Beachwood City Schools

Beachwood City Schools News Article

Science of Reading: Q & A with Mrs. Besett

May 18, 2023

The science of reading has captured headlines in recent months as schools across the nation aim to help all students become successful readers. The science of reading is the body of knowledge on how children learn to read and how the reading process works in the brain. This insight allows teachers to target specific skills and provide early interventions as needed. Beachwood Schools is taking a proactive approach to incorporating the science of reading and evidence-based instructional practices into its rigorous literacy programming. Beachwood Middle School intervention specialist Michelle Besett explains how teachers support literacy development in the middle school classroom. 

How does the science of reading apply to middle school students? 
Mrs. Besett: Our teachers have always incorporated elements of science of reading into our programming. We have been very lucky to have talented teachers who create dynamic and engaging ELA programming. At Beachwood Middle School, our teachers incorporate vocabulary instruction as it relates to the novels and nonfiction texts they are reading. Our sixth-grade ELA teachers pay special attention to teaching word patterns and syllable parts and use that to build vocabulary through Latin and Greek roots and bases. Sixth-grade teachers also focus on fluency by conducting fluency checks on a regular basis. In seventh and eighth grade, our teachers' focus on building background knowledge by using nonfiction texts that are engaging and relevant to our kids. And of course, all teachers spend a significant amount of time on writing instruction, including grammar and sentence structure. 

What are some of the proactive steps that Beachwood Middle School has taken to support the science of reading? 
Mrs. Besett: What the science of reading has taught us is that we still need to address skills such as phonics and phonemic awareness even as kids get older. This year, our special education teachers were trained in a multisensory structured language program to meet the needs of our readers who need more than what can be offered in the general education class. I've also been able to take part in a year-long intensive training program for the Wilson Reading System. This will provide a continuation of programming options that have been in place at Hilltop and Bryden. The program is designed for students who are most at risk and need more intensive, frequent explicit instruction. Additionally, over the next month or so, our ELA teachers will be trained in the Just Words program for students who need additional support. Just Words incorporates a structured approach to phonics instruction and can be easily implemented in a middle school classroom. Our reading tutor has implemented a reading comprehension program and supports that with a structured phonics program that teaches word parts and syllables tailored to kids who need more support.

In what ways has the 6-8 literacy programming been expanded at the middle school? 

Mrs. Besett: In addition to providing the ELA support classes (Reading Lab) in seventh and eighth grade, we've recently added a reading tutor who sees small groups of students who need additional support. Next year, I'll be transiting into the reading specialist position. In this role, I'll be able to provide individualized instruction to our most at-risk students. We are really trying to provide a continuum of services to meet the varied needs of our students.

What curriculum and resources are being used to support literacy instruction at the middle school?
Mrs. Besett: As a building, we use the STAR assessment to monitor student progress and determine programming needs. Our ELA teachers regularly use Newsela and CommonLit to support their literacy units. These provide engaging fiction and nonfiction texts that include standards-based questioning as well as written responses. CommonLit texts are typically written by well-known, award-winning authors and cover a variety of concepts and issues. Newsela utilizes news articles from reputable organizations such as the New York TimesUSA Today or Associated Press. These articles can be adjusted to individual students' reading levels. For our kiddos who need more support, we use ReadTheory which is an adaptive program that includes short fiction and nonfiction text with standards based questions and written responses. Our district has utilized the multisensory structured online language program called MindPlay for several years to address phonics based instruction for those who need it.

In what ways does Beachwood Middle School provide customized literacy instruction based on students’ needs? 
Mrs. Besett: In general, we use the technology platforms I referenced to help customize literary instruction based on reading and skill level. Our ELA teachers are dynamic and engaging and are constantly customizing instruction to meet students' skill level, needs, and interests. They all work closely with the intervention specialists to ensure they are designing programming, lessons, and individual assignments that are appropriately rigorous and challenging for all types of learners. Our reading tutor, Lori Guerrini, has really worked to tailor the instruction she provides to her students' needs by bringing in a variety of materials. Honors Language Arts teacher Kate Vitek provides individualized support to our students who are twice exceptional (i.e., identified as gifted in addition to a learning disability). 

For more information about the science of reading, please visit the Ohio Department of Education’s literacy information page.

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