Developed in 2003, EBLI comprises several instructional strategies to improve reading accuracy, fluency and comprehension. EBLI targets teachers and reading specialists at any grade level (K-12) and instructs them on how to implement its literacy strategies in whole class, small group or one-on-one sessions. Since first developing the system, EBLI has trained thousands of teachers across the country and has reached tens of thousands of students. Over 260 schools, mainly located in Michigan, have implemented the EBLI system.
At its core, EBLI is a phonics-based reading program. The program’s theory of change states that mastered reading accuracy has subsequent beneficial effects on students’ reading fluency and comprehension. The emphasis on improving reading accuracy differentiates EBLI from other whole language/balanced literacy systems that focus first on fluency and speed by encouraging word guessing when students are unsure about the correct pronunciation.
To achieve reading accuracy, EBLI uses awareness of sounds (phonetic awareness) and the different ways the same sound can be spelled. The program emphasizes several key concepts. The first concept (“1, 2, 3 or 4 Letters Can Represent a Sound”) highlights the fact that individual sounds in the English language may be comprised of anywhere from one to four letters. For instance, the sound “u” in up is made of one letter – u. The sound “e” in tea is made of two letters – ea. The sound “ur” sound in earn is made of three letters – ear. And, finally, the “ay” sound in weigh is made of four letters – eigh. The second concept (“Same Sound / Different Spelling”) captures the idea that same sound can be spelled with many different combinations of letters. For example, the “ee” sound in feet is spelled with ee; the “ee” sound in treat is spelled with ea; the “ee” sound in brief is spelled with ie. The third concept (“Same Spelling / Different Sound”) is the converse – namely, in the English language the same spelling may create different sounds in words. For instance, the spelling “ea” sounds like the following sounds in different words: sounds like “ee” in beast, “a” in break, and “e” in head.
EBLI teachers also learn how to teach students phonemic awareness skills such as segmenting, blending and phoneme manipulation within the context of single and multi-syllable words as opposed to in isolation. In segmenting, teachers break words into individual syllables and further into sounds within syllables. For example, “brother” is separated into two syllables – bro / ther and each of these syllables is broken into sounds – b r o / th er. This separation helps to reinforce correct spelling. In blending, instruction focuses on pushing individual sounds together to create a word. For the segmented “brother”, the sounds are blended back together to form the full word and reinforce correct pronunciation. Phoneme manipulation activities help reinforce word comprehension and spelling by removing letters from the words and reviewing what remains. For instance, focusing on the word “spot”, the instructor will first ask how many sounds are in the word spot, then will ask what “spot” is without the /s/, what “spot” is without the /p/. The student may segment the individual sounds or may say “pot” or “sot”. Then the instructor repeats the exercise, using dots in the place of letters. Using dots in place of letters forces the student to listen to individual sounds.
According to its developers, EBLI differs in several important ways from other popular phonics-based reading programs such as Orton-Gillingham, Open Court, Saxon Phonics, Wilson, and Lexia (software). First, EBLI is a system of logic rather than a set of phonics rules, exceptions and drills. Second, EBLI developers argue that typical phonics programs focus more heavily on drill and worksheets with less focus on reading in books. Third, EBLI trains teachers to be diagnostic and prescriptive when delivering instruction as opposed to training them to simply deliver pre-fabricated materials to students. For example, the EBLI system of instruction includes guidance for teachers on how to provide error corrections in the moment. Finally, EBLI instruction is multi-sensory, with students saying, seeing, hearing and writing in the course of EBLI activities.