WESTERN PLAINS, MONTH – For a time, Shane Baker, a semi-retired Ozarks-born teacher, reading expert, program director, and school consultant, recognized the need for additional phonics instruction in second, third, and fourth grades. When the pandemic first crippled people’s ability to move around and interact with family and friends, Shane enlisted his friend and future business partner David Smith, an editor and graphic designer, to create a new tool for easy phonics practice in the classroom. Together they enrolled in classes at the Ozarks Small Business Incubator (OzSBI) and with the help of OzSBI’s mentors and business classes, they achieved their dream of improving student reading. by creating Phonics Companion.
Their first step was to write and illustrate over 100 original stories emphasizing various digraphs, diphthongs, trigraphs, three-letter mixtures, etc. Both David and Shane have written stories and shared their work over the phone and online, giving each other feedback and encouragement while perfecting the stories and format. History topics include a wide variety of topics, including work experiences, cultural celebrations, friendships, vacations, and even space travel. Their stories were well researched to ensure they were accurate and factual.
The team has expanded the project multiple times to give teachers more options, including easy and advanced vocabulary lists, vocabulary quizzes, and cloze reading exercises, which is a teaching strategy that uses passages of text with missing words. The learner inserts the missing words using context clues and constructs the meaning from the text. Phonics Companion lessons are designed to be flexible enough to be used with a whole class, in small groups, or even by students at home.
To make sure the lessons would work in the classroom, Baker asked teachers from the Glenwood, Alton and Howell Valley school districts to pilot the program with their elementary students. This real-life test of phonics lessons gave the team great insight into how to improve student learning and make lessons easier for the teacher to use. As a wonderful addition to the phonics lessons, Baker and Smith have created individual take-along readers for each story so students can create a library at home where they can continue reading and practicing their phonics skills. These two entrepreneurs are a perfect example of what can be accomplished when people take an unexpected holiday and put it to good use.