings based on student needs. Students practice reading and reading strategies through a variety of content areas and leveled books. Instructional time and lesson focus varies based on group needs and teacher observations. This extends beyond round-robin reading because students can work at their own pace and the strategies taught apply to reading opportunities beyond that specific text. Guided Reading in My Classroom: For Guided Reading (and Levelled Literacy Intervention), I used different levels of The Three Little Pigs based on student needs and we read them in their flexible groupings. Students got a chance to practice our previous reading and comprehension strategies, such as compare/contrast. We always read the books two days in a row before students take them home to share with their parents. On the second day, students will write about their reading to solidify their comprehension. The second reading also helps develop their confidence and fluency. Independent Reading involves students selecting “just-right” texts and then applying their reading strategies independently. This differs from silent reading because of the discussions, written reflections, and goal-setting that occurs between students and their teacher. Independent Reading in My Classroom: My independent reading time is scheduled alongside guided reading typically. I have a classroom library of over 500 books that students can choose from. Students read for 7-10 minutes and then conference with a peer for 3-5 minutes about what they read. They can also engage in a shared read or read-aloud at this time. I leave five minutes at the end of each guided reading lesson to check-in with students about what they read and what strategies they used. I use the attached document to conference with students about what they read and if it was the right fit. Sometimes I need to ask further comprehension questions but I like that this document ties back to our classroom anchor chart. It can be this simple to use the four instructional approaches in your classroom! This concept can be applied to other genres, countless subjects, and any story (whether the reading materials connect or not)! I am planning to repeat this structure when reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Be sure to check out Saskatchewan Reads and please feel free to leave a comment about how you use the four instructional approaches in your classroom!

Decoding Instruction improves Reading Comprehension for Struggling Readers in Grade One


Reading instruction is often at the forefront of educational research, with research-based strategies being preferred (Browder et al., 2012; Fien et al., 2015). In 2000, the National Reading Panel outlined the science of reading instruction as “(a) vocabulary, (b) fluency, (c) comprehension, (d) phonemic awareness, and (e) phonics” (Browder et al., 2012, p. 237; National Reading Panel, 2000). In many ways, these components have always had their place in reading research, educational policies, and curriculums. However, while we have defined the components of sound reading instruction, there are still students who are failing to read at grade level and questions regarding successful reading programs for all learners. Chapman (2003) notes that “approximately 15-20% of children struggle with reading” for a variety of reasons (p. 108) and while this number varies based on population and location, it is evident that current literacy practices are not promoting success for all.

Theoretical Framework

One area of debate in the literature is whether beginning reading instruction should favor sight word or decoding strategies. Through a quantitative, linear design both a “psychological-cognitive” and “language literacy-oriented” research approach will be used to focus on word reading strategies as they relate to reading comprehension (Chapman, 2003, p. 95). Sight word reading may also be termed in the literature as visual accessing (Aaron et al., 1999; Ehri, 2005; Gough, 1993), cipher reading (Gough, 1993), and/or lexical recall of the words (Aaron et al., 1999; Ryder et al., 2007). Some researches define sight words as any word that has been repeatedly read and memorized (Ehri, 2005) and others suggest sight words are limited to irregular or high frequency words (Aaron et al., 1999). Decoding strategies are often labelled as codebreaking (Gough, 1993), phonological reading (Aaron et al., 1999; Ehri, 2005), and graphophonics and/or grapheme-phoneme blending and segmenting (Aaron et al., 1999; Ehri, 2005; Eldredge et al., 1990; Weiser et al., 2011).

For the purpose of this study, the operational definition for sight word reading will be adopted from Aaron et al. (1999): “sight word reading is accomplished by addressing the orthographic representation of words” (p. 91). Gough (1993) expands this definition; a sight word “is not ‘sounded out;’ it is not read ‘phonologically.’ Its recognition is ‘direct,’ unmediated by letter-sound correspondences… [but instead] by sight” (p. 181). Decoding strategies, in contrast, are defined as “assembling the word’s pronunciation” (Aaron et al., 1999, p. 91). For the purpose of this study, decoding strategies will be operationally defined as the use of graphophonic cues – mapping the phoneme (sound) onto the grapheme (spelled representation of the word) (Saskatchewan Curriculum, 2010) – through sounding out or blending.

Review of Literature

Within the research, decoding and sight word strategies have been found to be congruent. Aaron et al. (1999) used a sample of 167 children in Grades Two through Six and 75 college students. They looked at naming time of letters in comparison to words to determine if sight word or decoding strategies were being used. They found that a switch from decoding to sight word reading was made sometime in Grade Three or Four (Aaron et al., 1999). Not only were the strategies congruent but sight words were “built on foundations of decoding skills” (Aaron et al., 1999, p. 102-3). Aaron et al. (1999) note that “sight word reading appears to be carried out by processing all the constituent letters of the word in parallel, simultaneously… [it] relies heavily on proficient decoding” (p. 115; Eldredge et al., 1990). While beginning readers often learn their first words through “selective associations” (Gough, 1993, p. 181), such as environmental print or word visualization (Ehri, 2005), this is not considered to be sight word reading. Rather, Ehri identified four stages “pre-alphabetic (environmental print), partial alphabetic (first and final sound identification), full alphabetic (decoding all of the phonemes), and consolidated alphabetic (sight word memorization) (2005, p. 173-5) – with sight word recall following the decoding stage. Thus, it can be theorized that students will be successful sight word readers if they are already successful decoders (Aaron, 1999; Uhry et al., 1997). In Freebody’s and Byrne’s (1988) study they compared sight word and decoding strategies through regular, irregular, and nonsense individually presented words on a sample of 90 Grade Two and 89 Grade Three students in regular classrooms. They found that, while some students utilized both strategies, “one fifth attained average scores on irregular words but substantially below-average scores on nonsense words [sight word readers]… and one seventh showed the opposite pattern – average or better nonsense-word scores but poor irregular-word performance [decoders]” (p. 441). On comprehension tests, the sight word readers performed better than the decoders in Grade Two (Freebody et al., 1988). However, by Grade Three the “failure to acquire and use efficient decoding skills” decreased reading fluency and thus, comprehension scores (Freebody et al., 1988, p. 441). Therefore, over time the use of decoding strategies surpassed the use of sight word strategies. This may be explained by Gough’s (1993) finding that relying on sight word strategies is impeded by memorization and novel words. Gough explains that “while i’s easy to find a cue to distinguish one word from a few others, with each additional word it becomes harder” and sight word strategies do not help with “recognition of new words: knowing that ELEPHANT is the long word, or CAMEL is the one with humps, cannot help the child decode HORSE” (1993, p. 188). A benefit of decoding instruction is that readers have a way to access words and texts that they have not previously encountered (Eldredge et al., 1990; Ryder et al., 2007). However, various benefits of sight word strategies are apparent in the literature. Eldredge et al. (1990) note that sight word reading allows for less “nonsense errors” but “advocates of explicit phonics approaches believe that making nonsense errors is a stage that passes” (p. 202). Sight word knowledge allows for fluent reading and thus, higher comprehension scores and vocabulary growth (Aaron et al., 1999; Eldredge et al., 1990; Ryder, 2007). This may be because “if readers attempt to decode words… their attention is shifted from the text to the word itself to identify it, and this disrupts comprehension, at least momentarily” (Ehri, 2005; Aaron et al., 1999). Sight word reading is unobtrusive and efficient (Ehri, 2004). On the other hand, Eldredge et al. (1990) note that “improved decoding skills provide the possibility for readers to give more attention to text message, resulting in better reading comprehension” (p. 202). If students have learned specific sight words, they often have proficient accuracy scores during reading benchmark assessments, making a sight word approach appealing to educators reporting reading scores. The purpose of this study is to extend the research with a focus on beginning readers who are struggling. A 1997 study by Uhri and Shepherd looked at teaching decoding strategies as a prelude to sight word strategies for struggling readers and they found positive gains in both non-word and sight word reading scores (Uhry et al., 1997). It is important to replicate this study for learners who are experiencing difficulties “with the automatic mapping between print and speech” (Ehri, 2005, p. 172) so that our reading instruction can benefit all learners. While one strategy may not be superior to the other, Aaron (1999) notes that “efforts to improve sight-word reading skills of poor decoders through whole word methods by using flash cards or computers may not be very successful” (p. 119). In addition, “if readers do not know short vowel spellings, or they do not know that ph symbolizes /f/, then when they encounter these letters in particular words, the letters will not become bonded to their phonemes in memory” and this explicit instruction needs to occur for successful long-term reading (Ehri, 2005, p. 172; Eldredge et al., 1990; Weiser et al., 2011). It is important to determine if we are emphasizing sight word reading approaches to score higher on comprehension measures today, but overlooking the importance of decoding on reading comprehension scores over time.

Purpose Statement

The purpose of this quasi-experimental study (Creswell, 2012; Jackson et al., 2007; McMillan et al., 2010; Neuman, 2006) is to test the theory of learning to read that compares decoding to sight word instruction for Grade One students who are struggling to read (reading A to C as per Fountas and Pinnell (F&P) formative benchmarking). The independent variables are decoding and sight word reading strategies (defined above). The dependent variable of reading comprehension will be assessed through the Woodcock-Johnson Psycho-Educational Battery, Third Edition (WJ-III) Broad Reading Passage Comprehension subtest. Reading comprehension will operationally be defined as being able to orally relate “the sequence (i.e., beginning, middle, and end), the key points (who, what, when, where, and why) and the problems and solution” (Saskatchewan Curriculum, 2010, p. 27) both implicitly and explicitly stated of what one reads.


Alternative Hypothesis: Grade One struggling readers in _______ school division who participate in decoding instruction will have greater reading comprehension scores than students who participate in sight word instruction. Null Hypothesis: There is no difference between the treatment group (decoding instruction) and the control group (sight word instruction) in terms of reading comprehension for Grade One struggling readers in _______ school division.



The participants are three classrooms of Grade One students in an elementary school in ________ school division. Their ages range from six to seven years old and the students are of different sexes, races, and socio-economic classes. Thirty students (n=30) will be receiving reading intervention with a Student Support Teacher (n=1) due to being identified as struggling readers (reading A to C on F&P formative benchmarking). Students will take part in a one-on-one pretest where they read 20 irregular words, 20 regular words, and 20 nonsense words. Students who score less than 50% correctly will be randomly assigned to the control group, focusing on sight word instruction, or the treatment group, focusing on decoding instruction. Both groups will be taught by the same trained Student Support Teacher (n=1) during a different 30 minute period each day for twelve weeks (January to March). The timespan is short to avoid maturation and potential cross-over lessons from within the regular classroom setting. Students will take a posttest on irregular words, regular words, and nonsense words. Their reading comprehension will be benchmarked using the WJ-III.


An application to the ethics board at the University of Regina will be made to grant approval to ethically conduct this research. The school division, the specific elementary school, and the participants’ caregivers will receive a formal letter explaining the purpose and benefit of the research, as well as specific details about the timespan, activities, and the use of data, paying specific attention to student anonymity (Creswell, 2012). All levels will have consent forms to sign and return in order for the research to be conducted.


Treatment Group – Decoding Control Group – Sight Words
Grapheme-Phoneme Relationships (5 minutes) – teaching phonics generalizations, blends, digraphs, letter sounds, consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words, and vowel teams through the use of the Letterland program stories, songs, and actions and the Grade One curricular list of phonics generalizations (ee, sh, ch, ing, etc.), blends and diagraphs (bl, br, th, wh, etc.), vowel teams (ea, oa, oo, etc.), and the alphabet (Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 35) Sight Word Naming (5 minutes) – teaching sight word recognition through the Edmark program (Browder, 2012), a ‘Sight Word of the Day’ song, and word learning through flashcard strategies and visual word boxes
Grapheme-Phoneme Manipulation (10 minutes) – using manipulatives (ex. magnetic letters, blocks, wooden letters, etc.) to segment and blend the sounds in words and using Elkonin boxes to make word changes Sight Word Games (10 minutes) – playing sight word games, such as Concentration and Bingo, to practice the sight words taught that day and previously
Guided Reading (10 minutes) – applying grapheme-phoneme blending in context to an appropriately leveled text (approximately F&P levels A to C) (Uhry et al., 1997; Weiser et al., 2011) Guided Reading (10 minutes) – applying sight word knowledge in context to an appropriately leveled text (approximately F&P levels A to C) (Uhry et al., 1997; Weiser et al., 2011)
Writing (5 minutes) – writing about what was read to encourage comprehension and practice segmenting and blending of phoneme-graphemes through invented spelling (Uhry et al., 1997; Weiser et al., 2011). Writing (5 minutes) – writing about what was read to encourage comprehension and practice sight words learned through word wall and textual cues (Uhry et al., 1997; Weiser et al., 2011, p. 172).

Data Collection and Instruments

The students will take part in a one-on-one pretest where they read 20 irregular words, 20 regular words, and 20 nonsense words aloud (Eldredge et al., 1990; Freebody et al., 1988; Jeynes, 2008). A regular word will be defined as a word where each letter represents a common phoneme, whereas an irregular word may have silent letters, digraphs, blends, and/or vowel teams present (Freebody et al., 1988). A nonsense word will follow the grapheme-phoneme patterns of the language but result in a meaningless word, such as ‘bif.’ The same posttest will be used to determine their decoding and/or sight word strategy use after the intervention. The words will be taken from the appendix of regular, nonsense, and irregular words from Freebody’s and Byrne’s (1988) study (p. 453), keeping the grade difference in mind. The Word Attack and Letter-Word Identification subtests from the WJ-III will also be used but only during the posttest to reduce the threat of testing impact on internal validity. Reading comprehension will be assessed using the Woodcock-Johnson Psycho-Educational Battery, Third Edition (WJ-III) by Woodcock, McGrew, and Mather (2001). The test was normed on 8,800 cases and its “internal consistency reliabilities range from .76 to .97 with a median of .87″ (Thorndike and Thorndike-Christ, 2010, p. 393). Cizek (2003) notes that the test “meets professional standards of reliability and validity for [its] intended purposes” (n.p.). The test is based on the Cattell-Horn-Carrol model of intelligence and achievement, which is commonly used in school psychology (Schrank, 2010). It is appropriate for ages 2 through 90 (Thorndike & Thorndike-Christ, 2010). The test “takes about 50 to 60 minutes to administer” if using all eleven subtests (Thorndike and Thorndike-Christ, 2010, p. 431). For the purpose of this study, the testing time will be reduced due to only using three subtests, which will help with maturation.

Data Analysis

The Equal Variance one-tailed t-test will be used to “determine the difference between the means of the two groups” to ensure significance is based on the intervention rather than a sampling error (Mertler et al., 2010, p. 90). A repeated measure t-test will also be used to compare the results of the pre- and posttests for the same individuals (Mertler et al., 2010). The groups are equal and there is one independent and one dependent variable. Once the data is produced, it will be analyzed through the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) program (Creswell, 2012) in a spreadsheet format.

The p-value will be set with a <.05 level of statistical significance (Neuman, 2011). Thus, if the results are less than this, we will “reject the null hypothesis and call the findings significant” (Mertler et al., 2010, p. 93). A p-value of <.05 is common in educational psychology research and is deemed appropriate for this study to avoid a type 1 or type 2 error (Neuman, 2011).


Potential threats to internal and external validity are possible in all social research. Due the quasi-experimental nature of this study, the lack of random selection may cause an inequality between groups or selection bias from the onset (Creswell, 2012; Neuman, 2011). However, due to the ethical nature of research on students in premade classes, a true experiment with random sampling would not be applicable. Another internal threat may be testing effect since a pre- and posttest will be administered and students may remember items or simply improve their testing abilities (Creswell, 2012; Neuman, 2011). This can be solved with the Solomon-Four Group Design (Neuman, 2011). In this study, an additional posttest along with the original will be used. While we are using words from a previous research study and a standardized achievement test rather than the words taught in their classroom lessons, we cannot predetermine if students have been exposed to these words before and thus had a chance to learn them by sight. To ameliorate this, the criteria for inclusion is both struggling to read (reading F&P levels A to C) and 50% of the words stated incorrectly on the initial pretest. This should help eliminate ceiling scores. Students may also experience natural growth, testing boredom, or other natural causes that impact their results via maturation (Creswell, 2012; Neuman, 2011). A diffusion of treatment may occur if classroom instruction allows the treatment or control group to be exposed to the strategies of the other group (Neuman, 2011). The duration of the study is short so that classroom instruction will not interfere by teaching crossover items to students in the control and treatment groups and to avoid maturation. Furthermore, this study may lend itself better to a longitudinal study over a two to four year period so that the impacts of the instructional strategies can be observed overtime. A sample size of 30 was deemed acceptable as per Creswell’s (2012) recommendations for educational research. However, a larger sample size, or more importantly a more representative sample size (Neuman, 2011), may allow for more accurate generalizations.


The two overarching applications of this study for teachers will be clarity and training. Results of the study should assist teachers in planning for their classroom reading instruction (tier 1) and Student Support Teachers in planning specific reading interventions (tier 2) (Saskatchewan Provincial Reading Team, 2017). To the extent that the findings show that decoding should be emphasized for those beginning readers whom are struggling to read, teaching pedagogy may be shifted. Thus, the implication will be greater reading success for all students by “ameliorating early reading failure” (Weiser et al., 2011, p. 172) through a decoding approach. As Jeynes (2008) purported, “phonics instruction is a viable way of reducing the achievement gap” (p. 153); it is important to determine the best reading strategies through research and early intervention. This study should extend previous findings that all students “can learn decoding skills” (Browder, 2012, p. 243), albeit with explicit instruction and ample time. A change in pedagogy may also occur through teacher training in university education courses and/or professional development. The overall goal of the study is to provide concrete evidence towards a reading intervention strategy that will increase reading outcomes for all learners.

Works Cited

Aaron, P.G., Joshi, R.M., Ayotollah, M., Ellsberry, A., Henderson, J., Lindsey, K. (1999). Decoding and sight-word naming: Are they independent components of word recognition skill? Reading and Writing, 11(2), 89-127. doi: Browder, D., Ahlgrim-Delzell, L., Flowers, C., & Baker, J. (2012). An evaluation of a multicomponent early literacy program for students with severe developmental disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 33(4), 237-246. doi: Chapman, M. L. (2003). Phonemic awareness: Clarifying what we know. Literacy Teaching and Learning, 7(1-2), 91-114. Retrieved from: Cizek, G. J. (2003). “Review of the Woodcock-Johnson III” in B. S. Plake, J. C. Impara, & R. A. Spies (Eds.), The fifteenth mental measurement yearbook (15th ed.), 1020-1024. Lincoln, NE: Buros Institute of Mental Measurements. Creswell, J. W. (2012). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research. Boston, MA: Pearson Education. Ehri, L. C. (2005) Learning to read words: Theory, findings, and issues. Scientific Studies of Reading, 9(2), 167-188. doi: 10.1207/s1532799xssr0902_4 Eldredge, J. L., Quinn, B., & Butterfield, D. D. (1990). Causal relationships between phonics, reading comprehension, and vocabulary achievement in the second grade. Journal of Educational Research, 83(4), 201-214. doi: Fien, H., Smith, J. L. M., Smolkowski, K., Baker, S. K., Nelson, N. J., & Chaparro, E. (2015). An examination of the efficacy of a multitiered intervention on early reading outcomes for first grade students at risk for reading difficulties. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 48(6), 602-621. doi: Freebody, P., & Byrne, B. (1988). Word-reading strategies in elementary school children: Relations to comprehension, reading time, and phonemic awareness. Reading Research Quarterly, 23(4), 441-453. doi:10.2307/747642 Gough, P.B. (1993). The beginning of decoding. Kluwer Academic Publishers, 5(2), 181-192. doi: Herbert, Michael. (2005). “WJ-III Information Packet” [PDF Document]. Retrieved from: Jackson, W., & Verberg, N. (2007). “Approaches to methods” in Methods: Doing social research (4th ed.), 3-22. Toronto, ON: Pearson Prentice-Hall Canada. Jeynes, W. H. (2008). A meta-analysis of the relationship between phonics instruction and minority elementary school student academic achievement. Education and Urban Society, 40(2), 151-166. doi:10.1177/0013124507304128 McMillan, J. H., & Schumacher, S. (2010). “Research designs and reading research articles” in Research in education: Evidence-based inquiry (7th ed.), 19-45. Toronto, ON: Pearson. Mertler, C. A., & Charles, C. M. (2011). “Interpreting and summarizing published research” in Introduction to educational research (7th ed.),79-97. Toronto, ON: Pearson. National Reading Panel (U.S.) (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction [Reports of the subgroups]. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U.S). Retrieved from: Neuman, W. L. (2011). Social research methods: Qualitative and quantitative approaches (7th). Toronto, ON: Allyn and Bacon. Office of Special Education Frederick County Public Schools (2014). “Woodcock-Johnson IV Test of Achievement Administration Training Manual” [PDF Document]. Retrieved from: woodcock_johnson_iv_training_manual.pdf Ryder, J. F., Tunmer, W. E., & Greaney, K. T. (2008). Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness and phonemically based decoding skills as an intervention strategy for struggling readers in whole language classrooms. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 21(4), 349-369. doi: Saskatchewan Ministry of Education. (2010). The Saskatchewan curriculum grades 1-3: English language arts. Retrieved from: Saskatchewan Provincial Reading Team. (2017). Saskatchewan reads: A companion document to the Saskatchewan English language arts curriculum – grades 1, 2, 3. Retrieved from: Schrank, Frederick A. (2010). “Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Cognitive Abilities” [PDF Document] in Handbook of Pediatric Neuropsychology (1st ed.), 1-20. Retrieved from: Thorndike, R. M., & Thorndike-Christ, T. (2010). Measurement and evaluation in psychology and education (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall. Uhry, J., & Shepherd, M. (1997). Teaching phonological recoding to young children with phonological processing deficits: The effect on sight-vocabulary acquisition. Learning Disability Quarterly, 20(2), 104-125. doi:10.2307/1511218 Weiser, B., & Mathes, P. (2011). Using encoding instruction to improve the reading and spelling performances of elementary students at risk for literacy difficulties: A best-evidence synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 170-200. doi:

Sight Word Easter Egg Hunt

I’m not sure who loves game-based literacy activities more – me or the kiddos! Today we enjoyed hunting for Easter eggs with sight words inside. Each student was assigned a colour so that everyone would get a chance to find eggs. Assigning colours also allowed me to put specific words inside each egg to target each of their needs. Once they read me the word I replaced the plastic egg with gum, chocolate, and candy-filled eggs. It was a win-win for all involved!
– Smiling faces after the sight word Easter egg hunt!

Reading with Ms. Gorham

Bringing carpet time to your home! Come enjoy a story with Ms. Gorham!

Bringing carpet time to your home! Come enjoy a story with Ms. Gorham!

Westmount School YouTube Channel

Our school has a YouTube channel for announcements. During this “learning-at-home” phase, teachers are using the channel to read books and continue to update our student body. Check out this reading of “There is a Bird On Your Head” by Mo Willems. Remember to subscribe to our channel! Stay safe, stay home! We miss you, kiddos!

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom has to go down in history as one of the best primary books! My students enjoyed listening to the song, reading the story, adding letters to our stuffed coconut tree, making their own themed name trees, and seeing their support teacher dressed up as the famous tree for Halloween!
See resource at:

Reading and Writing Strategies

Improving writing instruction is one of my professional growth goals this year. As a school, we are working to have 65% of our students writing at or above grade level and 90% of our students reading at or above grade level by June 2020. This summer I took some time to read 6+1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide for the Primary Grades by Ruth Culham, Using Picture Books to Teach Writing with the Traits by Ruth Culham and Raymond Coutu, Reading Power by Adrienne Gear, The Reading Strategies Book and The Writing Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo. I would highly recommend all of these books for primary teachers and beyond. I was able to select strategies for literacy instruction that aligned with our Saskatchewan Reads document and Gr. 1/2 Curriculum and our Ways to Take Action decoding strategies that our primary team uses. Please view the attached document for some of the strategies that my primary literacy cluster (co-teaching group of 2 classroom teachers, 2 SSTs, and our principal) will be utilizing:
– writing strategy for independent writing stamina
Reading is succeeding! Happy teaching!

Multisensory Approach to Letter Formation

As per our school’s Learning Improvement Plan (LIP) focusing on student writing growth, I am embedding different modalities of letter formation into our phonics lessons. The students are enjoying a multi-sensory approach to writing: play-dough, chalkboards, whiteboard tables, wiki sticks, letter magnets, wooden pieces, etc. A new favorite is writing our letters with paint brushes in shaving cream. It is a really simple lesson that warrants student engagement.

A typical phonics lesson activity: Lakeshore letter-sound buckets for sorting initial sounds.

Shaving Cream Letters Lesson:

  1. Hold up letter cards and get students to state the letter name, sound, and action.
  2. Students copy the letter, starting at the top, with paint brushes in shaving cream. They form the lowercase and the uppercase for each letter.
  3. Students “erase” their letter with their brushes and repeat the process for the rest of the target letters.

Writing letter ‘v’ in shaving cream.

But What About the Mess?

I find that it is not as messy as it may seem. Each student needs to roll up their sleeves and be reminded not to eat, fling, or touch the shaving cream with their hands. We talk about how it smells good but would not taste good (you may want to note that it is NOT whipped cream). I get students to wipe off any excess shaving cream on the side of their tin (get baking pan tins with higher edges rather than baking sheet tins with lower edges) and then at the end of the lesson we use paper towel to clean the brushes before putting them in water.

Ready for the next letter!

The Benefits

The best part of shaving cream letters is that students do not feel pressure to form their letters perfectly. If they make a mistake, they simply can “erase” and try again! The teacher can observe the letter formation and remind students to hold brushes appropriately and start from the top during the lesson so the practice is meaningful. All students, especially those who dislike pencil-to-paper work, seem to buy-in to the novelty of shaving cream letters. No tears, busy minds at work, and smiling faces… seems like a win to me!