Tools for success
We offer a systematic and fully scripted phonics educational program. We teach students explicitly to convert letters into sounds and then blend the sounds to form recognizable words. Systematic phonics instruction has been shown to benefit low-achieving students and to be significantly more effective than other instructional programs in improving low socio-economic status children's alphabetic knowledge and word reading skills.
Because our materials are scripted, volunteer coaches with minimal training can deliver effective literacy instruction in a series of twenty-seven individual lessons. Lessons are taught with flip charts—the student sees an image or text on one side; on the other, the reading coach sees a smaller version of the student's page accompanied by scripted instructions.
Teaching the five pillars
In 1997, Congress convened the National Reading Panel to determine the most impactful approach to literacy education. After two years of research, the Panel concluded that effective literacy instruction consists of five pillars; our materials were expressly designed to incorporate these critical components:
1. Phonemic awareness
The ability to hear, identify, and manipulate phonemes, the individual units of sound in spoken words.
Our lessons challenge students to hear, identify, and manipulate phonemes, the units of sound found in a given word. By practicing these out loud, students become more aware of the discrete sounds that make up each word.
The correspondence between the sounds of spoken language and the letters or letter combinations used to represent them in written language. Children use their knowledge of these relationships to read and write words.
Each of our lessons introduces a letter-sound pattern, from short vowel sounds through consonant blends to advanced vowel combination. These are delivered systematically—the lessons guide students from the simplest to the most complex concepts and each concept builds carefully upon the material introduced in earlier lessons.
The ability to read a text accurately, quickly, and with expression.
Our primary goal for Achieve Now students is that they learn to use phonics rules to decode words quickly and easily. As students improve their decoding skills, they begin to read with greater pace and expression. More importantly, fluent readers decode words automatically, freeing them to focus attention on the text's meaning.
The storehouse of words a given student knows. Vocabulary has both print and speech forms: oral vocabulary refers to words that we use in speaking or recognize in listening; our reading vocabulary consists of words we recognize or use in print.
Our program includes a picture dictionary that is deeply integrated and actively used across the first eleven lessons. For the remaining lessons, we introduce a text-based student dictionary. Students learn to use dictionaries to find the meaning of words they don’t fully understand, and are prompted by coaches to use the word in sentences until they demonstrate mastery over new words.
5. Reading comprehension
The ability to understand, remember, and communicate meaning from what has been read. Reading comprehension is the culmination of all of the five pillars and the ultimate goal of learning to read.
Each lesson introduces students to reading comprehension exercises. These are of increasing complexity: the early lessons ask students to relate the meaning of phrases and short sentences; later, they do the same with full paragraphs. By the final lessons, students are challenged to communicate the meaning of multi-paragraph statements.
Delivering high-quality instruction
The National Reading Panel's findings clearly state that the best approach to reading instruction is one that incorporates:
- explicitly and systematically teaching children a focused set of manipulations
- explicit, systematic phonics instruction that teaches students to link letters to sounds and then blend the sounds to form words
- repeated oral reading procedures that included guidance from teachers, peers, or parents
- both direct and indirect vocabulary acquisition
- a combination of reading comprehension strategies that encourage students to view reading as a problem solving task
Each of our lesson books explicitly incorporates these elements in such a way that trained volunteers, by following the prompts, can deliver high quality literacy instruction.