Teachers give up spring break to improve kids’ literacy

VERONA, Wis. — Some teachers spent their spring break learning how to better help kids read.

Kim Feller-Janus runs Feller School, currently housed in his own room at the Once Upon A Time day care center in Dane County. She’s on a mission to use newer, research-supported methods to teach literacy to children.

Over spring break, she held a workshop for teachers to learn those methods.

“I wake up happy to go to work every single day,” said Jackie Thompson, a kindergarten teacher at One City Schools.

“[This method] really breaks down the logic of English, and why we’re learning these rules at such a young age,” she said.

For some educators, it’s a total overhaul of how they first learned to teach kids to read. They played lots of games they’ll later play with their students.

“It has been a huge turnover in my brain of what I’ve learned from when I was a child to what this program is teaching us,” Thompson said. “It’s starting with cursive, because you go from scribbling, and it’s an easier way to move your hands. And learning the sounds instead of the letters first. That was the biggest thing for me.”

Feller-Janus’ program is based on The Logic of English, a program developed by Denise Eide.

“We noticed that we really need to be able to fill in some foundational skills for kids, especially after coming out of virtual learning,” said Sally Parks, the principal of Marquette Elementary School.

Feller-Janus has called kids’ literacy a crisis, especially throughout the pandemic.

“What we’ve been experiencing now is that we do have bigger gaps and bigger holes to fill for kids,” Parks said. Her daughter attends tutoring with Feller-Janus.

The Madison Metropolitan School District has spent years researching and choosing a new method to teach reading. That process is still in the works.

Parks has been in education for 22 years.

“Most of us are coming out of experiences and learning experiences where we didn’t learn how to do this,” she said. “Tat’s a huge ‘aha’, thinking about being very strategic about how we approach it, making sure we have a good system in place and how we approach teaching reading. But then also thinking about how do we now [implement this] as a system, when we have so many hardworking, very intelligent educators that haven’t had this learning?”

For now, though, these are tools teachers can implement right away.

“These past three days, I’ve learned more than I did in college,” said Thompson. “The light bulbs are continuously going off. I’m like, oh, I need to go in my classroom and fix this tomorrow.”

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