Upward Lift: Oakland’s Entry-Level Reading Program

Students who are non-readers or who are reading below a fourth grade level and are significantly behind grade level are enrolled in Oakland’s own acclaimed “Upward Lift” Program, which was developed in the early days of the school and has been refined over the past 60 years. Offered during the summer session, this intensive, systematic five-week program includes three 50-minute periods of reading each day. The overall objectives are 1) to improve the child’s reading level by at least one year as measured by standardized tests and/or achievement level and 2) to raise the student’s self-esteem and, therefore, openness to learning by providing a successful experience with measurable growth.

The focus at this early stage of the reading experience is to produce a vertical lift in decoding and word recognition rather than to improve comprehension skills. A typical Oakland student is average to above average in intelligence and those who benefit from Upward Lift often have solid general comprehension skills; however, they need to learn the process of reading. Once they learn how to read the words and sentences, comprehension follows.

The program’s daily schedule consists of a group class in phonics. Students learn phonics rules, decoding skills and the structural analysis of words in a telescoped version of a full year’s course. Students work at their own chalkboards designed especially for this class. By working at the board, the children are using their kinesthetic sense and by also hearing the words read and repeating the words, they benefit from the multiple modalities that Upward Lift employs. In this sense, The Oakland Way of teaching phonics is very similar to the Orton-Gillingham method. The two programs differ in that the Oakland technique focuses on the vowel sounds in each word, making word division and blending more fluid for the child.

The second and third daily reading periods focus on a variety of tasks. There may be multiple segments of one-to-one oral reading with the teacher. These sessions are preceded by a review of phonics lessons and preview of the reading passage. The remainder of the reading periods is comprised of independent study in materials chosen specifically for each student in order to build, strengthen and reinforce skills.

The intensity of the Upward Lift program produces dramatic results. Perhaps most importantly, students themselves can see results and, therefore, realize that they can learn. As a result, students are motivated to work hard to reach the next academic milestone.

Next: Ongoing Reading Instruction