• Joanne Jacobs

'Sounds first' works in Tennessee


Kindergarten ELL students learn hand motions for the /qu/ diagraph in Candace Reed’s class at Byars Dowdy Elementary in Lebanon, Tennessee. Photo: Knowledge Matters Campaign

The Knowledge Matters Campaign's new web site highlights teachers and schools that use "knowledge-building curricula" to develop children's reading comprehension and critical thinking.


A Tennessee school that adopted a "sounds-first" reading curriculum saw fast progress for immigrant students, writes teacher Candace Reed in The 74.


"We had a reading curriculum, with weekly stories that taught vocabulary and reading skills such as the main idea and drawing conclusions," she recalls. "But there wasn’t a phonics component," and students were reaching third grade without being able to read.

In 2021, the district adopted the Amplify Knowledge Language Arts K-2 curriculum, which included phonics and knowledge building, Reed writes. In addition, teachers started to use the Tennessee Sounds First Curriculum Supplement.

I have nine English language learners in my kindergarten group. . . . By late September, some of my students were blending and writing consonant-vowel-consonant words, something that usually takes months . . .
In mid-November, a new student joined our group. He had just moved from Mexico and didn’t know any English. As of this April, I am proud to say, he is reading and writing words with blends and digraphs, and he knows all of his letter sounds.

Reed had never seen students progress so quickly in her 16 years of teaching. The key, she writes is "systematic and explicit" teaching with high-quality curriculum.

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