Coding to Encoding to Decoding

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Are we there yet?

We recently returned from a visit to three Head Start programs in Puerto Rico. This message is in response to what we saw: Teachers are doing a great job with Souns. The missing piece is an understanding that children are ready to build words before you think they are. We asked teachers if they had begun building words, and the answer was “No, not yet!”

In each classroom, with the “No, not yet!” response, we asked for two or three children who knew through the /u/ sound. In each case the children who were selected eagerly listened to the sounds in simple, phonetic words, and built the words. The teachers were so excited, as were the children.

The picture above is one of those moments. Look at the joy on the children’s faces as they apply what they know about letter-sound associations to real words….building the words from sounds only (remember, no spelling)! For us, for the teachers, and for the children, it was a beautiful experience. Such activities are particularly inspiring for the children observing, those not yet to the /u/, as they see their efforts have a purpose.

Certainly it is important not to set a child up for failure, so I appreciate being slower than faster for this second stage in Souns – building words. However, there is a way to be relatively sure the child is ready to listen to sounds in phonetic words and build each word – one sound at a time.

When you reach /u/ in the sequence of Souns letters, it is the time to move forward into building words for children three to four years of age. Go slowly – no more than two to three words at any setting – and have fun. Look at the delight as the children around the table in the photo discover who has the missing sound in “peso.”

When you reach /u/ in the sequence of Souns letters, it is time to build words.

Rotarians at Work in Puerto Rico

A Great Trip! RD6900 Visits Early Literacy Project in Puerto Rico with RD7000

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Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Peachtree City and the Rotary Club of Henry County visited Rotary District 7000 in Puerto Rico, the site of a Global Grant for teaching basic literacy skills to preschoolers attending local Head Start programs. This project is an extension of a relationship between RD6900 and RD7000 that began in November of 2011 and has involved two Matching Grants and two Global Grants. Recipients have been in both Puerto Rico and Georgia, altogether reaching over 10,000 children.

Our visiting group of nine from RD6900 spent four days with Rotarians from clubs throughout Puerto Rico – RC Rio Piedras (Host Club), RC San Juan, RC Junco, RC Manatee, RC Mayaguez, RC Ciudad Del Turabo – attending Rotary Club meetings and visiting Head Start sites where the SOUNS program is being implemented with materials provided by the GG. The grant was a result of the efforts and financial support of Rotarians in both districts, lead by RC Peachtree City and RC Henry County in RD6900, and RC Rio Piedras in RD7000.

Rotarians going to work (in a school bus)! Pictured are President Russ Heil, PP Ed Outlaw, and Amy Matusek of RC Peachtree City, PP Laura Crumbley and husband David, PP George Siggins and wife Mary Jane of RC Henry County, and Antonio Santos of RC Rio Piedras. Taking the pictures: Peachtree City Rotarian Brenda Erickson and husband Norman Hough.

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prrusspedro15During the trip we also attended several English and Spanish-speaking Rotary Club meetings, providing us the opportunity to exchange club banners and interact with many Rotarians. The Rotarians of District 7000 and their District Governor, Jesus A. Vivas, could not have given us a more welcoming and enthusiastic reception.

Pictured are RC Rio Piedras President Pedro Watlington and RC Peachtree City President Russ Heil. Exchanging banners and conversation was a constant for the trip. Engaging eight Rotary clubs across two Rotary districts makes for a jovial time!

We visited nine classrooms in the three Head Start programs – San Juan, Caguas, and Mayaguez – talking with administrators, teachers, sponsoring Rotarians, and children. We were very impressed with the facilities, other teaching materials, and the professionalism of the staff. Imagine where these preschool children will be as emergent readers entering kindergarten when they are five years of age. The children in the image are building “peso” and have discovered who has the /o/…. playing to learn to read. Go teachers!

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Below are Laura Crumbly, George Siggins, David Crumbly, Mary Jane Siggins, Brenda Erickson, Ed Outlaw, and Amy Matusek.

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To sum up the trip, it was a great experience for the nine Rotarians and spouses from District 6900. It gave us a chance to see with our own eyes how the grant was successfully benefitting young children from difficult circumstances and to meet Rotarians from another country who have a real desire to build a better tomorrow for their children. Beyond that, our team got to know and enjoy each other while engaging in the hands-on work of Rotary!

 

 

 

 

 

Rotary/Head Start Working Together in PR!

Municipio de Mayaguez Head Start were joined by RC Mayaguez.

Municipio de Mayaguez Head Start were joined by RC Mayaguez for the training.

Souns training – June 29 to July 1 – in Puerto Rico was a model of engagement and promise for both Rotary and Head Start. I SO love round tables and interactive groups. Play is the best teacher at any age. If teachers, assistants, Rotarians and Rotaractors engage with one another with the Souns materials, laughing and learning, they will understand the child engaging with the materials.

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Fun with RC Rio Piedras, Rotaractors, and Head Start teachers learning why Souns works.

One training day for each of the three Head Start programs, with two three-hour training sessions each day, prepared the teachers and assistants in 90 Head Start classrooms to implement Souns. Thanks to Rotary, each classroom has Souns materials, and the teachers have time before school begins to “play” with the materials, becoming comfortable with the hands-on, letter-sound approach. I celebrate that in each training there were Rotarians attending from local clubs (RC Mayaguez, RC Junco, RC ciudad del Turabo, RC San Juan, and RC Rio Piedras) to learn about Souns in order to support this project in their communities. The Rotaractors participating in the training expect to be involved as interns with Head Start classrooms. Indeed, it was a miraculous three days!

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RC Junco and RC Ciudad del Turabo joined Fundación Desarrollo Hogar Propio Head Start training in Caguas.

The success of this training trip had much to do with relationships established in previous Souns projects in Puerto Rico. This early literacy work began five years ago when District Governor John Richardson, Rotary District 7000, championed the Souns program for the children of Puerto Rico. PDG Richardson has continued to be the pathfinder for this work. I am so grateful to him for his energy, insight, loyalty, and determination.

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Hector, his wife Nivea, and PDG Richardson

Another strategically critical voice that surfaced years ago in Puerto Rico is Head Start teacher, Hector Rivera. Souns was a natural for Hector. He implemented Souns with Head Start in San Juan Municipality, our very first Rotary project in Puerto Rico. I am glad to share with the world that he is now a recognized Souns trainer. Hector volunteered to do the training for this extension into three new Head Start programs in Puerto Rico. He is excellent at communicating with peers, sharing his classroom experience with the program, and ensuring others are prepared to implement Souns in their classrooms. In the challenging world of benevolent projects, Hector confirms a path to sustainability.

One more H U G E  thank you is in order: The current Rotary District Governor of RD7000, Jesus Vivas, has been actively supporting Souns since PDG John Richardson’s year as governor, five years ago. We received the utlimate compliment when DG Vivas, on his very first day as the official District Governor of RD7000, attended the entire morning training for Souns. He is an amazing man with a Rotarian heart! And his Rotary year has just  begun!

DG Jesus Vivas honors us with his presence!

Rotary DG Jesus Vivas honors us with his presence!

This early literacy project is GG1523886 sponsored by host RC Rio Piedras (RD7000) and partner RC Peachtree City (RD6900). The Rotary grant funds the Souns materials only. Souns advocates and Rotarians volunteer to do the teacher training.  In the photo below, RC Peachtree City Rotarian, Brenda Erickson, demonstrates the joy and ease of the Souns program. Magically, round tables and a few minutes with a real child make a great learning experience for Head Start teachers, assistants, and Rotarians!

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“Quiero leer!” “Puedo leer!”

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Rotary and Head Start are working together for basic literacy.

“I want to read!” is the dream – the expectation – of every child. In Puerto Rico, thanks to a collaboration between Rotary and Head Start, “I want to read!” is being turned into “I can read!” Those words are the inspiration for an early literacy project potentially reaching 4000 children per year in Puerto Rico. The Rotary grant is for three years and provides Souns for literacy materials to 200 classrooms within three programs reaching Mayaguez, Caguas, and Santurce. Souns will be distributed as teachers opt into the program and are trained. This is a three-year project, so there is time to progress in a responsible and controlled way to best ensure sustainability after the life of the grant. Children want to read, and the minds and hearts of those at the table in this project intend to make that dream possible.

This is the third Rotary/Head Start collaboration in Puerto Rico. The first two provided Souns to the San Juan Municipality Head Start program, with each project being one year in duration. We celebrate that Rotarians and Head Start teachers from those projects continue to work together to ensure growing success past the life of those grants. The gentleman in the image is from the San Juan Municipality program and is assisting in the planning for the current project with New York Foundling Head Start. Also included in the new project are the Head Start programs Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico Municipio de Mayaguez and Fundación para el Desarrollo del Hogar Propio, Inc.

Rotary District 6900, Rotary District 7000, and The Rotary Foundation have supported the project initiated by host club, RC Rio Piedras (D7000), and international partner club, RC Peachtree City (D6900). Across Rotary Districts there are, to date, four clubs joining RC Rio Piedras and RC Peachtree City to mentor the program in Head Start classrooms: RC Henry County, RC Mayaguez, RC Ciudad del Turabo, and RC San Juan. Rotary International is committed to building basic literacy, and these clubs are demonstrating Rotarians at work for literacy.

Success with a project requires strong leaders like these from RC Rio Piedras: (right) District Governor Elect Jesus Vivas and Mrs. Vivas, and (left) President Elect Peyo Watlington and Mrs. Watlington. I am grateful to represent my club, RC Peachtree City.

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Souns Moves Forward In Colorado Springs

snowinCOSIt is early morning and I am in a winter wonderland, snowed in and free to revisit the past few days in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Smiles, excitement, hope: a myriad of positive emotions and shared experiences as the Souns trainings and visits unfold.

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During one visit, a parent stopped us and shared, “I am so thankful for the Souns program my daughter had in the GET SET preschool program [preschool image from the First Presbyterian Church]. She is doing amazing work in kindergarten and loves to learn. She is always writing and reading: writing letters to her dad while he is away and reading (and teaching letter-sounds) to her little brother.” 

The visit to GET SET confirmed further results of Souns. These two preschoolers are exploring their newly discovered ability to sound out words.

 

On Tuesday we had  an energetic, engaging time training 125 CPCD Head Start teachers. There were 5 little ones – ranging from 20 months to three years – to help us demonstrate the practice of Souns for the teachers. It is always surprising for teachers to see that the younger the child the more they gravitate toward Souns. The littlest one did not want to give the letters up at the end of the demonstration…clasping the letters to her chest and shaking her head “NO!” when we asked for them. That is the beginning of learning.

This is the third group to be trained for this collaboration between Head Start and Rotary clubs in Colorado Springs. The three-hour training has now been completed for all the Head Start teachers in the CPCD program. 100% of the classrooms – 2000 children – will have this activity to enhance classroom practices. The back-story to this Rotary/Head Start project is a pilot program implemented in two stages: first one classroom in the spring, then an experimental summer program including eleven classrooms. According to the CPCD program director, the result after seven weeks of Souns (and teachers new to the program) was a 20% increase in literacy scores. Consider future results when preschoolers engage for an entire school year with teachers that have become comfortable with the program. There is such opportunity and promise for these children thanks to CPCD Head Start and Pikes Peak Area Rotary Endowment!

Head Start in COS: Amazing!

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Training is so much fun when those being trained have seen the power of a program. That was the case in Colorado Springs this past week. The CPCD Head Start program, with additional support from a local Rotary foundation, is preparing for a giant leap forward for childhood literacy. A pilot summer session was so promising that more classes requested Souns. Rotary responded, and now Souns is in even more classrooms. The training was filled with enthusiasm, great questions, and comments. Now just to enjoy the process of learning….for both teacher and learners.

The following are candid comments from those involved with the pilot summer program:

This summer I had a great experience with Souns. One child in particular started the program not knowing any letter sounds and by the end of the 6 weeks he was able to write words just by using the sounds of the letters. He also learned how to read simple words by connecting the letter sounds.

● A couple of things really impressed me as I implemented the Souns activities this summer: 1) The children grasped and learned so much in just 7 weeks to the point that by the end of those 7 weeks they were displaying emergent writing skills related to our study. 2) The other thing that impressed me was the simplicity, hands-on, sturdiness, and variety that the Souns activities provided. There is a multitude of ways to work with this tool and provide letter-sound-knowledge-building that our early learners need.

● I supervised the summer classrooms that were pilots for Souns. I was blown away by the learning from the children and the engagement. But, most of all, the enthusiasm from the staff was amazing.

● Things I noted: 1) How we worked as a team 2) A parent told me that she was happy to see her son reading labels at the grocery store.

● I saw the Souns program being utilized successfully in a typical classroom when I first started. During the summer I changed positions and moved to a class for children with behavior issues. At first I was worried that it would not work with these children, but they picked it up very quickly.

● I enjoyed watching how fast the children caught on to how we presented Souns. They enjoyed learning new letters-sounds each week. They wanted to be fed more.

● When one of our kids was registering for kindergarten, the mom was so impressed with how many sounds [her child] knew. Mom had no idea she knew that many! I accredit this success to Souns.

● I saw amazing literacy growth in the children. The children interacted with the Souns letters in many different ways. One of our children was reading early readers by the end of the summer session.

● [Souns is a] meaningful way for children to connect letters and sounds.

● Being part of [a class for behavior issues] I was hesitant to implement the program. The children began responding immediately to the program and made so much progress in so little time – It was easy and we fit it in whenever we could. Loved it!

● I was only involved with Souns as a supervisor. We have been trying for years to get teachers to understand that phonemic awareness comes first. It has been an uphill battle. Souns made this concept CLEAR! The kids understood that the letter shapes represented sounds. Amazing! Put the sounds together and you have words. Change a shape and you change the word. They got it! They really got it!

● I was so amazed at how so many children wanted to [write] words on their own so quickly…and really got excited about it!

● At first it was hard to get things going. At about half way through the summer it was amazing to see everything click!

● I loved how the kids who really got it would help the ones who were struggling through partner games.

● By the 4th week of implementing Souns [we] had a child reading. Rolling out Souns was simple, which helped the children catch on really fast.

I wasn’t in the program, but ALL the teachers I talked to LOVED it and I can say they’ve shared their very positive experiences so much that other teachers are excited to get [the program].

And now for 2014/15!  Thank you, Rotary in Colorado Springs, for providing more Head Start classrooms with Souns! Thank you Rotary Club of Peachtree City, GA, for volunteer trainers.

 

 

Rotary / Head Start In Puerto Rico

Giggles, smiles, engaged hands and minds of children were common denominators in our review of the Souns program in Head Start classrooms in San Juan Puerto Rico. The children in San Juan are making dramatic steps toward literacy with the Souns materials provided by Rotary Districts 7000, 6990, and The Rotary Foundation. This review celebrates comments such as these:

“I have 19 years of classroom experience, and I have never seen a program like this….it really works.”  

“Three of my students were able to read last year because of Souns. In my 13 years of teaching preschool, that has never happened before.” 


Beautifully, the conclusion of one grant can build to the beginning of another. With 4000 children in this pilot project in San Juan, it is the wish of Rotary District 7000, this time in collaboration with Rotary District 6900, to expand the program to as many Head Start classrooms in other regions of Puerto Rico as funding will allow. A Global Grant proposal is the next step. One classroom at a time is the road to change for these children. Rotarians from both districts join hands on the ground in Puerto Rico to make this happen. Head Start and Rotary are promising partners for literacy.

Rotary Clubs of Peachtree City (RD6900) and Rio Piedras (RD7000) are leading this effort to build support for a project that will reach from 150 to 300 more classrooms in strategic Head Start programs in Puerto Rico. If you are interested in joining this project, comment with contact information to this blog .

Thank you Rotary Clubs of Smyrna (RD6900) and Fort Lauderdale (RD6990) for initiating the pilot project in the San Juan Municipality. These four-year olds are reaping the harvest as they build words by listening to the sounds in them. They have learned letter-sound associations through Souns.

TEXAS – “Let The Sounds Tell You!”

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“Let the sounds tell you!” says the teacher as the child listens to the sound of each letter to find the word hiding there. That little analytical mind is at work and at play all at the same time! Learning is happening.

What a visit I had in Longview, Texas! In each of the follow-up trainings – Longview Independent School District and Pine Tree Independent School District (including Head Start and Early Start), and several independent preschools – it was soon obvious to all that the children were ahead of what their teachers expected. Learners in classrooms were either more ready to build words or more ready to sound out words than thought. Surprisingly, this was true of even those quiet learners who we suspect are not progressing as well.

The teachers in these preschool classrooms have done excellent work helping their learners know letter sounds. The next step was right there, waiting within the child. How fortunate these children are to have such a supportive community of educators wrapped around them.

Our mid-year visit was perfectly timed. Now the teachers will finish the year giving their children the greatest opportunity to flourish in this work, to know “I can!”  What a step up for success in writing and reading when they enter elementary school. We were delighted to have a kindergarten teacher sit in on the training and share her enthusiasm for what she saw unfolding for these children. She is excited to get some of these children in her classroom next year. We can’t wait to follow the story.

I acknowledge this amazing community for taking such a united stand for literacy. I also want to thank Claudette Jones for her relentless determination in supporting these teachers and the young people of her community in this effort to build readers. Souns is a great idea, but it takes willing and dedicated people to make a great idea turn into reality. The following comment from a teacher of three-year-olds makes it all so worthwhile:

Since implementing Souns in our classroom, my children have not only grown in their knowledge of letter sounds, but their self-esteem has sky rocketed! When they see the Souns their eager faces light up with anticipation.

I was surprised at how organic the whole process was and how naturally the children began to visually recognize and physically represent the Souns. After introducing a new sound, I can just sit back and watch them teach themselves and each other. It has been nothing short of remarkable!

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A Beginning – CPCD / Souns

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Building a future for children brings smiles to everyone’s face. Head Start has a plan! There is a tool – Souns – to make that plan come true, and there is an energy – Rotary – in the community wanting to make all the pieces fit together for children. Rotary is committed to impacting basic literacy skills and this project is about our preschool children learning to write and read in our community in Colorado Springs.

CPCD (Community Partnership for Childhood Development) is piloting the Souns program during the next few months to gather information for a grant application that, if approved, will provide Souns to as many Head Start classrooms as the grant will fund in the CPCD program. The excitement is clearly visible in the smiles, but is even more contagious as one watches this program unfold with children. Magic wraps up every moment as the little ones respond with… “I want to do it!” “It is my turn!” “Can I help her?” “Look, there is /m/ in Monday!” … at every turn when implementing the Souns program.

Thank you Rotary Clubs  in Colorado Springs for this possibility! Thank you Rotarian Robby Dale Nelson of the Rampart Range Rotary Club for your enormous commitment to the children in your community.

Colorado Springs: Thank You!

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   “Can you touch an /o/?” asks Rotarian Robby Dale Nelson.

I thank this community for reminding me, once again, of the difficult path to simple.

I am convinced that to be a teacher (myself included) is to be first and foremost a learner. As many times as I have observed and participated in a child’s learning…as much information as I have taken into that moment to teach the child…I have never left the experience without being the primary learner. Surprisingly, the lesson seems always to be keep it simple. The child will take the simplest of lessons to the depths of his or her interest…or there will be no learning.

In a classroom learning to implement Souns, the simple, incidental, easy style of the program is closeted by our predispostion as excellent, committed teachers to plan every detail of a day so that we can feel we have done our best. Yet, we rarely feel we have enough time in a day to do all we want to do. I feel that way myself visiting the classrooms and assisting teachers in understanding this program. I complicate, they complicate, we all are driven to complicate. We would be well advised to follow the child a bit more. They linger, examine, build knowledge, linger some more…roll around and speak to a friend, or stare out a window…then back to lingering, examining, and building.

So how does this relate to teaching Souns? How do we fit “another program” into an already packed-full day with cultural studies, self-esteem activities, social courtesy lessons, etc.? First, and most difficult, is to understand Souns is an unprogram. Souns is meant to be a part of the environment – as important, incidental, and consistant as food, clothing, and kindness. That is hard to do, as we have burdenened writing and reading with academic weight. Language is treated naturally, even joyfully, as little ones move into spoken communication. Progressing into writing and reading can be equally joyful and natural through intentional play. Play is how children learn. Souns is about intentional play.

“Look at the /s/ on your jacket!” is a lesson in Souns. “Did you hear the /h/ in home?” is a lesson in Souns. “Let’s find the sounds in dog.” is a lesson in Souns. It is a program that slips into the crevices of each day so filled with rich experiences planned by caring teachers. In all those experiences there are letter-sounds. Build excitement about listening to and identifying letter-sounds in the classroom. Keep it simple, play, have fun! Those little minds are always learning!

Thank you, Rotarians from the Rampart Range Rotary Club of Colorado Springs, CO, for believing in Souns.