My first class of students is never far from my mind. I think about those five- and six-year-olds often with a sort of “Where are they now?” musing. They began their student careers the same time that I began my teacher career. Even seventeen years later, they hold a special place in my heart and on my wall. Our class photo proudly hangs among the pictures of family and friends in a photo collage that spans the length between my living room and dining room. There’s Dontavious, Antonio, Ana, and Mariela.
Oh, sweet Mariela. How she struggled.
I tried everything that I knew to help her master letters, sounds, word families, context clues, and meanings of texts. Looking back, I recognize that “everything that I knew” really wasn’t very much, but I tried my best, even going as far as recruiting a colleague to tutor Mariela three times a week. At the end of the year, Mariela had made significant progress, and I credit my more experienced colleague who tutored Mariela.
Sarah, my colleague, had transitioned from teaching kindergarten to teaching a technology-connected specials class. It was during one of our many conversations about Mariela’s progress that Sarah said something like “Mariela is just a tangled knot, and we have to figure out how to get her untangled”. (It is quite likely that Sarah was aware of the work of Marie Clay who described a group of struggling readers as “tangled tots (with) reading knots”). Sarah’s success with Mariela came from the subtle messages about reading that she sent during her instruction, messages like “A reader’s major focus should always be on meaning”.
Over at The Conversation, Brian Cambourne has laid out the seven messages of highly effective reading teachers, the first of which is about keeping the struggling reader’s focus on meaning:
The dominant thematic message effective reading teachers give to students is “sensible, coherent meaning should be the end result of any reading encounter”.
Teachers communicated this in many ways. For example, if children were reading and came to something they didn’t know these teachers would say things like, “What would make sense here?“ or “That’s a really good guess because it makes sense. What else would make sense?”
Another teacher, when listening to a reader painfully violate the syntax of English by robotically reading “On (pause) one (pause) little (pause) there (pause) but (pause) some,” responded thus: “You just read ‘on one little there but some’. Does that sound like real language? If someone said that to you would it make sense? Why? Why not?”
This and the other, six messages are great reminders for teachers that “teaching kids to read isn’t just about learning the alphabet or ‘sounding out’, it’s about making sense of what’s on the page.”
Possible Connections to Georgia’s PreK
The design of Georgia’s PreK provides a great focus on early literacy skills. During the two, daily story times and large group literacy, teachers have the opportunity to model each of the seven messages. Literacy-focused small groups can help make these messages more obvious to students. Even the daily morning message during large group/opening can reinforce these seven messages.
Possible GELDS Connections
CLL5.4a Prior to reading, uses prior knowledge, story title and pictures to make predictions about story content.
CLL5.4b Retells familiar stories.
CLL5.4c Discusses books or stories read aloud and can identify characters and setting in a story.
CLL5.4d Makes real-world connections between stories and real-life experiences.
CLL5.4e Develops an alternate ending for a story.
CLL6.4d Segments sentences into individual words.
CLL6.4e Segments words into syllables.
CLL6.4f Manipulates and blends sounds (phonemes) with adult guidance.
CLL8.4a Demonstrates interest in different kinds of literature, such as fiction and non-fiction books and poetry, on a range of topics.
CLL8.4b Understands that letters form words. Understands that words are separated by spaces in print.
CLL8.4c With prompting and support, tracks words from left to right, top to bottom and page to page.
CLL8.4d Recognizes and reads environmental print.
CLL8.4e Identifies the front, back, top and bottom of a book. Points to the title of familiar books or stories and where to begin reading a story.