UM Center Provides Early Childhood Literacy Training

More than 30 north Mississippi pre-K educators participate in workshop

National LETRS trainer Lucy Hart Paulson

OXFORD, Miss. – More than 30 Mississippi educators received specialized training in early childhood literacy instruction during a three-day workshop hosted recently by the University of Mississippi’s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction.

Lucy Hart Paulson, a national Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, or LETRS, trainer, led the workshop, focusing on topics including the importance of phonological awareness – the recognition of sound structures in speech – among pre-K literacy teachers and students.

“Almost 90 percent of the time, when a child is struggling with reading, there is also a weakness in phonological awareness,” said Paulson, who is also a speech pathology professor at the University of Montana. “There is a connection between the way you learn to talk and the way you learn to read. Everything we’re teaching follows an evidence-based research model. We’re showing what the application really looks like in the classroom.”

The workshop is one of multiple ways the UM School of Education, Mississippi’s largest producer of teachers and educational leaders, is emphasizing early childhood education. Besides continuing education opportunities, the school is in the process of launching a new undergraduate endorsement in early childhood education as well as a master’s degree.

With an array of children’s books and learning activities, Paulson applied early childhood literacy research to everyday classroom activities to help teachers of young children set foundational skills for reading.

“One example would be a ‘circle time’ game when you’re working with very young children,” she said. “We sometimes play ‘Hickidy Pickidy Bumble Bee, Won’t You Say Your Name for Me.’ Using a bumblebee puppet, every child in the circle gets to introduce themselves in a syllabic form. That way, they begin to play with that word and become aware of its structure.”

At the end of the training, eight teachers, including those from UM’s Willie Price Lab School and the Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction, or CELI, elected to take an exam to become certified trainers of the LETRS early childhood module. They also participated in further training, allowing the teachers to apply phonological teaching methods to their own lesson plans.

“It’s important to expose teachers to the latest research so they can expand their knowledge,” said Angela Rutherford, an associate professor specializing in literacy and director of both CELI and Willie Price. “These teachers may already know phonological awareness is important to literacy, but we’re digging deeper into the actual application.”

Workshop participants came from the Holmes County School District, Quitman County School District, Willie Price and the UM master’s program in literacy education.

“I enjoyed how (Paulson) gave us concrete examples,” said Angie Caldwell, CELI’s newest literacy teacher. “First, she talked about research and strategy and then she would say, ‘This is how I would do it.’ We got to see how we can apply phonological strategies using the books we already teach.”

CELI was founded in 2007 with funding from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation in Jackson. In addition to professional development for working literacy teachers, the center offers instructional support for at-risk schools in north Mississippi. Its primary mission is to provide exemplary instruction, relevant research and effective service through collaboration with schools, businesses, community organizations and the public at large.

About Andrew Mark Abernathy