How Not to Miss That Which is Most Important

We have a reputation for helping teachers and parents, so the Riggs Institute’s phones are often ringing. Sometimes we hear the same questions.

One of our most frequent calls comes soon after a parent or teacher has purchased McCulloch’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking (Level I) and has begun to study it. Suddenly, many people feel overwhelmed.

“What if I miss something critical,” the ask. “What if I forget to do something that matters?”

Who can blame them for asking? And who can blame them for being nervous? This program can seem intimidating. The Teacher’s Edition is huge, and it contains so many different things that need to be taught to beginning readers, much of which is brand new information to many of our callers--it’s subject matter that has not been regularly taught to school children for the past few generations.

As a previous classroom teacher and as a current trainer for the Riggs Institute, I’ve taken many of these calls, and I have answered similar questions during Riggs workshops and training seminars, so I usually know how to help. (By the way, never hesitate to call the Riggs Institute when you are stuck. There’s always someone on the other end of the line to help you.)

I usually begin by asking the caller to open the book to the tab sheet for Lessons 1-8; I show her how Myrna McCulloch has placed the student skill objectives here for easy reference, and I explain to her that there is a similar set of student objectives for every ten lessons in the book. After we look at the tab sheets, I show my caller how Myrna McCulloch has put a Skills and Performance Checklist immediately after lessons 1-8 (see pages 121-123), and I explain that there are checklists immediately after every ten lessons in the book, and that they have been put there for her use. These checklists are very  detailed; McCulloch’s intention was to guide teachers along the way, helping them to remember to teach those things that are most important.

For example, the following questions (and 50 or so more) are on the first Skills and Performance Checklist, which can be found on pages 97-99 in the Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking (Level 1). These are some of McCulloch’s 50+ important things to do in Lessons 1-8:

  • Did I remember to do placement testing?
  • Do my students listen to my instructions?
  • Do my students maintain proper seating posture?
  • Have my students learned to hold their pencils correctly?
  • Do they start their clock letters at ‘2 on the clock’?
  • Do they participate in reading the phonograms with their classmates?
  • Do they participate in writing the phonograms with their classmates?
  • Do they write and spell 26 graphemes accurately during practice?

Further along in the text, on the checklist for Lessons 20-30 (pages 121-123), McCulloch has included questions such as:

  • Have I remembered to go back to the previous checklist, scoring myself again in areas of deficiencies?
  • Have I remembered to pay careful attention to insure that all students are sounding, encoding (spelling), recoding (dictating the sounds back), and decoding (blending and reading) each new spelling word?
  • Have I remembered to test my students daily on both phonograms and spelling words while maintaining careful records of their progress toward mastery?
  • Have I remember to have my students record c and g rules and record vowel illustration words?

After Lesson 60 (pages 230-231), we find the following items (and many more) on our checklist:

  • Are my students understanding the difference between common and proper nouns, and how to make them plural?
  • Are my students able to change nouns into pronouns and use them correctly in their daily sentences?
  • Are my students beginning to understand and use rules 3, 4, 5, 14, 15, 16, 17, 20, 29, 37, 38, 39, 40, and 41?
  • Do my students keep their notebooks, spelling and phonogram tests, and daily sentences neat and readable?
  • Do they use /ed/ when changing the tense of a word?

And after Lesson 150 (we are nearing the end of the year now--see page 332-333), McCulloch’s list includes:

  • Are my students using the various spellings of the sound /sh/ correctly in their written work?
  • Do they write detailed sentences and compositions with the skills they have been taught?
  • Do my students understand that what we hear is not always what we write? We need to think to spell?
  • Are my students thinking to spell?
  • Do they answer most of their own questions by checking their notebooks or wall charts?

As you can see, the questions are thorough so that everyone can be sure that nothing of importance is being missed. By the time we finish talking, my caller has learned that Myrna McCulloch went to a huge amount of trouble to help her fellow teachers stay focused on what is most important:

  • Before each set of lessons, she has put a tab sheet listing the key concepts and skills that are to be to be taught in the upcoming lessons.

  • After each set of lessons (and immediately before the next tab sheet), she has created a highly-detailed and comprehensive Skills and Performance Checklist to help teachers know that their lessons have been well-taught.

Before we say goodbye, I tell my caller that parents and teachers who are determined to become masters of this method usually choose to:

  1. Check the tab sheet before teaching each new set of lessons.
  2. Preview the Skills and Performance Checklist before teaching each set of lessons.
  3. Fill out the Skills and Performance Checklist after teaching the lessons.

When teachers understand that these checklists are tools that were created by Myrna McCulloch to help others in the same way that she was once helped by Oma Riggs, they become certain that the lists contain detailed descriptions of what is to be taught, practiced, and mastered. Instead of having to depend on their own understanding of what is important, they can use the Riggs checklists to be sure that the most important things are being well-taught.

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