Consonant Man has 17 costumes, appearing as a trumpeter, football player, carpenter, rock star, librarian, swami, nurse and other characters. The puppet is a part of a troupe that stars in the Sammy and the Magical Reading Chest video series designed for pre-K through second grade and developed by Richards Learning Systems. An adorable sheep named Alice teaches kids to say and write their first vowel sound, short “a.” Aaaaaa! Aaaaa!
When completed, the video series will consist of 77 five-minute episodes. Twenty videos (the first workbook of four) have been completed by Goldfarb Weber Creative Media under the guidance of Creative Director Kyle Stanley. The puppets, reminiscent of a Sesame Street style, as well as animation, make the videos fun for kids to watch. Funding is being sought for the additional videos.
Carole Richards, founder of the nonprofit Creative Education Institute in Solon (affiliated with North Coast Education Services), developed her reading ideas 30 years ago. The goal has always been to present a straightforward and sensible way children learn to read and to offer a methodology for teachers to impart that knowledge. Although the system has helped thousands of children and adults learn to read over the years, Richards wanted a way to bring her innovations to more people. Training a large number of staff “has been exhausting,” says Richards. Also, there is a need for consistency so educators are all taught the same way to teach.
After watching an episode, students become more familiar with each represented letter by using tools (bumpy letter cards, felt boards and sand trays) that they just saw used in the video to reinforce the sound of a letter.
Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon has expressed interest in the program. The goal is to incorporate it in 27 classrooms this fall, either in person or online depending on the COVID-19 restrictions. Parents may also purchase the videos.
“I estimate 80% to 90% of kids in Cleveland are below grade level in reading ability,” says Richards. “People don’t realize what a literacy crisis this is. I have known for decades that the teacher training programs in our nation do not teach teachers a reading methodology. Schools know it, but they can’t afford to retrain entire faculties. I’ve tried to simplify the understanding of teaching phonics to kids. Teachers are overwhelmed by all of the things they have to do. The very short videos teach them how to teach reading at the same time kids are learning to read.”
Richards claims the most difficult part of getting someone to learn to read is “getting them to believe they can do it.” But, she knows her reading systems work. Several years ago, she worked with a 15-year-old boy in eighth grade who was reading at a second-grade level. After two years, he returned to Orange High School reading with a college-level comprehension. Today, that student is a lawyer. In addition, another eighth grader who could not read at all was tutored last summer and now can boast a sixth-grade reading ability.