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If I Only Knew Then: A Year with the SIPPS Program

I’ve spent the past year working closely with colleagues, literacy coaches, and classroom teachers who are using the SIPPS program as a means to accelerate young readers. My journey has included rich experiences teaching, coaching, and observing lessons, ongoing conversations and deepened thinking about how to support our most struggling readers and how to rigorously push them forward. Although I have officially been out of my classroom for over a year, my journey with the SIPPS program has brought me directly back to thinking about my group of first grade readers and how they might have benefited if I only knew then.

I’d like to share with you some of these lessons:

Corrective Procedures and Routines: I value the routines of the SIPPS program as I’ve seen what they do for my students: build motivation, increase confidence, provide systematic (and successful) strategies for getting themselves “unstuck,” and offer a safe place for students to engage in sophisticated new lessons.

However, I’ve recently recognized the profound value specifically in the correction procedures, not only for my students, but really for me as the teacher. Before consistently attending to the correction procedures outlined in the SIPPS program, there wasn’t always rhyme or reason to how I responded. Experienced teachers often bring a bag of tricks and a loaded toolbox for supporting students in what we love to call “teachable moments.” I’ve realized that in doing so during the SIPPS program, I was creating students who were dependent on me (over-scaffolding)-no wonder they weren’t able to transfer SIPPS skills and strategies independently within text!

The correction procedures are consistent, concise, and efficient. They support me so that I can put the work back on the students and in turn they are able to get themselves “unstuck.” Talk about fostering independence!

Continuous Blending: This journey has extended my experience across grade levels offering the valuable opportunity to see the progression of skills from Beginning Level, Extension, Plus and Challenge Level. One of my biggest challenges in working with older students is the way in which they blend and the amount of “brain-chunks” required for more complex words.

For example, students will blend cat, /c/ /a/ /t/, pausing between each phoneme. But when cat becomes catastrophic, students struggle to blend this word cohesively. One effective way to teach blending, especially for children who struggle is to use a singsongy voice to blend the word continuously. This would sound more like “caaaaat,” moving very quickly to the next sound.

I found that this skill was difficult for students to learn, or unlearn, as I was often working to retrain their brains when blending words. I wonder how students might benefit if we teach them this singsongy blending when first introducing letter-sound relationships in Kindergarten?

“Train the Brain”: During my days in the classroom I often felt overwhelmed with all that we had to get done in a day and panic ensued when I saw where my students were at, and where I needed them to be in May. I’ll admit that I even pushed through lessons breezing through parts I didn’t deem most important. In the SIPPS program I’ve really learned to appreciate the fact that we are using known words or parts of words and deliberately slowing our students down to “train their brain.” This enables students to practice strategies with familiar words so that they will be able to do this hard work independently within increasingly complex texts. I found that it’s helpful for our students to know this and I just tell them that it’s similar to how a runner trains for a marathon, we have to train our brains as readers. We take all of our work in the SIPPS program very seriously and want our students to as well.

The Guided Spelling Program: The activities in the Guided Spelling program require students to think before they spell and while they are spelling. The daily occurrence of these activities helps the students form habits that carry over to all of their encoding and decoding both in school and at home. Our role as teacher, is to support students in this routine; we are assisting not assessing. If students struggle, we rely on the prompts and coach with corrective feedback for success.

The teacher has the opportunity to coach students using consistent routines and corrective procedures.

Students have the opportunity to:

  • Move from asking “how do I spell this word?” to “how do I spell this part?”
  • Anticipate which parts of a word are troublesome. For example, they need to think about a long /a/ sound: is it spelled a_e, ai, or ay? Or a polysyllabic word ending in /əns/: is it -ance or -ence?
  • Determine which strategies to use in particular situations. For example, they look at the vowel and consonant pattern when deciding whether to double the final consonant.
  • Consult resources when they don’t know how to spell a word. For example, the first grader who forgets how to spell the vowel sound /ŭ/ knows to look at the wall card for the cat under the chair.

A few questions I use for self-reflection:

  • Am I using the routines/correction procedures to support learning and to engage the students in doing the work?
  • Am I using the clear, concise, effective language included in the SIPPS program to help “train the brain” which fosters independent vs. dependent students?
  • Am I modeling and reinforcing clear, undistorted sounds and continuous blending?
  • How am I using the Guided Spelling program to extend student learning by coaching them in applying SIPPS skills? (The Guided Spelling program is not a test; the mastery tests are the assessment.)