Joey was in the need for more books, so we stopped in by the “Red Boxes Room” so he could make some choices. He picked out four of five books. “That’s good.” he stuffed the books in his book bag, satisfied with his selection.
Two days later, in my room, we settled in. Reading logs were checked and appropriately stickered. Books were sorted. We were about to start drilling sounds, when I heard his soft voice, “Do you want to know how old the tree was?” I looked at his half masked face trying to process the question I heard. Seemingly, it came out of no where. He read my puzzled face and repeated, “Do you want to know how old the tree was?” “The tree? The tree! Oh yes, how old was the tree?” the origin of his question finally registering in my mind. He was sharing the information from a book he had chosen a few days earlier. His mask had slipped below his chin, the smile of knowledge was in his eyes and on his face, “It was 4, 392 year old!”
Teaching and learning in this pandemic year brought uncertainty and many changes. Some teachers, some students, faired better than others. For Joe, it was hard. There was no momentum, and opportunities for lasting connections seemed to come and then go and then come again.
Despite the lack of momentum, we muddled through. I maintained my focus on working with him to strengthen his visual cuing system by teaching him explicit phonics. Over time, I saw him begin to realize that he knew how words work. He began to not only understand, but use, the strategy of looking through the whole word. For him, that meant seeing the vowel teams, r controlled vowels, or blends and confidently knowing the sounds they made. He learned to be flexible with the vowels. Through our intervention time he learned how words work all while maintaining use of meaning and syntax. Stacking his bag with books he wanted to read gave him time to put all he learned to use!
There’s a great deal of discussion out there about “the best” way to teach reading. Looking back on the year, Joey’s story taught me what I know about the “the best” way.
I know the “the best” way to teach reading is pull from all you know and create the perfect balance, of encoding, decoding, and comprehension. I know “the best” way to create that balance is to continue to learn and grow myself, by talking with colleagues, attending workshops, reading, and learning from the children. Because, ultimately, “the best” way to teach reading is to know the reader in front of you.