Several years ago, the Sunnydale school district implemented a new phonics program: SIPPS (Systematic Instruction in Phoneme Awareness, Phonics, and Sight Words). Reading specialists have noticed a real difference in students’ abilities; current fourth-graders, who have not participated in SIPPS, have much more trouble decoding unfamiliar words and remembering certain spellings. So the program does work, which is good.
However, due to budget cuts, fewer reading specialists are employed by the district, which is bad. To keep SIPPS alive, the teacher librarians have been assigned student groups to work with. Janie loves working with kids, but would much rather be focusing on information literacy skills, book talks, and other core elements of her job. She now several hours less each week to do what she was originally hired to do.
Another teacher librarian in the district told her principal that she wasn’t going to do the SIPPS groups. Instead, she would work with the teachers at her school on technology integration projects. And her principal – with whom she has a 20-year relationship – agreed. Janie is afraid to follow suit because job security is so tenuous; she has only been at her school for eight years. She is also concerned that students may suffer if SIPPS groups are collapsed, and kids have less of a chance of being at a “just right” level.
Obviously, one option is to just suck it up and teach the SIPPS classes this year. Maybe it’s just temporary. Maybe things will change next year. Pros include the fact that the schedule is already set … and it includes a full-time gig for Janie. By doing this favor for administration, she is showing that she is a team player, willing to do what is asked of her. But what if things do indeed change next year … and she gets more SIPPS classes? Or is put in charge of a math boost block?
Another option is to propose a technology integration program similar to the one Janie’s colleague has begun at her school. Pros include the fact that students can’t get enough technology instruction these days, and teachers need to be comfortable with Web 2.0, social networking, online applications, etc. Supporting such development is part of our Code of Ethics! But this would require buy-in not just from the principal, but from the teachers as well. Janie will need to line up champions before proposing such a program. In addition, having one less person to teach the SIPPS classes means that there will be fewer groups and thus more chance of students being either too challenged or too bored … both grounds for frustration and not in their best interest.
Here’s the thing: You don’t have to be a reading specialist to administer SIPPS. The program is completely off-the-shelf and tells you exactly what to cover when. A certain student teacher was able to jump in during her first week … all she needed was a dictionary to help with syllabication. We know the program works. We know it’s good for the kids to be in a group specifically targeted to their level. But we also know that pretty much anyone with a good vocabulary can teach it.
So we recommend this option: Janie agrees to teach the SIPPS classes for now – because they are important – but forms a committee to develop talent to come in and deliver the classes in the future (e.g., parents with an interest in English and the skills to manage a group of students or college volunteers currently enrolled in Education programs).
Here is what I propose. I would like to form a committee to discuss ways to recruit and train skilled volunteers to implement the SIPPS program. This committee will consist of a reading specialist, two classroom teachers, a URI student volunteer representative, a PTA parent, and myself. We will offer ideas on ways to recruit parents and college volunteers who have experience in working with children or have education backgrounds. We will also come up with a training plan that includes training by reading specialists and the librarian, workshops offered by SIPPS , and any other strategies that will result in the most highly skilled SIPPS instructors. Our plan will also devise a support team so that SIPPS volunteers have a way to discuss issues or ask questions. Currently, Pine Elementary School is the only school in the district proposing this type of solution. Our SIPPS volunteer program would act as the pilot for the district. Next week, I would like to send out a memo to reading specialists, primary-level classroom teachers, the URI student volunteer coordinator, and the president of the PTA inviting them to be a part of the committee or to nominate a volunteer representative if they are not available. Once the committee members are officially in place, we will schedule two meetings over the next month to recruit and design the training curriculum. We will create a detailed report including our goals, objectives, action steps and timeline that we will submit to you for review.
We may be seen as pooh-pooh-ing the reading specialist role, and it could make us vulnerable to others pooh-pooh-ing our role as teacher librarians. However, we think the response to that is that SIPPS is a very small part of the reading specialist duties ... it doesn't include individual instruction and evaluation. Sure, someone could be taught circulation and shelving duties, but being an instructional partner and teacher requires formal training.