House Creek Elementary first graders in teacher Christine Volker’s class gather on the carpet at the start of the school day, sitting excitedly and looking expectantly at their teacher. Volker reviews the sounds of letters forming words. She calls the early morning session Heggerty and Fundations Time.
“My students are very engaged with our phonemic awareness lessons which include hand gestures and movements,” Volker said. “They often will use these same lessons in other subjects such as writing. The lesson is bridged to phonological awareness with reviewing the letter pack from Fundations. These two-work hand in hand to develop excellent reading and writing skills.”
Volker’s students mimic their teacher and call the lessons by the same name, adding that the learning method helps them improve their reading, writing, and spelling skills. The lessons come from the district’s literacy program called Heggerty. The lessons are reinforced with a letter review from Fundations with visual movements added.
“These lessons are typical of phonemic, sound-based lessons,” Volker said. “Students’ biggest challenge is often hearing the subtle differences in sounds including vowels such as a short ‘e’ followed by the letter, ‘i.’ With daily practice, students learn to isolate, blend, and manipulate these sounds.”
Phonemic awareness applies across the subjects. Students learn to break words into syllables to identify the syllable types which helps with spelling. The method applies to reading so when students reach multisyllabic words, they break those into sounds. The hand gestures help students connect the sounds to the place in the word or help them visualize what the teacher is asking them to do. This allows students to connect mind to hand. When Volker spells aloud to the students, she makes the gesture of the sound they hear and often students then choose the right letter.
“I think Heggerty helps us to spell and read better,” first grader Liam Hedland said. “We use it in writing too. It’s fun.”
Volker says the academic growth she sees in her students surprises her daily.
“There is that moment when students make connections between the letters on a page and the sounds they hear themselves making. It lights up their faces as an ah-ha,” Volker said. “They often look astonished to be reading.
“I witness the sheer joy some of the students get from the practice. When they apply these skills and see their own growth, then they pay close attention to the lessons to keep going. It’s very motivational.”
All CCISD teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators in pre-K through third grade have completed the Texas Science of Reading Academy. Several CCISD elementary campuses experienced gains as much as 14 percent in certain subject areas from the last state testing in 2019.