Ross F. Baldwin Elementary

Great Leaps

greatleaps.jpgWe believe that one of the most important skills your child will learn in first grade is READING FLUENCY. First grade is deemed the “window of opportunity” to prevent long-term reading problems and research has found that children who are reading below grade level by third grade rarely “catch-up” in later grades (Balsiger, The Importance of Early Intervention for Reading Problems). In fact, first grade reading skills have been shown to be a strong predictor of 11th grade reading levels [PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, as cited by Cunningham and Stanovich, Developmental Psychology, Vol 33(6), 1997].

Baldwin’s first grade teachers are committed to reaching every student at this critical stage in their reading development. We believe that fluency, at this juncture, is essential for the beginning reader and one-to-one tutoring, closely aligned with classroom instruction, is an effective strategy for first-graders.


Consider these statistics:

  • When it comes to reading, the nine months of first grade are arguably the most important in a student’s schooling. (Learning First Alliance)

  • Research shows that approximately 75% of students identified with reading problems in the third grade are still reading disabled in the ninth grade. (Journal of Educational Psychology)

  • “(It) has been proven beyond any shade of doubt that skillful readers process virtually each and every word and letter of text as they read. This is extremely counter-intuitive. For sure, skillful readers neither look nor feel as if that’s what they do. But that’s because they do it so quickly and effortlessly.” (Marilyn Adams, Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print)


The goal of Baldwin’s first grade reading program takes non-fluent readers to reading fluency (reading approaching the rate of conversation) as quickly as possible. The GREAT LEAPS reading program incorporates the most current and proven research available on how young readers acquire and master the skills necessary for reading fluency. We believe that consistency has been shown to be the leading indicator of success and short intervals of practice each day is an effective method to building reading fluency. Practice makes perfect. The exercises, which can be accomplished for each student in under 4-5 minutes, are ideally administered each day of the week, but may be effective if the exercises are completed at least three times per week. Tutoring an entire classroom of 1st graders can be accomplished in a little over 90 minutes a day.

Among the most important elements in mastering fluency, we believe the following approaches are effective in teaching reading fluency and define the GREAT LEAPS program:

(1) Letter Recognition & Phonics: All proficient readers rely on deep and ready knowledge of spelling-sound correspondence while reading. Conversely, failure to learn to use spelling/ sound correspondences to read and spell words is shown to be the most frequent and debilitating cause of reading difficulty. Well-sequenced phonics instruction early in first grade reduces the incidence of reading difficulty (Learning First Alliance). (See Example A)

(2) Sight Words & Phrases: Students read from the list of 750 most commonly used words and phrases in conversational English. Children who previously had a high rate of sight word errors made substantive reading score gains when this problem area was adequately remediated (Learning First Alliance). (See Example B)

(3) Stories: GREAT LEAPS uses short stories written at a conversational level that are fun and engaging and don’t require a high level of comprehension skills (greater comprehension skills are gradually emphasized more and more beginning in second and third grades). A National Academy of Sciences report recommends that students should read well-written and engaging texts that include words that children can decipher to give them the chance to apply their emerging skills. It is clear to us that when a student tries to process information and read fluently at the same time, the processing interferes with fluency building. This is one of the reasons that the GREAT LEAPS stories have been written at the conversational level and uses phrases including the 750 words most commonly used in the English language. (See Example C)

Why aren’t pictures provided? The very moment that pictures are inserted into a story, certain decisions have been made which may be at odds with the child’s view of the story. The use of pictures doesn’t necessarily enhance the student’s ability to “picture” what they have been reading and often encourages illogical guessing (Kenneth Campbell, Great Leaps founder).

What does the GREAT LEAPS Reading Program look like? The GREAT LEAPS program is a well-constructed 3-part series of “exercises” in which the student sits next to the tutor and is asked to accurately “read” each page (or letter sound in part one, the word or phrase in part two, or a fun short story in part three).

letter recognition
For example, PART ONE asks the student to identify a page of approximately 48 letters by each phonemic sound the letter makes.







high frequency words
PART TWO asks the student to read a series of one-word “sight words” and increases over time to multiple-words and phrases.







 K-2 Stories

In PART THREE the student is asked to read fun, engaging and often rhyming stories that increase in difficulty as the student progresses.

Accurately mastering each page of the three sections/exercises means the student moves on to slightly more difficult exercises the following day. Each exercise is completed in under 1 minute so students are rarely frustrated or bored. Any errors in the exercises are noted by the tutor on a reporting form and failure to identify the correct sounds or words on the exercises simply means that the next day’s tutor and student begin from the page where errors were noted.

What are some unique benefits of GREAT LEAPS for students and tutors alike?
for the STUDENT

  • Easy, fast and engaging
  • Builds self-esteem and confidence
  • Not boring or time consuming
  • Offers a fun, short break from classwork
  • One-on-one attention by a caring tutor

for the TEACHER

  • Easily observable & measurable student growth
  • Thoroughly researched with evidence-based practices
  • Direct and daily assessment
  • Easy to implement
  • Average gain--2 years per year of intervention


  • Motivatioinal and fun for the tutors
  • Tutors can obtain professional results
  • Students enjoy the program, making turoring rewarding
  • Quick and easy - Tutors observe marked gains by the children
  • Offers a unique opportunity to know and work with child's classmates/friends

Please consider volunteering for this valuable program. Contact our Great Leaps Coordinator for more information.