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.