By Sam P.K. Collins

Teacher Jewel Cauley has made it her business to ensure that her students can properly recognize and pronounce unfamiliar words they encounter while reading. 

For several months, Cauley sat with her second graders on a colorful carpet at the front of her spacious classroom at Stanton Elementary School in Southeast, where they would break down multisyllabic words, decipher the sounds made by various letter combinations, and discuss the similarities and differences in vowel and consonant sounds. 

A sound-to-print wall, chock full of visuals that show the unique movement of lips and tongues for certain sounds, is an additional resource for boosting students’ reading fluency. 

For Cauley, a Southeast native and alumna of Anacostia High School, this endeavor became even more critical upon realizing, during recent professional development sessions, that her students spoke with a distinct hometown dialect that made it difficult to recognize words as they’re traditionally pronounced.  

That’s why Cauley’s instruction, as she describes it, strikes a balance between embracing the uniqueness of the D.C. dialect and incorporating the “Science of Reading” research disseminated during reading clinics hosted by D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) Office of Teaching and Learning. 

“When I went in depth with reading and phonetic awareness, I realized that I have to study what it takes to know different sounds,” Cauley said. 

“It just inspired me to bring the research to the classroom, telling students the correct way to say things,” she added. “The sound-to-print wall helped us with our word formation. During my D.C. reading clinic class, I looked at the pictures and sounds.” 

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