First Alphabetic Phonics practicum student leaves lasting impression

Literacy intervention specialist Lynne Schneider’s first practicum student changed her life.

So it goes with many beginning Literacy Intervention Specialists (LIS) who are starting their careers with a desire to help struggling children learn to read. Often the practicum student teaches the specialist more than he or she teaches the student.

Lynne knew she was interested in becoming a Literacy Intervention Specialist 10 years ago when she worked as a substitute teacher at her daughter’s school. She watched another teacher use the Alphabetic Phonics program with struggling readers, and she could see it helped teach reading to

some of the students who were slower to learn. At the time, Lynne had three school-aged children, so it was not the time for a career change.

But in 2017 as Lynne’s last child prepared to graduate from high school, it seemed like the perfect time to train at Fundamental Learning Center (FLC). She enrolled in the fall class of Introduction to Literacy Intervention Specialist, and a whole new world opened for her.

“Alphabetic Phonics is like therapy,” Lynne said. “It doesn’t just teach (the children) ... where (children learn to read in the brain); it ( activates) that emotional part of the brain… They realize, ‘Hey, I can do this.’ It gives the child hope and confidence.”

Every budding LIS being trained at FLC must complete a practicum, instructing a student using the Alphabetic Phonics curriculum for 24, one-hour sessions. If the LIS does not know a student, one is assigned to them.

Lynne’s assigned student, Sam*, 8, was from a low-income family, and his school allowed Lynne to begin instruction with him for one hour a day, three times a week during the school day. When Lynne met him for the first time, she liked him immediately, despite how quiet and tired he was each time they met.

Lynne began to learn about Sam that his mother worked long hours, and sometimes he did not get enough sleep. Sometimes he would arrive to their sessions tired and hungry, unprepared to learn.

“Here I am this new Literacy Intervention Specialist,” she said. “I have my curriculum all planned out for me and all of this stuff I want to impart on this kid. I had to realize even though we have this wonderful curriculum, it’s the specific child who sets the parameters.”

Sam’s reading level was below grade level, but when talking to him Lynne observed his rich vocabulary and intelligent descriptions. As with many children who struggle to learn to read, Sam likely has a learning difference called dyslexia, which means he has a high level of intelligence but struggles with the development of reading, writing and spelling skills. This learning difference is only compounded when parents do not read aloud to their children or do other activities to help them interact with words.

Alphabetic Phonics is an ungraded, multisensory curriculum, based on the Orton-Gillingham approach, that teaches the structure of the English language. This phonetic program teaches reading, handwriting, spelling, verbal and written expression and comprehension by simultaneously engaging the visual, auditory and kinesthetic modalities.

For adults to teach Alphabetic Phonics, they must train at a center like FLC that is accredited by International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council. FLC is the only accredited center in a four-state area including Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Arkansas.

Lynne began to look forward to her time with Sam despite the drive to his school, where she worked with him in a tiny space that essentially served as a storage closet.

“I know he really looked forward to our time together,” she said. “One day he said something negative about himself, and I said, ‘No, that’s not true.' He said, ‘You know what, Mrs. Schneider, you’re the only one who tells me I do anything right.’”

It was all Lynne could do to fight back tears.

Through her work with Sam, Lynne realized that not every Alphabetic Phonics lesson would be perfect, but that is also the beauty of her newfound career.

“I just learned to think, ‘This is the little boy I have today,’” she said. “What can I do today to make his chance of succeeding better or to improve the way he feels about himself?”

As her unpaid, eight-week practicum was ending, Lynne decided she wanted to finish out the school year teaching Alphabetic Phonics to Sam. She wanted to give him all the tools she possibly could to experience successes in the future.

“My biggest hope is that I just gave him hope for himself.”

* Sam's name has been changed to protect his family's privacy.

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