This school year, I have taken on two positions rolled into one: curriculum coordinator and learning specialist. Yes, it is a lot of work. Yes, it is good I have a monkey mind and enjoy spinning lots of plates on long wobbly sticks all at the same time. But the best part of my job is that I am the one teachers call upon to solve student puzzles. I love having the opportunity to read and write with children and figure out why they are having trouble. I calm my monkey mind and I focus in on the student reader.
This week, a fourth grader confided to her teacher that she couldn’t understand any of the passages that she had been assigned. She started to panic. There were tears. Then her teacher called me. The next morning, I came to Lindsay’s class. As I entered the doorway, she jumped out of her seat and was eager to come with me. I was surprised by her response because the year before, Lindsay tried her best to avoid me. But now she was ready. She wanted help. She wanted to read better. We walked together down the long, bright hallway chatting about the summer and the best flavors of ice cream. Then we went out the door, through the courtyard, up the stairs to another building where my office is located.
Lindsay and I settled into our seats in front of a large picture window. I was glad the room was large and cheerful with lots of light streaming in and a view of beautiful trees and flowering shrubbery. I could tell Lindsay was a little apprehensive, so I kept the conversation pleasant and positive. I asked her about what she had read during the summer, and she confessed that she read only two books. Instead of focusing on quantity, I asked her what the books her about. She could not remember the titles or the topics. This told me that she was definitely not connecting with books. She had not yet entered the story and become part of it. I knew that was going to be my job this year, and I was energized by that knowledge.
I told Lindsay that I had not always liked reading. I told her that my dad was a writer, my mom was a teacher, and I had an older sister. They were all readers. I wanted to be different. I wanted to do something else. Then, when I was in 5th grade, Mrs. Skovron was my teacher. She helped me to learn to read better. She told me that I did indeed love stories and that together we would find the right ones for me to read. And that’s exactly what she did, and that’s exactly what I promised Lindsay we would do together. I looked at her and she was smiling. She was ready to take the first step. First, I taught her strategies for when you come across an unfamiliar word. We broke several words apart syllable by syllable, and her shoulders relaxed. She read a passage silently and made a key comprehension error. I pointed to a part in the passage, and I asked her to read it aloud. She did and her eyes lit up.
“Oh, I was wrong!” she said. “I understand now!”
We both laughed together. I told her that for now she should read aloud so that she can hear the story unfolding and can pay better attention to it. I talked about making pictures in her mind as she read.
She read the next passage aloud to me. I stopped her when I knew her understanding was breaking down, and we talked about what was happening in the text. Little by little, slowly we make our way through the text. When she reached the end, I could tell by her facial expression that she really understood the story and could retell it confidently. She had worked hard. It was time to return to class. Lindsay saw a colorful box on the windowsill and asked me what was inside. I opened the box to reveal a collection of seashells.
“Pick two,” I said. She looked up at me,
“Really? They are so beautiful.”
“Yes, you worked hard. Take two,” I told her.
I knew that I had made a reading partner, we were ready for a year of adventures.
Room to Read I was not a born reader For me, reading was work Long, hard work, Words stretched out Each and every sound Slow... slow... work, Work that required patience and precision, Which, at times, I had a short supply. Everyone in my family was a reader All my friends were readers I would rather be running Swinging, swimming, biking Hiding in the woods, skipping stones Reading was slow Reading was done inside in a quiet room, Reading required singular attention. Then I entered 5th Grade, Loved my teacher at first sight, And I knew she like me. Very soon, she realized I was not a reader. I read aloud in a staccato monotone, I gulped, sighed, and struggled my way Through sentence after sentence. When I was done, I had no idea what I had read. My teacher didn’t give up, She was patient and precise, She helped me unlock the sounds And read more smoothly. She held out book after book to me, I shook my head – no, not this one – Or that one – or that one – None held my interest Until Misty of Chincoteague. I loved horses, and wild ponies Piqued my curiosity. That day I brought the book home, I filled my bathtub With pillows and blankets and climbed inside - book in hand, Snuggled down and began to read. I was there on the island surrounded By sand dunes, tall grass, the smell of salty air. My mother knocked on the door Wanting to know what I was doing. “Reading,” I responded. She peaked in to see me Reading in my reading nest And quietly closed the door. Those ponies, those words, that book Unlocked reading for me. I read horse book after horse book, Then books about ancient Egypt, After that, I read about a girl named Harriet Who got into a lot of trouble. Now, I was a reader. Now, I was ready for another story.