The “Magic” of Teaching a Child to Read! Hillsborough County Public Schools’ New Literacy Curriculum, UFLI

When it comes to teaching kids how to read, Kaitlin Behn is an expert. However, despite many years of working hard as an elementary school educator, Behn found that many of students still struggled with learning to read.

“What my kids needed was greater than what I was providing,” Behn says. “The literacy curriculum wasn’t cutting it. Then I heard about UFLI and I bought it with my own money. The results were unlike anything I’ve ever seen!”

UFLI (which stands for University of Florida Literacy Institute) is literacy curriculum that was created by the University of Florida for teachers, by teachers and with teachers in mind. UFLI lessons were developed to align with decades of research supporting how students learn to read. The results UFLI is producing are off the charts—which is exactly what Behn was seeing with her own students.

That’s why, when Hillsborough County Public Schools decided to implement UFLI curriculum in all its elementary schools this year, Behn knew she had to help teachers make it a success. Behn is now one of three kindergarten through second grade district literacy coaches whose focus is to go into classrooms and help teachers teach UFLI.

Kaitlin Behn, Hillsborough County literacy coach

“We have the best teachers in HCPS and they are excited for the future,” says Behn. “How cool will it be when these kindergarten students are in third grade? They will have had a strong foundation of UFLI in kindergarten, first and second! This is going to close gaps and empower students to be lifelong learners.”

There are also ways parents can help strengthen UFLI’s impact. Behn recommends parents ask their child about it. “Ask what their favorite part of UFLI is … I’m sure they have one. And when working on home practice sheets, have your child “teach you” like their teacher teaches them at school. Students have become so automatic with UFLI that they truly can run the show!”

Behn says teaching a child to read is like pure magic, but it’s not something that comes naturally for children. This means that children don’t learn how to read by accident, like the way they learn to walk and talk.

It takes explicit phonics instruction and repeated opportunities to apply new concepts to connected text. She says teaching a child to read is hard work for teachers and hard work for students. But when it clicks, it’s amazing!

“Seeing the twinkle in a child’s eye when they have ‘that moment;’ when they realize they can do it … Wow! Or, when they don’t want the book to end. It’s sweet, for sure!”

Learn more about the UFLI curriculum at https://ufli.education.ufl.edu/.

Originally published in the April 2024 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.