The assignment was to upgrade the reading instruction at St. Barnabas Special School. No child enrolled in the school could read beyond a 7 years 4 months reading age (and most fell below a 6 year reading age level) and when my term of service began and no teacher in st. Barnabas was actually engaged in teaching reading and literacy. In order to institute reading instruction at the school, the first step involved assessing the present reading levels of the students to provide a baseline of achievement. Teachers were also observed to determine their preferred teaching style. Inservices/staff development activities were planned and implemented throughout the Easter and August School terms. Since teachers had neither formal training in special needs methodologies or teaching reading, they requested a background of information. Topics of staff development sessions included learning styles (modalities), creating interactive multi-sensory subject area lessons, a background in reading and reading instruction, phonics (most teachers have very little knowledge of phonetics beyond the short vowel closed syllable words), organization of an effective reading lesson for Reading Disability/dyslexic students, and how and why students can create a Sounds Book as an ongoing reference.
In July the teachers met with me to set goals for the following year for the school in general and specifically for the reading program. We discussed ways to involve reading into the teaching scheme. Suggestions were made to have literacy teacher (but the Ministry needed to appoint one), have a single teacher volunteer to teach literacy, or to have the teachers who managed each class do the reading. The present Head Teacher was being reassigned to another school and one of the teachers was named acting Head Teacher. She would work on the teaching scheme in September. I suggested that reading instruction should be scheduled at least twice weekly—more often if possible.
In addition to meeting with teachers and assessing students, direct instruction with students to trial the intended reading program on a group level was instituted as well as informal instruction to students during random parts of the day. The group lessons also served as a modeling of teaching practices for teachers. Students showed an average two month gain in reading levels after 5 weeks of instruction—and they were beginning to spell.
During August term and August break the manual for reading instruction was completed, edited and revised. It was modeled after the Wilson Reading program for dyslexic older children, adolescents, and adults I had wanted to train a volunteer at NCERD to use the program, but she elected to take another direction.
The FROG grant was approved and the monies received by the beginning of September. It took several weeks before the school wrote a new teaching scheme. The acting HM elected to teach the reading but reading was only scheduled once a week for a 60 minute block of time for each class. Yonette, the acting HM and now reading teacher, proved to be a good choice. She had formerly been a preschool teacher and understood beginning reading instruction. She was enthusiastic and designated an unused part of the school to be a reading class. “I can make posters for every sound and hang them around the room.” She told me. “I want to take that cupboard to store books and supplies and they will be right there.” I gave her a draft copy of the St. Barnabas Reading Program. She successfully used her past experiences and with my support added the techniques from the reading program. I was able to observe her teaching and make observations and suggestions to augment instruction. Sometimes I filled in for her when her HM duties interfered. She was sometimes able to observe. Little by little she incorporated the techniques I wanted her to use. Sometimes the students helped. One day she stood holding the Sound Cards. “No Miss.” Said Farrah, one of the students. “You need the pocket chart.” She ran off and brought back the pocket chart that I had made and used regularly. Now the teacher uses it in her lessons Children were beginning to read and are excited.
A major reason for obtaining the grant was to have individual chalkboards created for students. Since the plan was to teach reading and spelling in the same lesson, it seemed like a good and inexpensive teaching aid. Chalk is cheap! I was able to have students from Sophia Special Needs School construct the chalk boards. Because I saved on labor costs, I was able to leave a set with teachers in that school, too. By the time of my Close of Service, the Head Teacher was effectively using the chalk boards and aids. She was incorporating the use of phonics DVDs and was beginning to use some books with the older groups.