One of my first students was a fourteen-year-old nonreader, Tosca, who had never attended school a day in her life. Her family owned a circus. They were internationally nomadic, never staying in one place long enough to keep her in school. The challenge of teaching Tosca to read scared me to death.
“How does reading happen?” The answer to this question had until this point evaded me. I couldn’t remember much about when I was learning to read, save the myriad of books my mother would read to me. And so it was that Tosca’s reading program began with sharing books.
Tosca was a very eager student and a fast learner. I taught her to write her name. Then it was the alphabet, followed by trips to the grocery store to read labels and sound out the words on bags of flour. As I continued to share books with her, the fact remained that she was not reading books on her own! In this vein, a colleague recommended a particular reading program that was rooted in a very controlled and contrived vocabulary. After beginning daily lessons, it didn’t take long for the smile that learning brought Tosca to fade slightly. She worked diligently and never questioned my methods, even when I did. I wanted so badly for her to have this skill that I took for granted. I continued to trudge both of us through the program, but I began to notice that she could not transfer her knowledge from her practice books to her real books. Again, I was at a loss for what to do, so I reverted to what I knew best and read stories to her! By the end of the year, Tosca was reading on a second grade reading level. Her mother wrote thanking me–Tosca could now go to the grocery store alone. She could also follow the directions on a cake mix box and could help her mother with directions. More importantly, Tosca felt a sense of accomplishment.
Tosca taught me as much as I taught her. She still needed more literacy learning and so did I. The following year I began looking closely at all kinds of literacy programs. Not one student had learned to read on grade level the previous year despite my hard work and effort. I taught my heart out and received excellent evaluations from my principal, but as an avid educator, I was sorely unsatisfied. I began reading professional books and attending workshops. I would go back to the classroom and implement these activities, most of which were cute projects. But after the activities, innovative as they were, I would still feel lost; something was missing from my teaching.
Then I was blessed with the opportunity to be trained as a Reading Recovery (R) Teacher Leader! This in-depth training was everything I had wanted. As I worked with struggling readers, I was amazed by their progress. My experiences with these children gave me a new understanding of the complexity of the learning process and the role of the teacher in promoting children’s literacy development.
Over the past 13 years, I have traveled the United States and worked with classroom teachers, literacy coaches, and administrators to help them support ALL learners with the best practices. I help teachers like myself and students like Tosca, playing a part in many stories similar to my own.
I am so excited to share my experiences with you!