The Missouri Reader Vol. 40, Issue 1 - Page 20

by Heather Miller

As I prepared to enter into my first year of teaching second grade, I was excited, overwhelmed, and anxious to start my journey. I had taught kindergarten for seven years and I enthusiastically awaited my class list to see which former students would once again be in my room. As I scanned the list, my heart sank a little upon reading one of the names. Ashamedly, I immediately thought back to all the time I had to spend with this student. All the times I had to call his name. All the times I had to tell him to sit down. All the times I had to tell him to get quiet. He was mine for another year. This year was different for him. He was being retained and as all his friends from second grade were moving on to third, he was once again working toward mastering second grade skills. His former second grade teacher told me upfront that he needed to be referred for Special Education services but retention was the first step in him qualifying. He had failed nearly every subject the year before and was sent out of the room for behavior problems on a weekly basis. As his former kindergarten teacher, I knew his behavior was often disruptive. I also knew his home life was far from ideal and he received little educational support after he left the school grounds.

My enthusiasm for a new grade level encouraged me to not lose hope before we got started. That student became my mission. If I could not make him succeed, then I needed to seriously reconsider my profession. Each day, he runs down the hall full speed, eliciting redirection from a variety of teachers in the process. I greet him with a smile , even though I know the day will be full of challenges. I praise him when there is little to praise him for, and encourage him when he shows no confidence. Can I just say…I am exhausted! However, if I am being completely honest, each day I am a little less tired. Each day, I say his name a few times less. Each day, I find more and more to praise him about. How did this happen? Sometimes I wonder. Some days I think he learns in spite of me, not because of me. Other days, I reflect on simple things in the classroom that have helped this “lost cause” flourish.

For starters, I am a huge advocate for using real, quality literature in the classroom, on a daily basis. You will not find me reciting from a scripted basal series and you will not see me sending home leveled readers as homework for my students. I’m not saying they don’t work; they just don’t work for me. Instead, I have baskets of books, real books that cover just about every free surface of my classroom. And, no, I don’t put what reading level the books are on each basket, although levels are written inside the front cover of each book in case a student needs that visual. Instead, my students are taught mini-lessons on how to select books that are “just-right” for them, just as educator and author Regie Routman (2003) suggests. We often refer to anchor charts with guidelines for choosing authentic books so that students may learn to do this independently. These authentic texts should not be too hard or too easy for him/her, and they must also be interesting to the student. So my “lost cause” who was used to choosing books from the “First Grade level” basket, now had access to a wide variety of books that didn’t label him as struggling. His favorites included the Fly Guy series and Mo Willems’ Pigeon books.

This student who had NEVER met his Accelerated Reader goal ever before, now met it three weeks before the deadline. In addition to books he read on his own, he took multiple quizzes on books that I had read to the whole class, as part of my school’s balanced literacy approach.

Perhaps one of the most critical things that occurred for my student was differentiation. Providing a lot of independent reading time is naturally differentiated and incredibly powerful (Boushey & Moser, 2014). Students cannot be expected to be better readers unless they are given many opportunities to read.

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he Frayer model of vocabulary instruction is one method that uses a multidimensional approach to help students understand what a word means.

The lost cause

by Shannon Truitt

Classroom Close-up

Classroom Close-up