Monthly Archives: February 2015

Learning to Read: A Parable

In this unusual pacing of February, I have found myself going through many emotions, from excitement over the first “historic” storm, to loneliness of seeing no one but my cat for days on end, to rage as the snow took the wind out of favorite kindergarten events like the 100th Day of School. (Technically, we aren’t even at the 100th day of school yet…)

But this “extra” time Mother Nature has given us allowed me explore some new interests. I saw this article on twitter: 8 Scientifically-Backed Ways to Beat the Winter Blues, Of course, one of them was “exercise.” I decided this is what I would focus on, as I literally live across the street from the Salem Y, and one snow day I got it in my head to go swimming. A feat unto itself on a frigid day.

Swimming, I found out quickly, when you are not in the best shape (doesn’t teaching Kindergarten count for some type of aerobic exercise?) is much more difficult than it looks. I have spent the vacation continuing to swim (or kick board) a lap or two more each time. As I swam my last lap today, it got me thinking about teaching reading.

Both improving at reading and improving at swimming are deceptively difficult. We ask children to learn letters and sounds to make meaning of words on a page and act like its no big deal, when in fact, it really is. There are so many brain functions which happen when people are reading, and for most of us, it is second nature. For a child learning to read, it is work and practice. Just like swimming. The brain is using the orthographic processor to receive visual input from printed words, while the phonological processor allows us to perceive, remember, interpret and produce the speech sound system of our own language (Moats and Tolman). When those two work together then the meaning and context processor are employed to make meaning from the words and context. All of this is happening at the same time for proficient readers and allowing them to move through the book or text they are reading, just like the swimmer who has learned all the strokes and moves with grace and ease through the water.

Unknown-2Now, let’s take a child who is learning to read, or that swimmer who is not a Michael Phelps. Maybe the child doesn’t have all the sounds of the letters down yet, maybe they still get “b” and “d” mixed up, or maybe their older sibling was a “great reader” and they expect it to be the same for them. I see many children give up too easy when things are getting difficult. Learning to read, like learning to be a better swimmer, is tough work. There is a learning progression to reading, and in Kindergarten it begins with letter knowledge and phonemic awareness. As children are able to identify letters and sounds, they are able to understand the phoneme-grapheme correspondence and learn early sight words. It is with practice that children will become emergent readers at the end of the year.

To help your child when they come to a word they don’t know:
Say: “Look carefully at all the letters”
Next: “Sound it out.”
Then: “Does that word make sense?”

So who becomes the great swimmers? Not always the ones who are preconditioned to be amazing based on body type or family history. It is the ones who see failures as a chance to get better, something we should be instilling in our kids. I want students to “love to read” but they won’t unless they understand learning to read doesn’t come without some bumps along the way. But nothing that’s worth doing doesn’t, right?

If you haven’t read Mindset – get it out of the library. Great read for parents and educators.

PS: Rest up this weekend – that 5 day school week is going to seem LONG!!!

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