Why Our Blended Foundational Reading Program Is Called System 44

July System44

What's in a name?

We all know how important names are. When I taught, one of my first tasks was to learn my students’ names and their preferences if they had a nickname. One year, I had three Daniels who each had different nicknames—how lucky was that?

When I taught first grade, I incorporated “Name Discovery” into my sounds and letters lessons. I was able to use the students’ names as keywords in my scope and sequence so that they would feel a stronger connection to what they were learning.

When it comes to K–12 learning programs, naming is both an art and a science. Do you think anyone thought that Google would become a verb? These days, does there seem to be an i in front of everything? HMH has a foundational reading program for primary students named iRead—a perfect name for the 21st century.


After the introduction of READ 180, our blended intervention program for students from Grades 4–12, our research revealed that almost 20% of the students identified as needing literacy intervention were below the READ 180 second-grade threshold and did not have basic decoding and encoding skills. We brought together practitioners who had deep experience with well-known foundational reading programs and authors who represented learning science, cognitive science, and the science of teaching reading—bold-faced names like Marilyn Adams, Ted Hasselbring, and Julie Washington. Their work brought a new, breakthrough blended foundational reading program for older students to life.

If you could see the names of everyone who contributed to the program, it would look like the credits at the end-of-a blockbuster movie! Content, research, art and design, learning architecture, and engineering are all represented. There came a point where the program had everything but a name.

There are companies that only focus on naming programs like ours, but that approach didn’t work for us. It took the collective energy and enthusiasm from all those who helped develop the program to name it System 44. This year marks its 10th anniversary.

Here’s the thinking behind the name:

  • 44: It’s probably quite apparent that the 44 represents the 44 sounds of the English language. More deeply, it came to remind us of the complexity of the English language and the difficulty of learning the ABCs as an older student because the 44 sounds do not correspond one-to-one with the written 26 letters in the American English alphabet.
  • System: This was the most creative element. The research is clear that foundational reading must be both systematic and explicit. There is less understanding of systematicity. This is a way of thinking about systems, like the solar system, for their various components and interactions. For the solar system, these would include the sun and the planets. The alphabet is a system made up of sounds and letters, and it’s the interactions among the different parts that are critical to understanding the deep orthography of the English language. For example, when silent or signal e is positioned at the end of a word, the vowel that proceeds it will be long.

So there’s the story behind the name System 44! Ten years later, it means even more because it represents another opportunity for students to master the foundations of reading, change the trajectory of their literary learning, and be on their way to success in school and beyond.


Learn more about System 44, our foundational program for striving readers in Grades 3–12.


Educators for our blended intervention programs—READ 180, MATH 180, and System 44are invited to nominate students and colleagues to win a 180 Award for outstanding dedication and achievements inside and outside the classroom. Learn more about the 180 Awards and prizes, with nominations open through February 21, 2020.

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