Reading: An Oakland Specialty

Daily one-to-one instruction with a student’s main teacher has been an integral element of The Oakland Way since the school’s inception. Each student, other than older students nearing completion of the program and ready to transition into high school, receives at least one 35-minute period per day of one-to-one instruction. Children with severe reading disabilities often receive additional “one-to-ones” and may spend 2.5 to 3 hours daily in intensive reading instruction. Research tells us that the ability to read impacts all aspects of education, teaching reading is not only an Oakland specialty, but also a core focus of the academic program. The hallmark of the beginning reading program is phonics and the structural analysis of words. Different levels of reading instruction will focus on vocabulary, comprehension, literature, organization and study skills.

One-to-one instruction is flexible and based on the individual student’s needs. Beginning readers practice phonics skills, decoding and the structural analysis of words – all skills that are taught in the phonics class. As evident in research, multi-sensory instruction facilitates student understanding and growth. During their individualized time, teachers and students use tracing packets that correspond with their basal packets – children trace the raised shapes of the letters of words – as they hear and read the sounds orally. In this way, several senses are brought into play. Drill and repetition are also features of the program at this level, and oral reading helps children transfer and practice the skills they have learned in isolation. Oakland’s program incorporates research-based best practices for proven success.

As children become more adept at reading words, oral reading continues to be a focus of one-to-ones. This method allows the student to practice reading with a teacher in a safe and accepting environment. By reading some passages orally him or herself, the teacher is able to model inflection, punctuation observation and pronunciation, giving the struggling reader a listening break, which also provides story continuity and improves comprehension. Oral reading also allows the teacher to constantly observe and evaluate a reader’s skills and provides opportunities for questioning, for detecting weaknesses as well as for offering praise and encouragement.

Daily one-to-ones also give the teacher an opportunity to teach specific comprehension strategies, vocabulary development and improve a reader’s fluency. And since the reading teacher is also the student’s “Main Teacher,” he or she can serve as a resource for almost any area needed. As the champion for each student, one may find the Main Teacher helping a student study for a science test, guiding handwriting practice, drilling multiplication tables, reviewing spelling lists, giving extra assistance with a writing assignment, developing a schedule for homework completion or even discussing a social problem with a student. As one teacher noted, “If you weren’t aware of what I was doing, you’d think I was conducting an orchestra.”

Daily one-to-one is not only the core of Oakland’s academic instruction, but also serves as the foundation of building the valued relationship between student and teacher. Having a true understanding of individual strengths and weaknesses as well as learning style, interests and motivators allows teachers to individualize instruction to best meet the needs of each student.

Students may also work in small reading groups or independently using materials chosen specifically to enhance each individual student’s skills. Students often show 1.5 to 2 years of progress in reading each year as measured by standardized testing and achievement level and are moved ahead as quickly as their abilities allow. Recent research details that first year students enrolled in the Oakland Way phonics program make nearly 3 years total gain in reading. Research

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