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GIPS students learn phonics without reading lips

Published: Sep. 9, 2020 at 9:27 PM CDT
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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - Learning to read as a child is hard enough, but having to do it while wearing a mask is even more of a challenge. Grand Island Public School teachers have found a way to teach students phonics, without having to see the words pronounced.

“It was tricky especially because there’s quite a few of us in the district that took letters training this summer," Shoemaker Elementary School Teacher David White said. "A large part of that training focused on how to show students what your mouth should look like. So instead of what it should look like, we’ve literally been talking about what it can feel like.”

Kindergarten through second grade students are taught phonics. They learn 44 speech sounds from the alphabet to help them learn how to read and write.

“Each of our letters has a power bar showing how often that letter might show up in a word and make that sound," White said. "Kids are realizing the s sound is not just made by s, so when they come to those tricky combinations of letters they have a toolbox full of options to try all those different sounds as a reader.”

School officials said it’s critical for students to learn this skill.

“If students aren’t reading on grade level by the end of third grade, that inability to read or that difficulty with reading is actually correlated with similar negative life outcomes such as: not graduating from high school, ending up in the juvenile justice system, having medical difficulties, and things like that."

Initially GIPS was concerned about how they could teach English while wearing masks, because they rely on students to look at their peers and teachers mouths to pronounce them.

"Masks make it difficult for us - because you can’t see your teachers mouth, you can’t see your mouth when your forming your sounds, Bills said.

Teachers have been helping students learn phonics with instructional videos, sound walls with pictures of students pronouncing the words, and teaching them how to feel or visualize how to say it.

“A lot of times you tell kids to feel where their tongue is at, where their teeth are at, how their mouth is moving, whether it’s opened or closed to make different sounds," White said. "We really focus on that, and the air that comes out of your mouth.”

White works one-on-one with students if they’re struggling to keep up, but overall he says they’re adapting well to the masks.

“It has been a little bit different, but the kids have done really well,” White said. “They do great with the masks, and learning with the masks on is a piece we’re learning to adjust to.”

GIPS started a new program this year called CKLA to focus more on sounds in English and how they translate to print. They never expected to start the program during a pandemic, but so far it’s been successful despite the challenges.

Copyright 2020 KSNB. All rights reserved.

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