Dystinct Report - An interview with Donna Hejtmanek by Dystinct Reporter Flynn Eldridge

Issue 13: Dystinct Report - An interview with Donna Hejtmanek | Flynn Eldridge

Ten-year-old journalist Flynn Eldridge has a chat with Donna Hejtmanek about her Facebook group, The Science of Reading- What I Should Have Learned in College, and her viewpoints on the Structured Linguistic Literacy approach.

Flynn Eldridge
Flynn Eldridge
This interview was published in Dystinct Magazine Issue 13 January 2023.

Donna Schultz Hejtmanek is a retired special education teacher and reading specialist of 41 years from Wisconsin. She spends her time in retirement advocating for dyslexia legislation, administering the Facebook group, Science of Reading-What I Should Have Learned in College, and consulting and coaching with school districts on implementing the science of reading.

Dystinct reporter Flynn Eldridge had a chat with Donna Hejtmanek about her Facebook group, The Science of Reading- What I Should Have Learned in College, and her viewpoints on the Structured Linguistic Literacy approach.

Excerpts from the Interview

When did you start helping people who didn't know how to read and write?

I became a teacher back in 1976 and started working with students in 1977. That was my first job.

How many people with learning differences would you have helped in the past?

I've put in about 41 years of working with students. I was a teacher in a public school, and I also worked as a private tutor. I would say several hundred students, maybe more like five or six hundred students. But something happened to me in 2019 that increased the number of people I helped, and that is my Facebook page.

Why did you start the Science of Reading Facebook group?

Back in 2018 and 2019, I was doing some work for Wisconsin legislators. I was trying to pass a law to help kids with dyslexia. It was very frustrating because, when you have a legislative bill to be passed, you have to testify to support or not support it. I was testifying to support the bill, and I remember talking to the Senate Education Committee, and all these very important people were there. I told them that I was frustrated with the training I got in college because I didn't learn how to teach kids to read. And so that was the start of my Facebook page. When I discovered that Facebook had groups, I started the group because I was upset that I didn't learn all this good information in college and how to teach kids to read.

When did you start it?

I started it on August 14th, 2019.

Who is your target audience?

I decided my target audience would be parents, teachers, researchers, school administrators, and anyone interested in learning about the science of reading.

What achievements have you made through the Facebook group?

The whole creation of this Facebook group has changed my life because now I am a spokesperson for people who want to change reading for students. I'm asked to do lots of interviews and other presentations at conferences. I am going to be speaking at a conference next week, and in February, I'm going to be doing a presentation to legislators. But there are some achievements that you don't see. Those are when I get people that write to me almost on a daily basis to thank my team and me for all the work we do to keep the Science of Reading Facebook page going because it's a lot of work.

I hear that you are training in Linguistics Phonics. What is Linguistic Phonics?

Linguistic Phonics is an approach that begins with speech. Every boy and girl that comes to school can speak. If they can speak, they can learn to read and write. So, we use the sounds that come out of their mouths and turn those into letters that the student can read and spell. It's a faster way of learning how to read and spell. I've been trained in several approaches to teaching reading, and I thought I would give Linguistic Phonics a try because I was very intrigued by it. It's not a very well-known approach, but we're hoping that it catches on with teachers and that they learn to be open to it and learn how to do it because we want to have boys and girls not be in tutoring for three or four or five years. We want them to be getting what they need in a short amount of time.

What is it, and how is it similar or different to Synthetic Phonics?

It's similar in that we use sounds to make words, but Synthetic Phonics begins with the whole word, and then you break it down. In Linguistic Phonics, we take the word and break it down from the sounds - from speech into print. It's different in that it's not print first. It's speech first. So, we hear the sounds and then turn them into print.

In the US we tend to use the term 'systematic phonics' rather than 'synthetic phonics.' Most of the phonics taught here organize instruction around letters rather than sounds. The Linguistic Phonics approaches garnering attention in the US organize instruction around speech sounds.

What are your viewpoints points on these approaches?

I believe that all teachers and parents should be open to viewpoints on approaches because if we only use one approach, and if we think that that's the only way that we can teach someone, then we're kind of being close-minded. I'd like to be open-minded to find out about all the different ways to teach reading. And if one is better than the other, then I want to use the one that's better or works for my students better.

What do you recommend - People getting trained in one particular approach or both approaches?

I was trained in the Orton Gillingham approach, and I used it for 30 years. But now I'm wondering if there is a more efficient and effective way. Getting trained in another approach is a good thing because it gives the teacher options and a better understanding of what a student might need, and it helps the teacher grow professionally.

We have people listening from across the world. What part of the United States of America do you like the most?

Oh, my goodness! That's hard to say because the United States is filled with different sorts of landforms. We have mountains and flatlands and rivers and lakes. I probably like the Midwest because that's where I live.

What is a fun fact about you?

About three years ago, I learned to scuba dive. My husband and I are certified divers, and we can go and dive around the world if we want to see fish, sea creatures, coral, and all kinds of things underwater. It's been a very fun experience for me.

Flynn Eldridge

Dystinct Journalist
Age 10
Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and ADHD inattentive
Regional NSW, Australia

Flynn started homeschooling in 2020 as the result of the COVID-19 lockdown. Flynn homeschools because of school bullying, claustrophobia from the small space in the classroom, and anxiety from his dyslexia and dysgraphia. Flynn finds reporting fun, sometimes scary, and ultra exciting. Flynn likes to dress up as an old-time reporter and ask a range of questions, as that is his style. Flynn builds loads of different lego creations, such as the rainbow spinning-top microphone he uses in the interview. Flynn loves homeschooling because he can be finished by 2 pm and have more playtime. He learns more, his work is better quality, and Flynn is doing better than his dad at math!

Extracts from Dystinct Magazine

Dystinct Report

Flynn Eldridge

Dystinct Journalist from Regional NSW, Australia