Author: Erica Eades, Junior School Librarian, and Literacy Specialist

At Elmwood School, we are passionate about developing strong readers. That is why, in the fall of 2019, we launched a new early intervention program in the Junior School. This initiative aims to identify reading issues early so that struggling students can begin receiving support at the first sign of difficulty. 

Elmwood’s 1:1 intervention program is rooted in the practice of Structured Literacy, a term coined by the International Dyslexia Association to refer to the many evidence-based instruction methods that align with the Science of Reading. These approaches all share a common belief that literacy instruction should be both systematic and explicit. It should also address the key foundational elements that make up a skilled reader, including phonological awareness, word recognition, fluency, vocabulary, reading comprehension, and written expression.

In our intervention program, we employ a Structured Literacy approach known as Orton-Gillingham, which helps struggling readers by explicitly teaching the connections between letters and sounds. One of the challenges of the English language is that while it contains just 26 letters, these letters combine to create roughly 44 speech sounds — and there are over 250 ways to spell those sounds! The Orton-Gillingham method simplifies this process by teaching students to apply rules and generalizations. This helps show that English is actually a fairly standardized language (even though it doesn’t always seem that way).

A Structured Literacy approach benefits all students, but it is essential for those with reading difficulties. This fact was recently confirmed by the groundbreaking Right to Read Inquiry Report. Released by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) in February 2022, the report highlighted issues affecting students with reading disabilities in Ontario’s public education system. It found that most schools were failing these students by using outdated instruction methods that were not backed by the Science of Reading. In response to these findings, the OHRC compiled a list of recommendations for Ontario public schools. One of the key takeaways was that students should be receiving “explicit, systematic and direct instruction in foundational reading skills.” In other words: Structured Literacy. 

We believe the educational experience of all our students should be grounded in research. Therefore, in addition to using evidence-based techniques during intervention, we have also provided Junior School staff with training in Structured Literacy. This has enriched our language program by ensuring all student learning is rooted in science.

For struggling readers, it is important to begin intervention at a young age. While many schools rely on a “wait to fail” approach, in which students only receive 1:1 support after years of struggle, we opt to intervene promptly. Studies have shown that when children at risk for reading difficulty receive early intervention, they typically go on to read at grade level or above. Without intervention, many of these children will continue to struggle throughout their lives. 

The importance of learning to read cannot be understated, as it lays the foundation upon which all future learning is built. Reading ability is also one of the strongest indicators of future academic and professional success. At Elmwood, we believe all students should be given the tools they need to succeed in life. Through our early intervention program, we ensure that no one gets left behind.