Reading Approach

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Thank You

Having teachers and staff that actually cared about me and challenged me to set and achieve goals made all the difference. I was lost, they helped me find my real self.
Malachi Simnitt

Graduate, Class of 2018


Graduate, Class of 2018

Malachi Simnitt
Having teachers and staff that actually cared about me and challenged me to set and achieve goals made all the difference. I was lost, they helped me find my real self.

Positive Impact

As soon as Malachi started at Park we began to see positive changes in him, his confidence began to grow.  For the first time, he actually like going to school. His academic and reading performance greatly improved after just one year. Park helped him recognize his potential by highlighting his strengths and encouraging him to keep trying.


Parent of Graduate



Parent of Graduate

As soon as Malachi started at Park we began to see positive changes in him, his confidence began to grow.  For the first time, he actually like going to school. His academic and reading performance greatly improved after just one year. Park helped him recognize his potential by highlighting his strengths and encouraging him to keep trying.

Program Overview

Park Academy seeks to work with every student at his or her level of need. For students in grades 3-5, every student receives approximately an hour of intensive reading instruction 5 days per week in a group of 2-4 students. For middle and high school students, only those students requiring reading instruction receive it. The determination of need is based on both our extensive assessment protocol and testing they come in with upon admission. Both sets of testing data are considered for placement in a class and with a particular teacher.


Orton-Gillingham is considered the “gold standard” in reading instruction for students with dyslexia. It is a diagnostic and prescriptive methodology for teaching kids how to decode and encode. What does that mean exactly? Each child is assessed to determine his or her skill deficits. Then, they are given direct and systematic instruction in the rules of both phonemic awareness and phonics. There is also significant instruction in sight words and encoding.

Because Orton-Gillingham is a method, not a program, it is differentiated for each student and/or group of students. Some students may require more strategies to improve orthographic processing, while others may need more practice to develop fluency. Because all of our reading teachers are highly trained experts, they can provide this differentiated instruction to help students progress and quickly as possible.

Orton-Gillingham is limited to phonemic awareness, phonics, encoding, fluency and some morphology. Once students progress past this point, this is no longer a necessary or beneficial intervention for them.


For students who have tested above Orton-Gillingham, we provide a reading comprehension class. We just adopted the highly acclaimed “Passport: Reading Journeys” published by Voyager/Sopris West. Developed under the guidance of renowned reading expert Dr. Sharon Vaughn, this program focuses on the other skills of reading, including vocabulary development, morphology, syntax, and reading comprehension.  There are two levels to this program and students are placed in it based on their reading comprehension levels.

For more information about our specific reading program, please reach out to Mary Mollway, Assistant Head of School at

Overview of Reading

Reading is an incredibly complex task and requires many skills that work in conjunction with one another. Students with dyslexia and other language-based reading challenges struggle with some or all of these areas. Below is an explanation of the skills required for effective reading (decoding and comprehension) and spelling (encoding).

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, discriminate, and manipulate sounds. These skills are paramount to be a successful and fluent reader. Phonemic awareness includes being able to hear beginning, middle, and ending sounds in a word; segment those sounds; blend sounds; manipulate sounds; and rhyme sounds and words. Here’s an example of what a teacher and student might say in a phonemic awareness activity:

Phoneme identification for beginning, middle, and ending sounds

Teacher: What’s the first sound in bat?       Student: /b/

Teacher: What’s the last sound in nap?      Student: /n/

Phoneme Segmentation

Teacher: What are the sounds in bat?         Student: /b/ /a/ /t/

Phoneme Blending

Teacher: Your sounds are /b/ /a/ /t/. Blend those together.       Student: bat

 Phoneme Manipulation

Teacher: Change the first sound in bat to /s/.        Student: sat

Teacher: Change the middle sound in sat to /i/     Student: sit


Teacher: Say a word that rhymes with bat.             Student: hat

Once students can quickly and accurately identify and use sounds out loud, then they are attached to letters. This is called phonics. Phonics is the ability to attach a sound and a letter together, called sound-symbol relationships. This starts with individual letters and then moves into words. This is then called decoding. Students use their knowledge of sound-symbol relationships to sound out, or decode, unfamiliar words. Here is an example of what a teacher and student might say during a phonics lesson.

 Teacher: Which letter makes the /b/ sound?         Student: (points to the letter) B.

Teacher: What sounds do these letters make?       Student: /b/ /a/ /t/-oh, bat.

When we first encounter an unfamiliar word, we access our phonemic awareness skills and apply them to the written word. For example, I see the word “man” and I’ve never seen it before. I see the m-a-n and sound it out– /m/ /a/ /n/. I saw the word to myself “man” and now I’ve decoded it.

Once a student has decoded an unfamiliar word several times, or seen a sight word multiple times, they should be able to capture that image as one word. For example, I might decode the word man three or four times. By the fifth time, I should no longer have to decode it. My brain recognizes this in the visual word form area (VWFA) and I know that it’s man without thinking about it. When I want to spell that word, or encode it, I can access those visual memories and spell the word from memory. This is called orthographic processing. Orthographic processing is key to fluent reading and spelling.

Fluency is the combination of speed and accuracy. For students with challenges in phonological processing (phonemic awareness and phonics) and orthographic processing, fluency can be greatly impacted. Fluency is key to higher levels of reading because the speed at which we chunk parts of language together affect how we make meaning. For example, you read the sentence “Last summer, my grandma and grandpa came to visit from Wisconsin for a week..” This sentence actually has seven parts to it, including “last summer,: “my grandma and grandpa,” “came,” “to visit,” “from Wisconsin,”  and “for a week.” If we read too slowly, our brains are not able to chunk all of the pieces of that sentence together before we lose the first part in our auditory memory and comprehension is impaired. Think of it like a train of cars pulling into the station. Comprehension doesn’t occur until all the cars are in the station. If the cars become unhitched or it is going to slowly, the first part of the train leaves the station before comprehension is completed. Fluency is impacted by the skills listed above.

Encoding is a fancy word for spelling. When a child is able to hold words in her visual memory because of strong orthographic processing skills, she can then access those images automatically and accurately to spell words. When this is impacted because of underdeveloped phonological or orthographic skills, then her writing slows down and she will make often random, unpredictable errors in her spelling.

Whereas phonemes are the smallest unit of sounds, such as the /b/ sound, morphemes are the smallest unit of meaning. This includes Latin roots, suffixes, and prefixes, Greek combining forms, and base words. Because English is such a complex language and includes words from many languages, including Latin, Greek, German, French, and Celtic and Scandinavian tribes, there are many types of morphemes in our language.

For example, in the word “prediction,” there are three morphemes. “Pre” is the prefix and means before; “dict” is a Latin root which means “to say or to speak” and “tion” makes it a noun. .” So, a “prediction is when you say something in advance or before it happens. The word “biology” is created from the Greek combining forms “bio” meaning life and “ology” which means “the study of 75% of multi-syllable words in English have a Latin root or Greek combining form in them.

An important and often overlooked component of reading comprehension is an understanding of syntax, or the order of words in a sentence. Students learn this orally first as their speech develops. However, when children have receptive and/or expressive language delays as is so common in dyslexia, their understanding of this syntax may be affected. For example, we know in English that the noun comes before the verb, as in “The dog sat.” If I gave you two sentences such as “My mom is kind. My dad is kind.” and asked you to combine them, you might write “My mom and dad are kind.” However, a child with reading difficulties might struggle with this and might even not write the combined sentence is a recognizable order, such as “Mom is kind and dad.”

As children progress through the grades, they acquire a great deal of knowledge through exposure about a variety of topics. We acquire vocabulary through listening and speaking first and then apply it to our reading. There are different categories of vocabulary including content-specific vocabulary such as “Constitution” and “photosynthesis.”  There is process and thought vocabulary such as “evaluate” and “compare and contrast” and there is general knowledge vocabulary that we use as part of everyday conversation.  When students struggle with reading and listening comprehension, they are more likely to have deficits in one or more categories of vocabulary which impacts their ability to read and understand higher-level texts.

Although comprehension is one facet of reading, it actually is an umbrella for many types of comprehension. Reading comprehension is the ability to make meaning from written words. It is impacted by fluency, syntactical knowledge, vocabulary, and prior knowledge. There is literal and inferential comprehension. For example, literal comprehension might focus on the “who,” “what” and “where” of a story. Who is the main character? What did he do when he got upset? Where did he go to meet his friend? However, inferential comprehension requires students to “read between the lines.” For example, I might ask “Why is Jonas upset when he gets his first memory?” or “What might he do next?” This type of questioning requires students to think beyond what is literally written on the page.

Below are some other valuable resources on the topic of reading and its many components.

Reading Rockets: This website has research articles and summaries, strategies for teaching reading, podcasts, videos, and more information.

National Reading Panel ReportA comprehensive overview of the components of effective reading instruction.

Practice Guide for Effective Reading Instruction: Commissioned by the US Department of Education and created by the Institution of Education Sciences, this practice guide provides vital practice-level guidance for teachers of early readers.

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