From-the-Field in Puerto Rico

 

CamyZoe B. Agosto

It was very thoughtful of you to write this in English. Whatever the language, you are doing wonderful work, CamyZoe.

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After becoming familiar on how to use Souns with my two daughters of 1 and 4 years old during the summer, I started using “Souns” in my classroom on August 2015. I’m a Special Education teacher from Lares, Puerto Rico. I work with 13 students ranging from 14 – 22 years old with moderate and severe cognitive disabilities. Before Souns, none of my students were able to recognize any letter. They were having lots of problems remembering letter names and sounds. By this month (November 2015), my students are showing progress through letter-sound association and recognitioPRcamy2n. I am astonished how this program is working with each one of my students. This has given them a boost to their self-esteem. Parents are so grateful, because they never thought that at this stage, their children were able to learn sounds and recognize letters the way they are doing it. The process is slowly but steady, growing each and every day. Now they loved to help each other, and help one to another when someone is struggling with a letter sound. Moreover I am learning a lot during the process and acquiring great knowledge about the fascinating link between the hand and the brain.

(The Souns materials for this classroom were provided by a Global Grant from Rotary International – RD6900 and RD7000. Thank you, Rotary!)

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

Difference Between Ownership and Guardianship

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    A preschool learner using Souns builds an isiXhosa word – isele – by listening to sounds in the word.
This is Part III of our Souns training trip to South Africa.                                                                                “It’s ok if others take our ideas as long as they build upon them.” Simon Sinek

photo-241During my recent trip to South Africa, I visited an organization I have worked with for many years, implementing the Souns program. While in their office I saw a letter m similar in font and size to the authorized Souns letter, but different in material, texture, and color.

What was happening? As I asked for understanding and details, each person passed me off to the next. Eventually I was told the organization intended to create their own program, based on but independent of the Souns program.

What I felt? I was enraged by not being informed of such plans. I was concerned because the quality of any imitation will directly impact the reputation of Souns and safety of children. I was challenged because I must accept that imitation is likely if the program is working.

What matters? Good practice and quality of materials are paramount. Any materials used for the letters must be tested to confirm they are safe for hands and mouths of infants and toddlers. Good practice with Souns is described in the SounsGuide.

What now? Take the infraction, the disappointment, and grow. Expand this opportunity to ensure children will read. Let those aligned with the Souns program demonstrate transparency of intentions, so that all can learn from collective experiences and work together.  “He who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” Thomas Jefferson

What next? I will design a platform from which Souns-like programs can be identified and acknowledged. The responsibility will be transparency, good practice, and safety in materials. I must take this experience and build forward, guided by my own words: until every child reads! 

FullSizeRender-2 copy 3Shhh!…there is a conversation happening between the hand and the brain!

In SA – Time to Build

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This is Part II of our Souns training trip to South Africa where classrooms have Souns materials thanks to Rotary International Global Grants. Clubs involved in this literacy work are RC Smyrna (RD6900), RC Peachtree City (RD6900), and RC Pretoria East (RD9400). Many thanks to the Rotarian volunteers from both districts who propel this project forward in so many lasting ways.
 

The second week of training has been most informing: with Souns, children learn faster than teachers expect! Hands-on activities make such a difference in learning.

When, in school after school, you hear the same doubting comment each time a particular question is asked of the teacher, and the children prove the doubt is not merited, there is a lesson for all. Such information defines a focus point for our training and confirms learners are almost always ahead of where the teacher expects them to be.

Good practice with Souns suggests teachers focus Grade R (kindergarten) children on letter-sound associations beginning the first day they walk into class.  With consistency in daily, short, engaging activities, building words by listening to sounds in spoken words will be happening in their classrooms by end of first term or early second term. Many learners will be ready to sound out words by third term, if not sooner. All three stages of Souns should be present in a classroom by beginning of fourth term: continued learning of letter-sound associations, building words, and sounding out words.

Our visit was exciting because in every case the children were on course. This is the end of their first term in South Africa, but the teacher had not introduced building words yet! “It is too early! They are not ready!” Well, the children were ready! It was a delight to demonstrate for the teachers how ready the learners were. The teachers and the learners had done such good work to date. Now it was time to trust the learners and move on. Those ready learners will show the path for others in the classroom who are on their way. Young minds are always watching and always learning.

With two to three schools a day and from two to four classrooms in each school, this training week was intense and fulfilling. It has taken the first few years of this work for teachers to see the possibilities with Souns. Now the training is more about the steps the teachers need to take in order to build patterns in classroom practice.

A few sites included work with toddlers and adult learners. Building readers in South Africa – across language, circumstance, and age – is a reality for Souns. Thank you, Rotary, for putting Souns materials into the hands and minds of so many.

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Part III in the near future: surprising results of this good work in other Souns sites

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!

Playing To Read!

Playing, such as this

so gently leads to this:

Children are born to learn…to wrench the stuff of life into their own little hands! Exploration, play, and learning are all the same to young children. While we struggle with how to teach them, they are armed with the answer and will gladly show us if we observe.

This three-year old (45 months) has learned letter sounds through play. His imagination has painted this delightful path of learning.

Can learning to read be this simple? This little one would tell you, “Yes!”