How I Started the Science of Reading—What I Should Have Learned In College Facebook Group, and Why Teachers Need It
by Donna Hejtmanek on January 20, 2021
In my role as legislative chair for the International Dyslexia Association® (IDA) Wisconsin branch, I spent summer 2019 traveling to my state’s capital to testify in favor of passing dyslexia legislation.
That summer, our group had drafted seven dyslexia related bills, four of which were given hearings. I remember at one hearing announcing to the legislators that I was going to write a book, Science of Reading—What I Should Have Learned in College. As a retired educator of 41 years, I have personally experienced the weaknesses in teacher preparation that do not follow the science of reading, and I have seen the impact on the students we teach.
On August 14, 2019, I was on Facebook looking at my personal account. I noticed at the top of the page an icon about groups. I clicked it and discovered Facebook has “groups” and “pages” that can be easily created. Who knew? I thought this might be a great way to get the attention of teachers and convey the idea that the teaching of reading is not only an “art” but also a science.
That day, I created the Facebook group, Science of Reading—What I Should Have Learned in College, invited all of my teacher friends and began posting about reading instruction, based on the more than 40 years of brain research in educational psychology and cognitive neuroscience.
To my surprise, the group quickly gained members and I posted information daily, to share knowledge about the science. I posted to other related groups such as reading specialists, speech pathologists, school psychologists, and parent groups to gain their attention. I wanted everyone related to education to learn about the science of reading. A few months after we started, we became a social learning Facebook group, which means we are able to archive posts into units and keep files of documents people have shared.
In spring 2020, with some urging from a Science of Reading member, we began our first online book study, Equipped for Reading Success (EFRS). I reached out to the author, Dr. David Kilpatrick, and he agreed to host the first of our Zoom sessions. We created another Facebook group just for EFRS, which now has 5,000 plus members.
In September 2020, we launched the Fundamentals of Literacy Instruction and Assessment 10-week, Zoom-based book study which had nearly 300 participants.
For our one-year anniversary, I contacted Dr. Hollis Scarborough, creator of the Reading Rope, and she graciously agreed to participate in a Q&A session for our membership. It was an event that I will never forget. We continue to seek and host trainings for our membership from the top names in the field.
Growth of this Facebook group has been exceptional and has spawned other related groups.
Dr. Stephanie Stollar created Teaching Reading Rocket Scientists, a group for university faculty who know and implement the science of reading and are interested in training future teachers.
Brent Conway, Ernesto Ortiz, and Sharon Duncan, all administrators, started the Science of Reading for School Administrators—What Teachers Want You to Know group.
Yet another group, The Science of Reading—Kindergarten/First Grade Discussion Group, was started by Courtney Niblec.
David Pelc, an interventionist in Michigan, launched Michigan’s Science of Reading—What I Should Have Learned in College. And, several other states have followed suit. Finally, I recently launched Science of Reading Hub for Professional Development, a group to promote and advertise any science of reading-related trainings.
What I have learned in the past 16 months is teachers are hungry for knowledge and training in the science of reading. Most days, I read testimonials from teachers and parents about how the lack of knowledge about the science has impacted them professionally or personally.
One often-asked question is: Where do I start? Teacher training about the science is critical. Having personally completed LETRS® training several years ago, I know the impact it can have on a teacher’s understanding of the processes involved in reading and spelling. Teacher knowledge and training is the foundation to effective practice.
Teachers are the most caring and hardworking individuals I know. When they are unable to help their students learn to read, they become frustrated. Likewise, parents who don’t have the knowledge to help their children, feel helpless and hopeless. It is not their fault they don’t have the tools to help their student or child. It is just that they have not been taught the science behind how the brain learns to read.
In October 2020, the Science of Reading—What I Should Have Learned in College Facebook page reached 50,000 members and continues to grow at a rate of about 1,000 members per week. Many, if not most of these new members, are new to the science of reading. Our mission is to continue to share with the membership opportunities to learn how the science can be implemented at home or in their classrooms.
In 2021 and beyond, it is our hope to raise money through campaigns to fund teacher training scholarships. It also is our hope to bridge the gap and make colleges and universities aware of the need to teach preservice teachers the science of reading.
I want to thank all of the moderators who give their time and expertise to help monitor the group. We are a team that deeply cares about the teachers and parents we advise. The power of social media is tremendous, and it can change lives. Here is a recent member post:
I believe that this is a safe space where I can express my feelings.
I am a fan of this page and religiously read all the threads when I have time to spare.
I have been slowly realizing that my knowledge in this area is limited.
I was somewhat afraid to admit this, but I want to learn so much more.
I have reached out to online schools offering courses in this area, but it is on the costly side.
Sadly, what I was taught while doing my degree does not align to
Science of Reading—What I Should Have Learned in College.
I look forward to the future and growth of this amazing group. We ARE helping change lives. Thank you.
Donna Hejtmanek retired after 41 years of teaching special education and serving as a reading specialist/ interventionist. She has served as president of the Literacy Task Force of Northern Wisconsin, was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker in 2014 to Wisconsin’s Read to Lead Literacy Council and served on The Legislative Council Study Committee on the Identification and Management of Dyslexia in 2018. This resulted in Wisconsin’s first dyslexia bill, Act 86, signed into legislation in 2019. Hejtmanek was awarded the Herb Kohl Teacher Fellowship Award in 2016. She currently serves as legislative chair for the International Dyslexia Association Wisconsin branch. Now, in her third year of retirement, she spends her days creating professional development opportunities for teachers and administers her Facebook group, Science of Reading—What I Should Have Learned in College.