Old approach leads to reading success in Zeeland schools


ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s a teaching method that was developed in the 1930s, but it’s making a resurgence in a West Michigan school district. It’s called the Orton-Gillingham Approach to reading instruction, and Zeeland Public Schools started using the method two years ago.

“We really think it’s important the kids are learning how to read in a multi-sensory way. So you saw them interacting with technology, you saw them touching, hearing, taping and pounding,” said Brandi-Lyn Mendham, the director of curriculum and technology at Zeeland Public Schools.

The district has been using this method for the past two years. First, the district started with the first and second grade students then expanded it to all classes up to fifth grade.

“We’re seeing increases for students across the board and really being able to intervene when the kids aren’t making progress and give them instruction using that similar approach and other tools to insure they are meeting benchmarks,” Mendham said.

When Mendham says all kids, she means all. Zeeland has started integrating special education students into the general education classrooms, making sure all the students get the same curriculum.

After going through round one of the lesson, students move to level two called “what I need” — also known as W.I.N.

“We will see some students getting extensions working in larger groups, learning above and beyond the subject area they were learning about in class. Then you will see some other students in small groups doing some reteaching,” said Holly Boehle, the director of special education at Zeeland Public Schools.

The teachers and staff make sure each student is at a mastery level before they move them on to the next lesson.

“It’s making a tremendous difference in students engagement in the lessons with their reading skills and decoding words then ultimately how well they are able to understand what they read,” Boehle.

All teachers and teaching support staff go through 18 to 30 hours of specialized training, which has been made possible through Zeeland’s Education Foundation. The organization has allowed for the district to do this quick rollout of the program.

“Truly the ultimate goal is making sure all our students are able to read. This is a way to do it in a way that makes sense to the kids to really help them understand how to crack the code for learning how to read,” Mendham said.