Am I Teaching Riggs? (How Not to Change the Riggs Program)

Last week I worked with a school founder whose teachers had received their Riggs training from an unauthorized Riggs trainer. This founder was now worried that her school might be out of compliance with its charter because of the changes her teachers had made to the Riggs program.
“We didn’t realize that our teachers did not attend a Riggs-approved training,” she said, “so it didn’t occur to us that some of these suggested ‘improvements’ to the Riggs program might actually contradict or conflict with some of the Institute’s essential components. Yikes! Can you get our staff on track?”
I told her that her teachers could easily get on track by following a few simple suggestions:
DISREGARD any instructions and materials that don’t come from a Riggs certified trainer.
Riggs certified trainers will always tell teachers to use only the instructional materials in the Riggs Institute’s catalog. Additional materials are neither required nor helpful.
REJECT the suggestion to replace the first nineteen Riggs lessons with other lessons. Whether these other lessons come from a “supplemental” literacy program or from somewhere else, they should be rejected. Since the first lessons in the Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking (WSRRT) were carefully designed to be a critical part of the Riggs Institute’s highly-effective program, they should NOT be replaced for any reason whatsoever.
In the first nineteen Riggs lessons, your students will develop visual, auditory, verbal, and motor meta-cognition through the use of brain-based, multi-sensory, direct, and Socratic instruction. (See page 51 in WSRRT.) Neurologically-sound and linguistically-correct cognitive sub skill development takes place through the process of learning and being tested on the first 55 phonograms and basic letter formation. These nineteen lessons should be taught exactly as written to any K-12 student who is learning this program for the first time, and they should taught using only Riggs Institute materials. The lessons are not optional; they prepare the ground for everything that happens next.
DISREGARD any direction to use “activity sheets” or workbooks for teaching (or practicing) penmanship, phonics, or spelling skills. The WSRRT does not use activity sheets or workbooks.
REJECT the suggestion to include “basic code” lessons. These are not a part of the Riggs program,  they conflict with its methodology, and they do not encourage children to think critically during the spelling process.
Since many English letters have multiple sound options, Riggs’ spelling and reading lessons, which begin at Lesson 20, will help your students understand this. The lessons will never use invented words or controlled lists of words (see pages 131-142, WSRRT). They will train your students to think critically about possible spelling patterns.
DISREGARD any direction to teach nonsense words.
Riggs’ WSRRT does not use nonsense words. It teaches students to read with real words, and it teaches them that words are the signs of ideas (not the signs of nonsense). Your beginning readers should always expect words to make sense. You do not need to worry about their ability to score well on the Dibels test. Well-taught Riggs students have absolutely no trouble with the Dibels test.
REJECT any suggestion to use templates to make Riggs notebooks.
Do not be misled into believing that the use of such templates is acceptable. WSRRT lessons have
K-1 teachers create wall charts to illustrate all of the concepts that are being practiced to mastery, and they have teachers of older students teach children how to follow explicit oral instructions to create their own reference charts in Riggs’ recommended composition notebooks. Since the making of these reference charts is critical to the learning process, these activities should not be omitted.
DISREGARD the suggestion to use decodable texts for beginning reading instruction.
The WSRRT teaches a complete phonetic system which makes virtually all literature decodable, and your students should do their first in-context reading from their own written sentences. (See page 181, WSRRT.) You will also begin to dictate sentences during this lesson (using words that the students can spell and read), and you will continue to dictate sentences on a daily basis (using spelling words). Your students will do their first reading practice with all of these sentences.
By the time your students have mastered lesson 47 (two weeks after sentence writing begins), they will have written many correctly-spelled sentences, which they will use for their first reading practice. They will now begin reading well-loved emergent reader texts such as Green Eggs and Ham, Go Dog Go, and Are You My Mother (see page 210, WSRRT).
By the time they finish practicing with these old favorites, your students will be ready to read classic children’s literature like Little Bear and Frog and Toad. By the time they finish the lessons in WSRRT (Level I), they will be able to read virtually any classic children's story. The Riggs Institute’s WSRRT specifically recommends against the use of decodable texts (see page 210, WSRRT). Your students should read real books, not decodable texts.
You do not need to purchase any additional materials; you do not need to follow any directions that are not contained in the Riggs Institute’s materials. Start studying the WSRRT (Level I), paying special attention to the Skills and Performance Checklists in this text (see page 97 in WSRRT for the first checklist). These Skills and Performance checklists will help you get on track and stay on track.
REMEMBER that the Riggs Institute will gladly do a Riggs approved training at your school.
While waiting, you can begin to retrain yourself by carefully studying the WSRRT and by following all of its directions. (Many teachers train themselves in this way.) If you will also pretend to be Riggs students while you are studying—if you will take the time to do all of the lessons and create the same notebook (both parts) that your students will be creating—this will help too. (I highly recommend this kind of intensive study. It was a huge help to me.) Also, if you have any questions or concerns about how to teach Riggs correctly, you should call Riggs. They are always ready to help.
You do not need to alter or supplement the Riggs Institute’s materials or suggestions. Teachers have repeatedly proven that the Riggs Institute’s program works beautifully as written.
For specific information about how to know that you are teaching Riggs with fidelity, see my "Helping Riggs Schools Get Back on Track" post. It will show you how to use checklists that were designed for this purpose.


Amen. This definitely gets to the heart of the matter. Much damage has been done to the Riggs reputation by individuals continually trying to put their "mark" on it. The basic methodology isn't broken, so why "fix it"?

Submitted by Jennifer Garza (not verified) on Mon, 06/20/2016 - 08:58

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