A few years ago, an American Public Media podcast by Emily Hanford called Why Aren’t Kids Being Taught to Read?” was released. The 47-minute expose sent shockwaves across the education community. The podcast focused on the Science of Reading (SoR), a scientific body of research that shows how children learn to read and revealed just how many teachers are either unaware of the research or choose not to follow it.
For children to learn to read, they must first be taught phonics which is how letters represent speech sounds. However, for many years teachers were not spending enough time on phonics and instead chose to follow a whole language approach that allowed students to guess words from context clues like pictures.
Maria Gunis was not one of those teachers. Gunis has been a K-3 educator, spending most of her time in kindergarten and first grade in the Portland, OR, metro area for over 35 years. Raised by educators, Gunis has been passionate about literacy her entire career.
Like many teachers, Gunis graduated college but had no idea how to teach kids how to read. It wasn’t until 2003, when she received the National Board Certification for teaching that she learned about things like phonemic awareness and the five essential components of reading.
Around the same time that Gunis went through her certification process, Reading First came out of the No Child Left Behind Act. Reading First promotes instructional practices based on the Science of Reading and funds complementary support materials for use by educators across the US.
- Reading curricula and materials that focus on the five essential components of reading instruction as defined in the Reading First legislation: 1) phonemic awareness, 2) phonics, 3) vocabulary, 4) fluency, and 5) comprehension;
- Professional development and coaching for teachers on how to use scientifically based reading practices and how to work with struggling readers;
- Diagnosis and prevention of early reading difficulties through student screening, interventions for struggling readers, and monitoring of student progress.
In 2005, Gunis was working in a Title I, high-poverty school district in rural Oregon with 36 schools. The school’s principal appointed Gunis as the school’s dedicated reading coach, and she was one of eight teachers selected to be trained at the University of Oregon in the Science of Reading.
Gunis began participating in brown bag podcast sessions, which were training sessions for teachers to learn about the latest research from the Science of Reading researchers themselves. Here she expanded her knowledge about phonics, phonemic awareness, phonological awareness, and orthographic mapping.
It was not long until Gunis was recruited to consult to help teachers implement the Science of Reading. Gunis states, “The challenge of getting more teachers trained in the Science of Reading is multi-faceted – legislation would be great, but many teachers will buck any mandate you throw at them if you don’t show them the “why”; student teachers are not being taught the SoR, and administrators are not being educated on the SoR.”
After 12 years of working as an instructional coach, Gunis decided to return back to the classroom to implement all of the knowledge she had gained. While she immersed herself in learning more about dyslexia and discovered the OG method, she felt many courses were repetitive to the knowledge she had already known. Then, in 2019, a colleague introduced her to IMSE.
Gunis is now going into her third year utilizing IMSE materials in her classroom. While her district recently adopted a new core program, she continues to use IMSE resources and materials to teach her students phonemic awareness, phonics, and high-frequency work.
“Following COVID, many students are behind and traumatized; and social/emotional development is down. The Science of Reading gives teachers a strong foundation to reshape these young learners as confident classroom contributors.”
Ultimately, Maria Gunis believes that the participation and acceptance from publishing companies will help bring the Science of Reading to the mainstream, as well as the incredible grassroots movements of parents, like the Decoding Dyslexia chapters, that help to spread the word and drive adoption.
“We need more Emily Hanfords!” Gunis exclaims.
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