Helping Teachers Help ALL Kids Learn to Read

In my last blog, I talked about how hundreds of thousands of children either cannot read well or cannot read with meaningful comprehension due to reading challenges, such as dyslexia. Tragically, a staggering 66% of students fail to reach grade proficiency in reading by the 4th grade. And as I’ve discussed before in an article called The Precious Gift of Reading, once kids miss the window on learning to read, their ability to read to learn is severely compromised.

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But there’s good news. I recently interviewed Sinclair Sherrill of Boon Philanthropy on my CBA Radio Show and he was joined by Peggy Price of the Stern Center for Language and Learning where she explained what explicit, multi-sensory literacy instruction is and how children benefit from it. Teachers that receive training in explicit, multi-sensory literacy instruction are helping to turn the tide on the tragic statistic mentioned above. The US education system generally fails to provide teachers training in explicit, multi-sensory instruction—and teachers can’t teach what they don’t know. But there’s an organization called Boon Philanthropy that’s working hard on a national level to make explicit, multi-sensory literacy instruction training available for teachers of grades 1-12. And here’s where you, dear readers, can make a real difference!
In addition to the radio show interview, Sinclair has also graciously agreed to be interviewed for this blog about his work with Boon Philanthropy and the need for ongoing support so they can continue to provide this important training for teachers.

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Don: What can you tell us about Boon Philanthropy and your organization’s goals?

Sinclair: Since the education system generally fails to provide training in explicit, multi-sensory literacy instruction, teachers go without. It isn’t taught to them in college or graduate schools of education or funded and offered in professional, on-the-job training. So if dedicated teachers want the training, they have to pay their own tuition. This is the case even though our government spends $13 billion per year on professional learning inside the education system.

At Boon we know from our work with our designated grantee trainers that scholarships for teachers that want to learn explicit, multi-sensory literacy instruction methods will help them achieve their goals. Teachers want this training and the kids deserve this type of instruction. As an example of teacher interest in reading success, ReadWorks, an education non-profit, provides 1.2 million public school teachers with free, online reading comprehension materials, because they want to see their students read at grade proficiency.

Only 10% of our nation’s schools of education provide this training to student teachers, and it isn’t part of a teacher’s certification examinations. This is why teachers lack the tools required to get most students to grade level reading. There is no reason the education system couldn’t provide the training, but there has been a longstanding disconnect between scientific research on reading and the brain, and how reading is actually taught. The bias runs deep, and the next generation of kids don’t deserve to suffer from this inability of the education system to respond.

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To acquire the training, a student or practicing teacher must attend courses outside the education system, which are offered by independent nonprofits. Boon’s designated grantee training allies are International Multi-sensory Structured Language Educational Council (IMSLEC), Academic Language Therapy Association (ALTA), Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators (AOGPE), and Wilson Language, nonprofit partners. These primary training organizations are our designated grantee trainers and they operate in 17 states. It is their responsibility to distribute their share of the funding in their organizations, and be certain the training is effectively completed. You can learn more from our website

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Don: Tell us about the training?

Sinclair: Don, please keep in mind I am a funder and not an expert. Professional learning in the education system is often criticized for a lack of quality, particularly when it comes to applying the training. The organizations Boon is associated with are the best in the business, and the experiential part of their professional learning is significant. Each of our designated grantee training organizations have slightly different schedules and requirements, but each offers an introductory course, which then opens up the opportunity for a teacher to train further in one-year increments.

Teacher helping child to read smallFrom start to finish, the training can be expensive and time consuming, as it requires extensive coursework and eventually hundreds of hours of practicum, (which is hands-on supervised teaching experience with children.) A teacher in training can’t skip a step, and it typically starts with a 30-hour introductory course which leads to the first year of training and practicum experience. To become a certified teacher trainer, (which our nation desperately needs more of) can take 4-6 years of course work and teaching.

If you are already teaching, it takes real motivation—something all teachers demonstrate every day.

That is why Boon plans to fund a pipeline of training that offers scholarships to as
many teachers as possible to start, and then encourage them to move toward the ultimate goal of being teacher trainers. The long term success for Boon requires us to perpetually fund teacher training that leads to certified teacher trainers. These special legacy teacher trainers and teachers will insure that American students become successful readers.

Don: How can teachers get the training?

Sinclair: Well, Don, we are just getting started, but teachers can make their interest known to Boon and our designated grantee trainers, IMSLEC, ALTA, Academy of OG, and to Wilson nonprofit partners through Wilson Language. Information and directories are on our website, but the headquarters of each organization will be responsible for disbursing training dollars and providing their expert training.

Don: How can people support your organization?

Sinclair: Boon’s mission is to raise funds and make grants every year to explicit, multi-sensory literacy training in perpetuity (forever) because the need is always going to be there. Our funding model is best described as a pyramid, with our core-funders contributing 5-6 figure gifts to encourage average donors from the bottom up to contribute. We need to grow to a become a multi-million dollar funder to train these worthy teachers.

We are planning to establish a matching fund at Boon from our core-funders. It will provide a dollar match for every dollar contributed up to $1000 size gift. Then we will distribute all the accumulated funds entirely to our designated grantee training organizations. We are getting organized to receive gifts made online via credit or debit card or PayPal. Checks can be sent to us as well. We stipulate that we would like to know our donors and let them know firsthand how grateful we are.

About Sinclair Sherrill:
In 2016 Sinclair partnered with Sebastian Scripps to create Boon—a start-up, nonprofit which raises funds and makes innovative grants IMG_1254to professional learning programs in education. Their aim is to increase the number of teachers in grades 1-12 trained in explicit, multi-sensory literacy instruction methods through their Orton National Teacher Scholarships. Since explicit, multi-sensory literacy instruction is generally unavailable through the education system, this training will help insure more learners read at their grade level by graduation.

Back in 2010, Boon began its targeted research on education. The research started in the learning differences field and it expanded to include general education. Today, Boon primarily focuses on professional learning in literacy instruction, and is setting up its first dollar-for-dollar matching fund to support Orton National Scholarships.

Mr. Sherrill has been a family foundation director and fund-raiser for thirty years, and received his BA from Harvard University and his JD from Seattle University School of Law.