Friday, October 16, 2009

Curriculum Vision - Helping Struggling Readers

As the Curriculum Director at Reading Horizons, I have learned a lot about the "development" aspect of the coined term "Curriculum Development." To "develop" in this context means to create, polish, and improve materials and to oversee projects to completion. For me lately, it means getting down in the trenches, rolling up your sleeves, and going to work. As I have been actively engaged in improving the Reading Horizons software and direct instruction materials over the last few years, I have learned the role of patience, balance, and vision. I have been reminded of the importance of character in the work place--sincerely caring about your work, consistently striving to do your very best, and putting in an honest day's work.

I mentioned the word vision. Under the leadership of Tyson Smith, President of Reading Horizons, each department has its vision "emblazoned" on the wall in each respective department to always remind its employees of what we are there to do. I want to share the vision statement for Reading Horizons' Curriculum department. It reads: Produce excellent-quality curriculum that fills expanding needs without compromising the simplicity and effectiveness of the method.

I had an experience this week while engaged in a significant, "brain-draining" task that kind of popped up out of the blue. I was "in the zone," concentrating deeply on the task at hand, when the end users of the materials I was working on came to mind. I thought of students learning how to read for the first time in their lives. I thought of refugees who have had very little formal education who would learn life-long literacy skills. I thought of non-native English speakers who have never learned strategies that have "clicked" for them before. I thought of teachers and tutors and volunteers who have a noble "vision" and a strong desire to help their students learn to read, to learn literacy skills, to learn English. It put things in perspective for me. It made my efforts seem worth it. It made the workload, though very heavy and overwhelming at times, seem lighter. It made me want to try even harder to "produce excellent-quality curriculum that fills expanding needs."

There are a lot of needs out there. I'm grateful to work for a company that assumes a small role in helping to fulfill some of those needs. I appreciate those users, both students and teachers alike, who motivate me to do my best to live up to this curriculum vision while fulfilling their own.

(To see where this blog post coexists, see, click here. See also my blog post here.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Literacy Development - Lemons for Literacy Awareness

I participated in an event on Saturday that promoted literacy awareness that I thought was worth mentioning. Reading Horizons sponsored an event to promote literacy awareness and help raise funds for a new literacy center opening up in Utah valley. Passers-by were invited to donate a few minutes of their time to a good cause by playing an online game called Lemons for Literacy.

Laptops were set up on the grass outside the new literacy center where individuals played the Lemons for Literacy game. To play this game, individuals select the correct definition for a randomly-generated vocabulary word. With each correct answer, or "squeeze" of a lemon, ounces of "lemonade" are produced. For each ounce of lemonade that is earned, Reading Horizons makes a cash donation to a site in need of literacy assistance. The site in focus is a new literacy center called the Superhero Training Center located in Orem, Utah. Free donuts and lemonade were offered to those who stopped by to check out the event.

Individuals who participated in the event were happy to take part in a good cause. They commented on how they enjoyed the "fun" aspect of it--that they didn't know that helping to make a difference could be so much fun. Individuals were encouraged to continue to help by playing the Lemons for Literacy game on their computers at home.

The Superhero Training Center hopes to be able to serve individuals ages pre-school to adult learn literacy skills needed to contribute to a life of life-long learning. To "make lemonade" for the Superhero Training Center, go to

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tricky Words: Usage and Spelling Help

Do any of these sound familiar?

"Which do I use: affect or effect?"
dessert spelled with one s or two?"
"Which is correct:
raise or rise?"

If you can relate to any of the above, then you're not alone. Even though I am an ESOL professional, I admit that I have had my fair share of moments when I have had to think twice before using these words. I found a great resource that I have referred to on occasion to clear up some confusion that I used when teaching writing in American Samoa.

Here are just a few combinations of challenging words, instruction of which would prove helpful in an ESOL classroom, which I've adapted from The Essentials of English: A Writer's Handbook.

Accept is a verb; except is a preposition.
Examples: Please accept my apology.
Everyone except Sam went to the party.

Affect is a verb; effect is a noun.
Examples: Her decision will affect the rest of us.
We hope it will have a positive effect on us.

Use amount with noncount nouns. Use number with count nouns.
Examples: That property is worth a large amount of money.
A large number of investors are anxious to buy it.

Borrow is a verb that means to use something that will be returned later. Lend and loan are both verbs that mean you give someone something that will be returned later. (Loan can also be a noun.)
Examples: May I borrow your book? I will give it back to you tomorrow.
Will you lend me your book?
Will you loan me some money?

A desert is a large area of hot, arid land. A dessert is a sweet treat usually eaten after a meal. (When I was learning the different spellings of these two words, my teacher taught this pneumonic: "You spell dessert with two s's because you want two desserts!"
Examples: My hometown is a desert.
I would like some pie for dessert.

Loose is an adjective that has the opposite meaning of tight. Lose is a verb that means "unable to find," "not have anymore," or "not win."
Examples: My seatbelt feels loose.
I will lose my keys if I don't put them in the same place everyday when I come home.

Passed is the past tense and past participle forms of pass. Past is a preposition or adverb that means "farther/later than." Past is also an adjective or noun meaning "before now."
Examples: I passed the test.
We drove past the scene of the crime this morning.
I have worked for this company for the past 12 years.

Raise (raised) is a transitive verb and always has an object; rise (rose, risen) is an intransitive verb and never has an object.
Examples: If the student does not raise his grades, he will be suspended.
My grandmother raised 10 children.
The sun always rises in the east.

Set is a transitive verb and always has an object. (Set can also be an intransitive verb, as in, "the sun sets in the west.") Sit (sat) is an intrasitive verb and never takes an object.
Examples: Could you help me set the table?
Please set the grocery bags on the table.
Please sit wherever you feel comfortable.

They're is a contraction of they are. There is a word that indicates a place. Their is possessive.
Examples: They're coming at 5:00.
Let's go over there.
My grandparents love their neighborhood.

Reference: Hogue, A. (2003). The Essentials of English: A Writer's Handbook. New York: Pearson Education, Inc.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I'm Back After Literacy Software Development!

I am finally getting back into "blogging mode" after a short hiatus. I have been actively engaged in revamping the curriculum for literacy software I'm helping to develop for my job at Reading Horizons. I am the Curriculum Manager and ESOL Director, which has provided me several opportunities to apply past experience in curriculum development and assessment, as well as increase my skill set in these areas. I will keep you posted on the new release upon its completion. Here are a few of the features that really excite me:
Stay tuned! I am looking forward to steady posting again! I will also be going back and adding some photos to some former posts, so be sure to check back to see those additions as well. :)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Curing Illiteracy With Literacy Programs

Have you ever wanted to help people with illiteracy but not known how to help? I encourage you to visit a great website that has initiated a worthy cause to help cure illiteracy called "Lemons for Literacy"...and it relies on people like you to help make it happen. Here is a little blurb about it found on the Reading Horizons and the Reading Horizons at Home websites:
As the old saying goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”
Over 40 million Americans struggle with literacy problems. People who struggle with reading can be seen as having been given lemons in life. With the support of effective reading instruction, these people can turn their lemons into lemonade.

We want to celebrate and support the resiliency of people who overcome their struggles with reading. Thousands of inspiring people have turned their struggles with reading into strengths.

Lemons for Literacy has two goals:
1. To help cure illiteracy by providing free literacy materials to people in need.
2. To provide free education for everyone.

Visit to help individuals
Visit to help institutions.

Friday, January 2, 2009

What is Grade Level Equivalency?

You may have heard teachers and publishers refer to Grade Level Equivalency (GLE) in context of leveled readers and assessments. Care should be taken to interpret these scores accurately. Something that is important to recognize is that the intended use and definition of GLE is not to prescribe at which grade level students can perform. For example, a sixth grade student's performance at an 8.1 grade level does not necessarily mean that the student is performing at the eighth-grade level. Rather, it signifies that an eighth-grader would score the same as the sixth-grade student had this eighth-grade student taken the sixth-grade test. (Visit this link to learn more.)

There are a variety of measurements used to obtain GLE scores, but it is important to note that each tool provides different GLE scores. To see an example of this in action, visit the StoryToolz website. (See also these online resources: Tests Document Readability and Improve It and Edit Central.) Paste some text into the text box and click "Check Readability." You'll see several different GLE scores appear, as well as an average of the scores. Notice the wide range of scores based on the different tools used.

The solution? Learn the purpose and function of each tool and how each score is derived to decide which tool best meets your objectives. Or, use the average score of the combined tools. Whatever option you choose, just be consistent.

(See also my post on Lexile measures here.)