Embracing the Science of Reading
By Savannah Campbell and Jennifer McSweeney
In Gloucester County, we embrace the Science of Reading. Under the leadership of Dr. Jennifer McSweeney (Instructional Literacy Specialist), Gloucester County Public Schools is working diligently to include the 5 pillars of instruction supported by the science: phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
Instead of buying a boxed curriculum, Dr. McSweeney, along with chosen representatives throughout the county, spent years planning, creating, and revising the English/Language Arts curriculum for K-5 in Gloucester. The highlight of this curriculum is the scope and sequence for phonics. This phonics sequence focuses on explicit, systematic instruction in phonics for all students, beginning with simple closed syllable words and moving through prefixes, suffixes, and decoding multisyllabic words. Jennifer continues to add resources to classrooms that support this curriculum including hands-on manipulatives and decodable stories. These resources help children to truly experience multi-sensory word study instruction.
Another key aspect of this curriculum is the addition of Interactive Read-Alouds (IRAs), in which teachers build student knowledge through carefully-selected texts. IRAs are sets of books carefully selected to include diverse and interesting fiction and nonfiction books that align with Virginia SOL and reading strategies children need to know. Again, rather than use a boxed curriculum, Dr. McSweeney chose books that resonate with teachers and meet the needs of our students. Through these books teachers and students discuss what they read, talk about new and interesting words, and think critically about themes and issues.
Gloucester County has provided training opportunities for teachers throughout the past several years. Dr. McSweeney has led professional development (PD) in comprehension, dyslexia, phonics, and many key educational issues. Additionally, Jennifer has led, as local facilitator, a cohort of teachers through LETRS training. A current cohort is also engaged in training this school year. Furthermore, Gloucester supported more than a dozen teachers as they received Orton-Gillingham training. Dr. McSweeney, along with a colleague, Savannah Campbell, presented at the English Language Arts VDOE SOL Summer Institute in August on the topic of Science of Reading.
Jennifer has a passion for excellent professional development and earned her doctorate degree in Educational Planning, Policy, and Leadership at The College of William & Mary in 2020. Her dissertation included action research addressing the effectiveness of PD on teacher instruction and self-efficacy, which ultimately leads to student achievement and success. Teachers in Gloucester County were involved in the study, and through it, gathered data, determined courses of action, and created their own paths of learning which resulted in “the best PD I’ve ever had”, as quoted from one teacher. Dr. McSweeney still utilizes what she learned in her research to offer valuable, relevant, and interactive PD to teachers throughout the year. She is always surprised when teachers sign up for her summer and after-hours PD sessions and is sure to have snacks and free give-aways on hand.
Embracing the Science of Reading is a joint effort. Dr. McSweeney works with Title I teachers, reading specialists, teachers, and administrators to continue this good work. The success of our students could not be achieved without this teamwork and collaboration. Jennifer strives to empower reading teachers to be leaders in their schools, and she encourages them to constantly continue their own learning, and to share their knowledge with others. Teachers in Gloucester County have endless opportunities to learn through a lending library of books, PD provided by Dr. McSweeney and colleagues, and classroom visits. Jennifer can often be found in a classroom demonstrating a read-aloud, engaging students in word study activities, or showing students how to create a list of ideas for writing.
Dr. McSweeney knows that Gloucester County is making great progress in reading and writing. The Science of Reading framework that is being implemented in every elementary school is helping children learn how to read and to enjoy books. Jennifer’s personal mission is to make a difference, and through her efforts and those of every teacher, every administrator, and every classroom, children are succeeding.