The Missouri Reader Vol. 41, Issue 2 - Page 25


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By: Erica Hatcher


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An Old Dog’s Reflections and Advice

1. There are no miracles when it comes to teaching reading, but there are definitely some things that young readers need. Expanding students’ automatic sight word recognition is imperative. Some children can read words without hesitation when they are preschoolers, if they have had enough exposure to the printed word. Some brilliant adults remain unable to spell words well enough for others to read their writing. At one point I worked with a professional writer who was a true dyslexic, and who had nevertheless written scripts for well over 30 extremely successful television shows. He would never learn to decode or encode well, but his marvelous brain and imagination allowed him to put enough on paper that a trusted assistant could transcribe it. He was motivated, and he knew he could succeed with help. This is a man who read almost exclusively by using sight words. That is what we need to provide for our students: hope, the drive to continue to work, and the feeling that they are becoming more successful every day. They also need to know that they can find ways to circumvent obstacles. It never fails to amaze me when I see a teacher who continues to force feed phonics to a child who has failed, year after year, to learn sound/symbol correlation. For heaven’s sake, teach the child as many sight words as possible. The goal of reading is comprehension. It is not about decoding, nor is it about the ability to word call faster than the last test on a stopwatch.

2. Decoding skills should aid comprehension, just as sight words do. We have to lean heavily on comprehension as our goal, and use decoding as one of the keys to reach that goal. I have worked with children who could decode like crazy, but had no clue what they had read. Sometimes we focus on the wrong things, despite our fervent desire to help struggling readers. Why focus endlessly on decoding, when we can take part of that time to practice shared reading? The interactive nature of shared readings allows teachers to move beyond a focus on sounding out words and conveying text to elevating a lesson and beginning good conversations (Frey & Fisher, 2013).

3. Model fluent reading as often as possible. Children love shared reading, but they also love it when teachers read to them. Somehow, we have lost the importance of reading to children during the school day. Most of the teachers with whom I work tell me that they would love to read to their class, if only they had the time. That is a very sad statement. When we read to students, they learn how to tell a story and consequently how to write one. They learn new vocabulary, which is why it is so important to read them books that are above their reading levels. Sometimes teachers who read to their students tend to read them the favorites that they can read themselves. Try reading one with a compelling storyline that they might have trouble reading on their own. It is much easier to understand what is read to you at a higher level than to read it yourself. Likewise, once you understand information “through the ears” it is easier to read it and make sense of it. We must all build a listening vocabulary before we can have an effective speaking and reading vocabulary.

4. Effective teachers know how to differentiate instruction and to motivate readers. According to Richard Allington (2002), good teachers, effective teachers, manage to produce better achievement regardless of which curriculum, materials, pedagogical approach or reading program is used. Some children look to the teacher as someone with whom they can talk, and often they crave approval. Most children will respond positively relative to behavior and academics if they know the teacher will praise them for it. Every child is important, even those we wish had been assigned to another classroom. We can make a difference in how that child feels for the day, and how he feels for a lifetime. One of my favorite acquaintances was severely mistreated as a child, and was finally sent to Drum Farm, at that time a home for unwanted boys. He had no role models