I have started helping in the 6-8 year old classroom during reading time. So far, I have listened to them read, (the ones that are ready to read), and helped them find books to continue practicing their reading. We have played games of matching letters and letter sounds. We have listened to read-alouds and talked about books. We have talked about what words mean and discovered new definitions. We have went on sound scavenger hunts and read their favorite books together. I have observed them and encouraged them. Every time they stumble, I tell them they are doing great. When they attempt to sound out a word, I tell them that is a great strategy. When they find letters and words they know, I tell them how awesome they are doing. We have laughed and learned together.
Reading and teaching reading is a controversial subject. There are a lot of opinions and I am about to add mine to the mix. I will say right now, I am not an expert. A few professors tried to teach me how to teach reading back in college. BUT I have never been an elementary teacher of 20+ kids with the weight of others telling me I must get all kids to read at a proficient level. If that’s the kind of advice you are looking for, you won’t find it from me.
I am teaching 11 kids, mixed ages from 6-8. I would guess the average teacher sees the same variety of reading levels I see in my own group. I have pre-readers, beginning readers, and readers. I have readers that are incredibly fluent but have no idea what they just read. I have not-so-fluent readers that can have a whole conversation after just reading two pages!
My son is six and included in my group of pre-readers. I think he is exactly where he should be because it’s where he is at. He is excited to practice letters and sounds. He is competitive so likes to get it right. He wants to read; he is anxious to do it. I keep reminding him he is doing great and it will come. He accepts this. I am not worried like I was when my oldest was learning to read and “behind” his peers. I am wiser now.
I am not telling anyone what to do in regards to reading. I am only going to share my personal experiences at this school as a teacher and parent of three boys at TIS.
Our plan in the reading classroom is to read. We start our time with a classroom read-aloud. The kids can color during the time. They are eager to answer and ask questions, interrupting at times with their excitement. We transition to small groups. Sometimes it is games with letters and sounds, sometimes it is read to self, sometimes it is word and sight recognition. We try to figure it out each day. We always try to make it fun and exciting. Each day though, they always get to read what they want at some point.
I can’t say if what we are doing will work. I’m not sure why it wouldn’t though. How do you get better at something? You do it. I do know my end goal is to create people who love to read.
My current middle schoolers love to read. So whatever experiences they had, it worked. Four of them were home-schooled at some point, two of them have been at TIS for five years, and two have transferred to TIS from traditional education (but both have been here for two years.) Every single one of them look forward to their hour of reading and covet this time. They race to their favorite spots in our quiet area to begin reading. If a younger child reads in the read-to-self area and begins talking, I never have to say anything as a middle schooler will be quick to remind them it is a quiet space and they cannot talk in there. I hope my own children and all the kids at TIS will have this same feeling when it comes to reading.
As I work with the younger kids, I can see each one's unique abilities and how they are all learning to read. Not one thinks they are bad at it or can’t do it. None of them have developed self-doubt. They are not judging themselves; they are just doing.
Their self-love is evident. As I watch them learn to read, I think that is the real gift TIS is giving them: a way to maintain their love and innocence. They can learn at their own pace, in their own time without the judgement and opinions of others. It is so inherent that everyone has different strengths. We talk about it all the time.
So whether a child is reading or learning to read, it is accepted. If we have a nine year old still learning to read, it is seen as normal. Because we value everyone’s differences and honor where they are, everyone is considered “normal”. At TIS, it is normal to be different than your peers and it is even valued to be unique.
So while I am not an expert at teaching reading, I am an expert at seeing the value in each person. I am talented at knowing when to push a child and when to hold back. I am a great communicator and encourager. I have discovered my own self worth and am determined to help others see the same in themselves, especially children. TIS is creating this environment for children. Reading is just a part of the whole. TIS is a school that values each child and staff member. Learning is valued and not judged. It is the optimal environment to learn reading and anything else children want to discover.
Should cursive still be taught? The debate is back. I have strong feelings about this topic. It may be my age, my experiences, my love of art, or my years in the traditional school setting.
I feel cursive writing helps to identify you. Each of us has our own style and I love to see the different ways in which people express themselves in their unique writing. It is a lost art form. I look at the historical documents signed with artistic strokes and beautiful signatures done with style and grace.
When The Innovation School decided to teach cursive writing, I was thrilled. I decided to do some research concerning the benefits of writing this way.
I learned that cursive writing provides a flow of thought as well as a flow of words. Humans think structurally, not phonetically, so writing in cursive reinforces that. I was pleasantly surprised.
Cursive writing helps you focus on content. When one becomes proficient in cursive, the barrier between thought and action helps the focus remain on the content.
Cursive gets the entire brain working. Reading cursive also activates different parts of the brain than printed text. Studies also show that writing notes in cursive instead of typing them is preferable. When we type we tend to write verbatim. When we write, we have to be more selective of what we write, so we think of the importance of the words. The writing process appears to help the information “stick” rather than pass through typing fingers.
Writing in cursive helps fine motor control as well as helping the person become a better speller. An individual is more likely to retain the proper spelling of a word when they write out the word as a single unit.
It improves brain development in the areas of thinking, language and working memory. It also stimulates the brain between the left and right hemispheres.
The research tells me that learning how to write in cursive has many educational benefits.
My students were apprehensive at first, but soon gained a new perspective that intrigued them.
The students that reversed letters in printing quickly learned that they didn’t reverse them when writing cursive. This was exciting. Others were excited about the way their writing looked. They have even started using their own style. We have begun to work on writing our signatures.
I am hopeful that by reading and writing in cursive, my students will not only gain a new skill, but an appreciation of the art of writing. Who knows, calligraphy may be the next skill I teach.
When you enter any Reggio classroom, especially one with younger students, you will be surrounded by very natural and spontaneous peer learning. Most learning occurs peer-to-peer in a reciprocal manner, and research across the board has shown that young children retain more of their learning when that learning comes from their peer interactions.
Over the past several weeks, we have introduced a more structured form of peer learning and we have transitioned into true peer teaching through Workshop Wednesdays in our Pre-K/Kindergarten classroom. Student led workshops are not new to The Innovation School - our 1st-8th grade students have been engaging in these workshops regularly. When we saw how much our Kindergarten students enjoyed participating in Workshop Wednesdays with “the big kids”, we saw it as a leadership opportunity for them!
Initially, we decided to form workshops led by our Kindergarten students. Our preschoolers loved our first “test run” of workshops and our Kindergarten students thrived from the stretch in their leadership skills. Each student leading a workshop was able to choose an activity to create based off their strengths and interests. This process produced true buy-in and provided a palpable excitement and clear engagement in our classroom! It also gave a different perspective as a teacher, to be an observer witnessing meaningful growth within each workshop.
Each week, our preschoolers began showing more and more interest in leading workshops - “when will it be my turn?” they often asked. After some discussion with our Kindergarten students, we all agreed that the preschoolers in our classroom would begin teaching workshops as well. During our first preschool led workshop, it was wonderful to see how our Kindergarten students were so eager to learn from their younger peers - rarely overstepping boundaries or trying to take the lead. Our students have gained such a sense of respect for their peers through peer teaching workshops - they know how good it feels to be listened to when they are leading, so they check (and double check!) to make sure they listen to their peers and carefully follow instructions when they are in a workshop led by a peer.
We are excited to work through giving every child in our class an opportunity to lead a workshop. David Boud, at Stanford University stated: “Students learn a great deal by explaining their ideas to others and by participating in activities in which they can learn from their peers. They develop skills in organizing and planning learning activities, working collaboratively with others, giving and receiving feedback and evaluating their own learning.” These are all of the benefits we have witnessed (and more!) as we have explored more structured peer teaching in our classroom. Feedback may be one of the most important benefits, as we have seen workshops become more refined and more meaningful, as the depth of each activity has increased. It truly seems that each week, the class enjoys each new set of workshops more than the last as we build upon our past workshop experiences!
We are excited to continue our Wednesday Workshops and provide additional peer teaching opportunities within our classroom - it has been a very positive, inspiring and transformative experience so far!
“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.” – Margaret Fuller