I think of a teacher as a co-planner (along with her student) of possibilities. I feel that it is my job to open up the world of possibilities for the children I work with, and the best way I can do this is to teach them to read and write to the very best of their ability. The better children can read, the more opportunities they have for learning anything and everything they want to learn. The better children can write, the better they are able to get across their thoughts and point of view, and in almost any profession the ability to communicate effectively and well in writing will be an invaluable asset.
I work with children who are struggling with reading, and who are usually many years behind in their reading development. The foundation of my teaching is the thorough assessment I give each student at the beginning of our work together. In my opinion, assessment is the cornerstone of all good teaching. It is important for a teacher to know what her students already know and what they still need to learn, so she can guide them in taking the next step. A teacher also needs to have a thorough knowledge of her subject (reading) and a clear view of what that next step ought to be for each student so that she can guide her students into early and continued successes.
"Success breeds success." When children struggle too much when reading, they aren't motivated to practice reading, and the negative cycle continues. I have a thorough knowledge of the reading field, which allows me to scaffold the student's learning in such a way that she will not struggle too much. I am fortunate to be able to work with struggling readers on a one-to-one basis, which allows me to assess and adjust my teaching moment to moment according to whether or not the student understands and has retained the previous learning.
I am consistently gaining new and important knowledge, insight, and skills and new information about assessments and learning that will continue to benefit my students.
I have high expectations of my students. I see them as the bright, capable children they are. I know that students struggling with reading or diagnosed with dyslexia are typically of average to above-average intelligence, yet they may have feelings of low self-esteem at least in regard to their inability to read well. At our first interview, I assure the student that I know they are bright, that I've previously worked with many children in their same situation, and that I believe they have just not yet been taught in a way that makes sense to them. I let them know that I'll be giving them some assessments to let me know how to teach them better. We discuss (along with the parent) the student's strengths and weaknesses and goals. I get a sense of how motivated the student is - generally my students are very motivated -- which, of course, makes my job much easier.
Motivation and Knowing One's Students
"Teacher, know thy students" is an important part of my philosophy. I believe the more you know your students, the easier it will be to awaken their dormant motivation. I have created a Likert-like Scale assessment to serve as a baseline in showing how the child feels regarding their ability to read, write, spell, and understand the meaning of words (vocabulary) and how they feel about reading and writing. It also asks them to mark how important it is for them to be good at the aforementioned skills, (an attempt to assess their beginning motivation). At the end of our work together, I have the student complete a similar scale and we then compare the two so we can see how far they've come and how their feelings about reading (and writing) have changed.
One way to help motivation along is to start out with a good questionnaire. Students, I believe, are happy to know that someone cares about what they think and what they're interested in. Teaching reading is my passion, and I feel that I am a better teacher when I help children to uncover their interests and passions. It is important to know what children are interested in reading and writing about, because reading and writing well, will be somewhat meaningless if children are not motivated to read and write. If children see a reason for learning, that is an additional motivator. Using what I learn about the student's interests and desires, and preferred ways of learning, makes good sense for best teaching.
I believe in using a multi-sensory, systematic approach in teaching children to read better; children's strengths can be used to shore up their weaknesses. The reading programs I use are multi-sensory programs that combine visual, auditory and tactile approaches to reading. Struggling readers, often, for example, have difficulty with adjacent consonants. At the beginning of my program, in one activity, students manipulate colored blocks to show when a sound has been added, subtracted, or changed in a word. Students enjoy this hands-on approach. Students also "map" and "sort" words containing the same sound by the sound's various graphemes or "sound pictures," saying each sound while writing its sound picture.
The Right Book at the Right Time
I am certain it is important to have students reading immediately. There are programs on the market that require students to memorize a lot of phonemes in isolation before advancing on to reading real words. I believe this is totally unnecessary and serves to de-motivate students. Children need to see a reason for reading--a purpose--often that purpose is for pleasure; reading isolated phonemes has no purpose-and provides no pleasure.
Providing children with the right reading guidance and the right book at just the right time is one of the teacher's most important jobs. In my work with struggling readers, often, there is not a "just right" book to start with; even the books that purport to be "easy readers" are just too difficult. Because it is so important for children to experience immediate success, I've created several progressive stories that provide a scaffold, as each new skill is added on to skills from preceding stories, in such a way as to assure that students experience the reading success they so desperately desire. My decodable stories are integrated with my sequence of instruction and they have proven to give a big boost to students' self-esteem as students quickly realize they are indeed readers. The stories also provide a way for students to develop fluency, and, therefore, feel and be successful reading, possibly for the first time. When students have struggled so much and experienced failure for such a long time, I believe that only consistent success will lead them to the love of reading that is our common goal.
Of course, I want to get my students into reading real books as quickly as possible. One of my new students, a sixth-grader, reading at a 2.6 grade reading level, when asked recently what kind of books he would like to read if he could read whatever he liked, said "Chapter books." In his questionnaire, he wrote, "Easy books." I assured him, as I was able to do, after assessing his skills, that, although we would start with easy books, he would indeed be reading chapter books before too much longer. I have developed a list of books that compliment my program; they help glide the student into some easy and fun chapter books. The student's reading will, of course, branch out from there, until ultimately the goal is that she will be able to read whatever she wishes.
I work to involve parents as much as possible in their child's learning. When everyone is "on the same page" so to speak, the child's learning will be accelerated. I have created several "Parent Letters," that give parents an overview of my teaching philosophy, methods, and procedures. I revise and personalize these generic letters to inform parents of the various parts of my program and the skills their child is working on at present. I suggest small ways the parents can be supportive of their child in his present stage of development.
In an ideal situation, the parent would during the week be able to help reinforce the child's newly learned skills, particularly with younger children. Older children may not want their parents' help. I encourage all students to do the homework I give on their own so I can see what they know, not what their parent knows. However, I request that parents read to their child daily, if possible, and discuss word meanings and ideas, so that once the child is able to decode, he'll have a head start in comprehension. At times, an older child may step in to read to their younger, struggling sibling.
Reading, Writing and Spelling Connection
The more I teach, the more I see in action the strength of the reading, writing, and spelling connection. Not only does teaching these three in concert, save time (killing three birds with one stone), it also makes sense, not only to me, but I believe to my students, as well. Students are provided with a framework to better understand the English code and they can more easily connect to the learning.
Children often enjoy the creative writing process and they enjoy reading and sharing what they've written. I encourage children to use invented spelling in order to write freely without the worry of conventions slowing them down or completely halting their ability to write. Ideas come first; later we can work on spelling and syntax. This invented, or what I like to call "developmental" spelling provides me a window into whether or not the student as retained and made use of past learning. I hope what they've learned so far about spelling will begin to show up in their writing and I encourage this as they move along in their various stages of development.
In essence, it is my job as a teacher to provide my students with the ability to become life-long learners, to widen their worlds and their opportunities. I am committed to this task.
I welcome all questions and offer a free consultation.
To schedule a free consultation, email or call:
Margo Emrich, M.Ed.