[lg policy] One Believer in Phonics Undertakes a Novel Teacher-Training Effort

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 28 15:03:48 UTC 2014

One Believer in Phonics Undertakes a Novel Teacher-Training Effort

 By Justin Doubleday

Pledger Fedora's new job, as director of the Rose Institute for Learning
and Literacy at Manhattanville College, is built on the hope that students
who struggle to read can be taught more effectively. The institute,
supported by a philanthropist known for her gifts to New York's museums and
public library, will begin offering a 13-credit graduate certificate
program to five teachers this May. They will be shown how to use a
distinctive multisensory phonics-based approach to literacy.

Ms. Fedora's experience teaching ninth-grade remedial reading in South
Carolina, in 1978, helped spark her interest in teaching and studying
at-risk readers. One of her students had handed in a paragraph composed of
what looked to her like an incomprehensible string of letters. But when she
asked him to read it aloud, he spoke in full sentences. "I had never seen a
student with dyslexia before that," she says.

Since then she has become a leading voice in the field of multisensory and
phonetic instruction.

Phonics focuses on the sounds made by letters and phonemes, or groups of
letters, to teach reading, writing, and spelling. The multisensory method
that Ms. Fedora will train teachers to use, known as the Orton-Gillingham
approach, reinforces learning through sight, hearing, touch, and awareness
of motion. The teachers will take two courses at the college and will be
coached in the new methods at their schools twice a week during a yearlong

Ms. Fedora's Ph.D. dissertation explored how lack of phonemic awareness
impaired the reading ability of children in low-income and rural areas.

She believes that even students who don't have dyslexia can benefit from a
phonics-based approach. One in five children, she says, will struggle to
read without phonics. But many elementary-school teachers aren't trained in
the method.

"The teachers that I've worked with are always so excited," she says. "They
say, 'Why didn't anyone ever teach me this?'"

Phonics has often been pitted against "whole language" instruction, a
commonly used method that introduces children to whole words first and uses
literature to teach reading. The debate over which method is more effective
has been called the "reading wars."

Ms. Fedora isn't interested in reviving any of those battles. Phonics is
just one part of the Orton-Gillingham method, she says, but "it's an
integral part, because you have to start with the sound."

After earning a doctorate in education in 2008 from the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill (she also got her B.A. and M.Ed. there), Ms. Fedora
began teaching in Seton Hall University's department of educational
studies. In 2012 she proposed redesigning some of her courses to include
more phonics instruction. But she was met by resistance within the
department. she says. (*Grace M. May,* dean of Seton Hall's College of
Education and Human Services, says the department "supports the use of a
balanced literacy curriculum, including phonics, to prepare future

"It was then that I started looking for other positions, specifically in
literacy," Ms. Fedora says.

At the time, Manhattanville was in the midst of a three-year pilot program
with the Reading Reform Foundation of New York. The program took seven
teachers at a local elementary school with ties to Manhattanville and
trained them in phonics.

"The teachers found themselves to be much more purposeful and much more
knowledgeable about teaching literacy," says *Shelley B. Wepner,* dean of
the School of Education at Manhattanville. The college, a private nonprofit
institution in Purchase, N.Y., has 1,000 students enrolled in its graduate
courses, including 785 in the School of Education.

The pilot's success convinced *Sandra Priest Rose,* a Manhattanville alumna
who is a founder and chairman of the Reading Reform Foundation, that the
college was the right place for her namesake program. She donated
$1.2-million to the college to establish the Rose Institute last year.

The widow of Frederick P. Rose, a New York City real-estate magnate, Ms.
Rose speaks passionately about phonics and its effectiveness in reading
instruction. She has high hopes for Ms. Fedora as director of the new

"We first saw her résumé and screamed with delight because she's published
a great deal," Ms. Rose says of Ms. Fedora. "I think she can bring us into
a larger sphere."

Ms. Fedora, who called the director's role her "dream job," hopes the
institute will start a trend of including phonics-based instruction in
teacher training throughout higher education.

"It has the potential to be a model for other colleges and universities,"
she says. "There really isn't another program like this."

*Correction (3/24/2014, 2:23 p.m.):* This article originally gave an
incorrect figure for the number of students in Manhattanville College's
School of Education. It has 785 students, not 300. The number has been


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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