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Closing the Book on The Science of Reading

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  • Corey Womack
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Seven content experts.

Teaching 14 courses.

Provided to more than 64,000 users across the state of Arkansas.

I started working at ArkansasIDEAS in October of 2017.  After a week, or so, of training and orientation, I was handed a copy of Act 1063 from the 2017 meeting of the Arkansas legislature.

The Right to Read Act, as we came to know it, required all licensed elementary and special education teachers in the state of Arkansas to demonstrate proficiency in “The Science of Reading” by the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.

Secondly, the act declared all other licensed educators (secondary and content teachers), to demonstrate awareness of the tenets of “The Science of Reading” by the same date.

As a video producer – I didn’t know what any of that meant.

I did know I was in a new job and had just been given the task of creating 18 hours of content (almost a full season of television!), working with a crew I had mostly never met and using equipment I was not familiar with.

The magnitude of the task was overwhelming.

However, as is always true in education and government: the deadline waits for no man.

A Foundation of Content Experts

Despite the fact that Johnny Key introduces the learning path in the first course, our first production was the filming of courses two, four and five with Dr. Wendy Farone at the Hillary Clinton Children’s Library.

Before this shoot, I wasn’t particularly clear on the relationship between ArkansasIDEAS and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).  The minute Dr. Farone dove into her first presentation, I knew we were on course for a great program.

The literacy experts at DESE had worked closely with Dr. Farone to ensure her hours provided the broad-stroke, foundational information to get every teacher on the same page of where literacy education had been over the last few decades.

After completing courses with Dr. Farone and Dr. Kenneth Pugh – a neurologist who provided in-depth insight into how our brains approach language — the courses began their release in the summer of 2018.

Again, the scope of what we were trying to accomplish was heavy on my shoulders.

Seldom – outside of long-form television – do you begin releasing projects before at least filming them in their entirety.  As with anything creative, you risk reaching the end of a learning path and realizing there was something lacking in the beginning courses.

ArkansasIDEAS and DESE were taking a risk rolling out Science of Reading hours, before the entire pathway had been filmed.

I was a nervous wreck …

ArkansasIDEAS and Responsive Instructional Design

What I didn’t see coming was the influence Arkansas teachers had over the content we created at ArkansasIDEAS.  I was producing The Science of Reading to meet the requirements of a law.  I had not considered my production might adapt to better fit what the teachers of Arkansas needed.

But that is exactly what we were able to do.

As teachers took the first five courses of the learning path in the summer of 2018, they began to pass their assessments and give us feedback on how that path was taking shape.

The teachers knew the foundation provided by Drs. Farone and Pugh was incredibly helpful – however, it didn’t provide in-classroom examples of the methods and teaching tools that might help our teachers on a daily basis.

And, so, DESE came in with their next experts: Stacy Mahurin, Dr.David Kilpatrick, William Van Cleave and Joan Sedita.  These experts came from the classroom and were prepared to share the real-world methods our teachers wanted.

I spent the next year-and-a-half working with these experts to produce the final nine hours of the learning path, chock-full of examples to address reading issues in kindergarten craft time, as well as in senior-level shop class.

By the summer of 2019, my blood pressure was beginning to settle.  I had found a team who was passionate about their mission and had honed their techniques to best help their audience.

The Science of Reading: Only in Arkansas

And, so, here we are a little over two years later. The final Science of Reading course is now live on ArkansasIDEAS.org.

Over the last two years, I have visited and filmed in almost 10 beautiful public libraries across the state and have captured twice as many passionate teachers leading ground-breaking literacy instruction in Arkansas schools of all sizes.

We have worked with animators and composers to better tell the story of The Science of Reading, and our work is beginning to be recognized not just in Arkansas  but across the U.S. as a prime example of the future of literacy instruction in our country.

Even with it being finished, I am still overwhelmed.

I am overwhelmed by the passion I see in my coworkers both at ArkansasIDEAS and DESE: a passion for making a better state and a better future for the children of Arkansas.

I am overwhelmed by the support we receive, not just from our state legislators, but from the classroom teachers and parents, too!

I am overwhelmed by the eagerness of industry professionals and content experts to travel across the country and help us in our mission of providing a better education for our children.

But, more than anything, I am overwhelmed when I consider the lasting, positive impact The Science of Reading will have on the future of my home and by the pride I feel in playing even a small part in that.

Arkansas PBS Television Producer Corey Womack is a Northeast Arkansas native who has written for film, television and advertising across the country. While at Arkansas PBS, Corey has led production on projects including “The Science of Reading” and “Once Upon a Time in Arkansas.”