My 10-year-old began last Saturday morning with the words, “I wish today was Sunday so that we would be one day closer to summer break.” At my house, my kids are wishing away time. I laughed, thinking that yes, it would be nice to be closer to vacation, but I need my Saturday and every minute of it! For our students, time is one of the most important pieces of their learning journey. When I consider time as a classroom teacher, I think especially about my students who struggle with independent reading or writing. I often wish for extra months in the school year, knowing that a little more time might make a difference. I share these thoughts because I want to share the story of a first grader, David, who has blossomed into an idea-filled reader and writer.
David walked into first grade as a bubble kid. He didn’t quite make the cutoff for additional reading support, because other students were struggling more than he was. His scores on district assessments were on the cusp, and he was showing signs of progress (rereading shared texts, writing stories on his own, and beginning to use pictures and beginning letters to think about words) at the start of the school year. But by January, he began relying too much on the words in his texts and less on the meaning of the story. After taking him back a few reading levels to work on his fluency, it was clear that David would need more support. Each year we have students like David, and we feel out of control when we try to tackle the problem alone. Tapping into our resources is key to growing our readers and writers. What would more support look like for a student like David? How can we use our resources wisely? What steps would help him grow more literacy skills? Here’s what is helping.
Tap into Staff Resources
The phrase It takes a village is very appropriate for our students, especially our students who need more support. The instructional support teacher and Reading Recovery teacher have collaborated with me to think about how we can best meet David’s needs. We observed his rereading skills and love of nonfiction. We noted that he had trouble reading words that look similar (high-frequency words and words with patterns that can be used to make connections to known words). We noted that he confused words such as was and saw periodically in texts, and that he will point to the middle of the words he reads instead of the beginning. These behaviors helped us focus on strategies for serial ordering. Using objects, letters, and words to practice the left-to-right order of things became a focus for David’s time with the instructional support teacher. After sharing running records and talking about our observations, we decided that he would benefit from daily individual guided reading lessons (rereading a known book, then introducing and reading a new text) with word work in the classroom and a 25-minute individual session once a week with our instructional support teacher.
Tap into Text Resources
Trying to plan for the needs of a reader takes time—time to gather text resources and anticipate if the text will provide support and some challenge for the reader. David was in need of a variety of texts at one level, as well as texts linked to topics and characters of interest. Because my classroom library wasn’t meeting his needs, I would often meet for a few minutes on Friday with the Reading Recovery teacher to borrow five specific guided texts so I could plan for the next week. Knowing David’s love of nonfiction, she helped find some interesting topics as well as a character he was familiar with and could read about at different reading levels. I also helped him shop for books in our classroom library that he could reread, such as the Elephant and Piggie series, Biscuit, songbooks, alphabet books, and books with repetition.
Tap into David
One of the most significant observations we had was that David wasn’t in tune with his own work as a reader. He seemed to be unaware of what he was doing, just going through the motions while sounding out words letter by letter. By asking David what went well after reading new texts, his confidence began to grow. He started talking with us about his reading by saying things like . . .
I didn’t know how fast helicopters were.
I worked really hard on that part. I better go back and reread.
I think I need to work on the word us. I kept reading it as as.
I tried to read that part like how the character would say it.
Each time he reflected on his reading with us, we knew more about what he understood or what confused him. His thinking about his work as a reader was key to helping us know what he was grasping and what goals we could help him set to work on next.
Tap into Home
Through many emails and during conference time, we met with David’s parents to share what was going well for David and some goals he was working toward. We heard concerns like . . .
The books he brings home are too easy.
He has his books almost memorized.
He is reading harder books before bed.
We heard their concerns and helped clear up the idea that texts that come home should be hard. He is doing the work with a new text at school. We don’t want him to struggle at home right now. We helped his parents with a list of library books at a similar level they could check out.
Our conversations about David’s progress happen informally at least weekly, and sometimes daily. We celebrate when he is successfully accomplishing his goals independently, and we problem-solve strategies when the text challenges him. We’ve noticed that when we are on the same page, David shows growth, because we have similar expectations. We attempt to use similar language, providing supportive and reflective feedback. We also take time to talk about what is going well for him as a reader.
Our readers are as precious to us as time. When we feel overwhelmed by time constraints and the needs of our students, we can step back and remember that we are not alone. Observing, sharing, planning, and listening will benefit our students, no matter how much time we have with them.