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Ask an Aspiring Expert

Julie A. Quackenbush

Viterbo University

EDUC 600 Ethical Issues in School and Society


Ask an Aspiring Expert

“Good citizenship” often means “listening to authority figures, dressing neatly, being

nice neighbors, and helping out at a soup kitchen”. (Westheimer, 2015 p37) But when it comes

to citizenship in education, this is not quite on the mark. It isn’t quite the idea. There are

different views as to what constitutes good citizenship when it comes to education. In my

classroom we work toward being what Westheimer calls a “personally responsible citizen”

(Westheimer, 2015 p38). The personally responsible citizen may” pay taxes, obey laws, and

help those in need” (Westheimer, 2015). “Programs that seek to develop personally responsible

citizens hope to build character and personal responsibility by emphasizing honesty, integrity,

self-discipline, and hard work” (Westheimer, 2015 p40)

Our school teaches students to be “safe, responsible, and respectful”, in class, and in the

building. I teach students with special needs. In my classroom we work on concepts of Honesty,

Compassion, Respect, Responsibility, and Courage. The ways in which I do this deal with

teaching both the Zones of Regulation by Leah Kuypers and through expanding knowledge of

reading using the Wilson Reading system.

Learning to be an Expert

This year our school began to trial the Wilson Reading System with struggling students

as an intervention. The program is an intensive reading system that consists of a series of steps

to be taught in a certain order. Basically it breaks down reading into letter sounds, followed by

word patterns, chunks, blends, etc… Slowly it progresses back up to sentence and paragraph

reading and writing. The lessons are taught in a systematic order. Initial sounds and blends are

introduced. Students are taught to spell both real and nonsense words in an effort to understand

the fundamental patterns.


We have a group of ‘Wilson expert’ teachers on a panel whom meet regularly to help

each other understand the program and to discuss how lessons are going. We also share

resources and lesson plans on a share drive on Google. In an article by McTighe Musil written

in 2009 it stated, that having a source of innovation and creativity that also promises to

reinvigorate our nation’ s civic imagination and habits is essential in the classroom. While we try

not only to teach the Wilson lesson in this class but help students to see they have a place in our

school society by discussing “life skills” along with these lessons. We incorporate personal

responsibility. In our focus groups with the Wilson Reading System we took the bottom ranking

students in each grade starting with second through fourth grade and pulled them to what we call

Panther Time Groups. Each of these groups meets daily for roughly 40-50 minutes depending on

the day. They receive small group instruction using the Wilson lessons.

The Westheimer, J. (2015) concepts dealing with honesty, compassion, respect,

responsibility, and courage are interwoven in this instructional time. Students have a set of

materials they are required to get on their own. The initial part of the lesson also is an individual

skill practice. Six months into the school year, students can now take their materials out and

begin the work. However, it did take several months to get to this point. The first two months of

school were focused on pretesting, divining into appropriate groups and teaching the

foundational skills of the lessons. As a focus group we would meet and discuss how to do this.

Slowly we built up to incorporating elements of the lessons. It wasn’t until after Christmas break

that as a building we had a good system of instruction in place and that students were

understanding the concepts. I believe next year, it will not take as long, as we are understating

the fundamental concepts of each lesson.

Getting to the Lesson


In the Wilson System there are twelve steps that teach reading fundamentals. Interwoven

within each of those are 52 substeps which each build off of the skills taught in the previous

lesson. Each day I instruct I teach a 10 part lesson plan. To understand what skill we do in what

order students are given what is referred to as a game board. It is a list of each of the 10 steps. I

also give each student a little plastic tile as a “game piece” to be moved along as they progress

through the lesson.

The lesson and game board follow my instruction for the day. The lesson progresses as


 Decoding practice

 Morphology (the study of forming words)

 Word elements (chunks, blends, etc…)

 Encoding

 Orthography

 High Frequency words

 Oral reading fluency

 Vocabulary

 Comprehension

I instruct my students by pulling out magnetic tiles with vowels and consonants. We repeat them

and say each one making certain of the sounds. Then we move on to discussing chunks and

blends. I teach what words go together, how they sounds, etc… We practice building both real

words and nonsense words. Then students take turns leading the lesson and instructing each

other with what we discussed for the day. There is a leader of the day and they show their skills.

Students were apprehensive to do this at first, but it is now going really well. In general, my

fourth graders have a pretty good understanding of the whether they behave honestly, and

compassionately. I think by having them take ownership of the lesson and instruct their peers

they are learning to be more compassionate and understanding of their peers in the group. They

learn it is difficult to talk in front of their peers and have them follow their lead. I love seeing the

growth and progression in them.

Once we reach the end of all of the steps for a lesson, the students get to test out. It they

do test out of it then they move on to the next step. If not, we go back into the step and start

again or expand. We move at their pace.

One struggle I have found with this system is that while I may only have two groups of

three students whom use the system, there may be one in the group whom does not understand

the concepts. Yet, I have to either move the entire group along or have them remain back. In an

ideal situation, I could have the students’ progress on their own at their own pace. However, the

lessons are very interactive and require a group progression. I believe lessons could be adapted

to individuals, however I do not currently have that luxury.

The students in this class are also all currently in a social skills group I teach. So, I try to

interweave aspects of personally responsibility in the lesson. Lev Vygotsky discussed the zones

of Proximal Development of ZPD. Within this zone is where the fundamental progression of

development and learning occur (Vygotsky, 1978). Within the right environment a ZPD can be

created for any skill, if addressed properly. In this zone an “expert”, such as a teacher, expert or

a capable peer provides help, support or assistance to another peer. In essence learning in the

ZPD occurs by reaching a certain level of developmental of unassisted performance which is an

importance in understanding approaches to education are gained through experience. In 1956,


Vygotsky stated that good teaching occurs only when it "awakens and rouses to life those

functions which are in a stage of maturing, which lie in the zone of proximal development”.

By giving students the ability to teach mini lessons, they take an ownership and a vested interest

in the learning. They are fostering their own ability to regulate themselves. They are also taking

action and playing an active role in their learning. They are being respectful of each other and

are being more attentive. The Wilson lesson with it multimodality of learning concepts through

tapping, rhyming, matching, writing, repeating, and reading allows for flexibility and

engagement. I think it is important that teachers show students how they can plan an active part

in their learning, but also how they incorporate self-regulation skills and responsibilities and

incorporate aspect of each within their lessons.



Hopkins, G. (2017, September 18). Teaching Good Citizenship's Five Themes. Retrieved from

McTighe Musil, C. (2009). Educating Students for Personal and Social Responsibility: The Civic

Learning Spiral. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from


bwe/TempState/Downloads/Educating Students for Personal and Social

Responsibility_31 (1).pdf

From: Civic Engagement in Higher Education: Concepts and Practices by Barbara Jacoby

and Associates. Copyright © 2009 by John Wiley and Sons.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1956). Izbrannie psibhologicheskie issledovania [Selected psychological

research]. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Akademii Pedagogicheskikh Nauk.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological. Cambridge,

MA: Harvard University Press.

Westheimer, J. (2015). What kind of citizen? : educating our children for the common good.

New York: Teachers College Press.©