Lively Letters enlightens little ones

Lewis and Clark Elementary speech therapist Jodie Gilmore works with Cyndi Duncan’s kindergarten class during a Lively Letters lesson Dec. 19.

WOOD RIVER — Lewis and Clark and Hartford elementary schools adopted a locally funded  program to be used in kindergarten classrooms with a new approach to sounds and phonics.

“Mrs. (Kris) Hagen and Mrs. (Jodie) Gilmore looked into the program and brought it to me,” Wood River-Hartford Superintendent Dr. Patrick Anderson said. “We made the decision together that it was a great means of finding a new way of engaging students with new reading strategies. Mrs. Hagen and Mrs. Gilmore wanted to explore a different approach to teaching letter sounds and phonics and from what I’m seeing, it’s working very well.”

Parents may remember the letter people used during the first days of school to help students identify letters as they learned their ABCs. The Lively Letters program has children not only identifying the letters by name, but also by the sounds they make, at a much faster rate.

“I have seen significant results in the classroom,” Lewis and Clark kindergarten teacher Cyndi Duncan said. “We haven’t been able to tell a lot from test results yet, but tests don’t always tell the complete story. I’m seeing improvement in memory and recall during instruction and the kids are further along with this program. Some of the work they’re doing is actually first-grade work because the Lively Letters program helps them associate the sounds each letter makes that much quicker.”

Lively Letters is a research-based program that trains students in skills of phonemic awareness, letter sound associations, and the ability to read and spell words fluently. Since the program was created in 1990, students have been introduced to the 44 sounds of the English language, which are presented to students as lively characters with personalities that interact through photos and music. Letters and letter combinations are taught with great detail of not only the sounds, but what the mouth, throat and breath are doing together to make those sounds.

“We haven’t been able to collect any hard data results yet, but through feedback with teachers, it seems to be making a difference in the classroom,” Lewis and Clark speech therapist Jodie Gilmore said. “I have seen amazing changes in memory and recall in the students over the short time we’ve had the program.”

Whereas results take time to surface in newly implemented reading programs, Duncan says she’s seeing changes and improvements right away.

“The kids are associating the character traits of the Lively Letters and it helps them remember rules like when an ‘e’ is silent,” Duncan said. “That’s rather advanced for a 5-year-old. You can see them get excited when it clicks during a classroom exercise.  They’re already sounding out and reading complicated words for their age range because of what they learn with Mrs. Gilmore.  My students who may have started the school year off struggling are raising their hands to answer questions and are participating more. That is such a victory for those students. Their confidence is building.”

Because the program breaks down the structure of the mouth and the use of the tongue and teeth to make sounds, teachers hope that it may help to identify speech concerns earlier.  

“A lot of speech and pronunciation comes from not using the functions of the mouth correctly to make sounds,” Gilmore said. “We review those functions together as a group and I believe that it will help us identify those students who may need more one-on-one assistance sooner.”

For Anderson, seeing students in his district learn at an accelerated  rate is a major achievement.

“I’m very excited for this program and what it’s doing for the students,” Anderson said. “The English language is hard to comprehend with the different sounds one letter makes and one word having multiple meanings. Having proactive teachers in my district who are willing to go above and beyond to find a program to help these students succeed says a lot about how much our teachers care.”  

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