The following piece was posted on the Reading Reform Foundation message-board by Nora Chahbazi, the owner and director of the Ounce of Prevention Reading Center in Flushing, Michigan. This edited version is printed here with her permission.
I am new to this board [the RRF message-board], feel thankful that it was brought to my attention, and wanted to share my experience of how I became very passionate about effective, efficient reading instruction. I feel that it is quite likely that there are many others out there with important stories and if we all connect and work together, we truly can have a tremendous impact improving literacy in society.
As for my ‘formal’ education, I have two degrees in nursing and worked as a neonatal intensive care nurse for about ten years. While I was born and raised in Michigan, I’ve lived in a variety of places including Charleston (South Carolina), Cuba and Guam. Because of frequent moves, my children have been in a variety of schools and as a result experienced the good, bad and ugly of reading instruction throughout their early years. When my middle daughter was in second grade eight years ago (in a school back in Mid-Michigan, where we now live), she was put in the gifted and talented program based on her IOWA test scores in maths. However, she was a year below grade level (by second grade!) in reading. I wasn’t working at the time and threw myself into finding out all I could about reading. For six months I read research, observed programs in schools, went to reading conferences and read everything I could about reading. Very little of what I read and experienced made any logical sense until I got hold of Diane McGuinness’s book Why our children can’t read. This book was recommended to me by a former Professor of Education from Michigan State University. This professor had taught teachers who were getting their masters in reading for years but left in frustration because, as she explained to me, ‘they wouldn’t let me teach teachers how to teach reading’. After leaving MSU she started a reading centre in 1989 in Lansing, Michigan, that just closed this last year. Diane’s book changed my life – to put it mildly! After reading her book, I taught my daughter to read in three hours. She is now in high school, a student in advanced classes, and reads every night. If it had not been for my intervention, I’m sure her life would have taken a very different path. I then taught lots of other kids using research-based word-level instruction (linguistic phonics), getting similar results.
In 1999, I opened a reading centre (all this stuff was not planned – serendipity, I guess!), informed hundreds of teachers about the strategies I had learned, became educated about ’supplemental’ interventions for the tougher kids, and really could write a book or two about my unusual experiences. In January of 2002, Celeste Hammell (a 25-year veteran as a Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant in New Jersey) and I developed EBLI (Evidence-Based Literacy Instruction). It is a system of strategies – not a programme, as it is continuously being refined based on new information and research we learn about and use with students. EBLI is heavily focused on linguistic phonics instruction; it also includes fluency and vocabulary instruction and moves students of all ages very far, very fast. We have had especially amazing results with older students: fourth-to-twelfth graders typically show two to nine years of improvement in about six hours on instruction.
Throughout this journey, we have had many amazing things happen – legislators seeking us out, people wanting to fund on-line training, a $750,000 grant opportunity, a community foundation funding training and follow-up consulting for all teachers in their county, meetings with Michigan department of Education people, an invitation to do three presentations at the Michigan Association of Secondary Schools Principals (500 middle and high school principals), and, best of all, many wonderful kids benefiting from what we offer. We provide three-day trainings and follow-up consulting in the schools of the teachers we train. Our results have been analyzed (from first to twelfth grade) and that information has greatly increased awareness of EBLI strategies around the state and country.
If a former nurse can become a reading guru after stumbling upon what it really takes to teach reading, then acts on her new-found knowledge to help children and teachers, and realises that if you forge ahead with vision and integrity the possibilities are endless, imagine what a whole gaggle of people with similar thought-processes and experiences can do! I look forward to finding out.
See http://www.mackinac.org/pubs/mer/article.asp?ID=3430 for ’Reading Recovery is no such thing’, a critique by Nora Chahbazi.