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For the past decade (and some) that I have worked in public education, I have always been exposed to children that despite all measures do not read on grade level. Some of them have learning disabilities, while others are fighting forces in their house that have helped put them behind. Despite all of these experiences, I never thought that I would have a child that could not read. However in 2005, I received a "dose" of my own medicine when my now thirteen year old son, entered first grade and he couldn't read.
Like any responsible parent, me and my husband had taught him his alphabet and he new sight words but he couldn't bring it together to read. All through out Pre Kindergarten he had performed fine and when he was in Kindergarten, I noticed the teacher was reviewing all of the material that was covered the previous year. While it was just my third year of teaching, my teacher voice wanted to scream, "My son already knows this!" Instead I decided to be diplomatic and I didn't voice my concerns enough. At the end of the school, his principal told me that she was putting him with best first grade teacher at the school, a veteran first grade teacher that she knew I'd like.
During the summer we worked on reading, but even I noticed he wasn't on grade level. So as the school year started, I said a little prayer that this teacher would be able to help him. Every afternoon we were at the kitchen table working with him and he had to not only know sight words, but parts of speech and all the other subjects. His teacher, Ms. Boyd, was very transparent and would talk to me for hours on how to help him and what they were doing in class, but he still struggled.
When the first progress report came home, my son walked to the car his head" hung low" with a report card with mostly F's and a couple of C's. While I knew he was struggling, I was still devastated. I knew he had struggled, but until I had the evidence in my face, I didn't realize how much. As I held that sheet of paper, I felt like it was a personal attack on me, my parenting and more importantly my child. Of course, I knew he was struggling but like all parents I thought that he would "see it through" just like we had struggled with potty training, his speech, and a lot of other developmental milestones.
We had tested him and he did not have a learning disability. He simply did things slower than other children.
The next day I took off from my classroom and decided to have a conference with his teacher and find out what exactly was wrong. As I waited for her planning period to start, I found myself sounding like the parents of the children that I taught. Did she not like my child? Was she being too hard on him? Did he have a learning disorder? These were all things I needed to know.
As the conference started, I came "face to face" with his biggest roadblock to success (in my eyes) a 30 year veteran of first grade, Ms. Boyd. We weren't strangers, but I needed definite answers.
I expected to get angry and of course blame her (I know shame on me) but as I listened to her she made perfect sense. She told me in "no uncertain terms" if he could not read fluently by the end of 1st grade she would retain him. She also told me what I already knew- that he just really lost a whole year (Kindergarten) where he should have been reading independently and instead he was relearning his letters.
Talk about a moment of truth. Right there in that classroom full of pint size chairs and desks, I wanted to cry like a baby.
As the conference ended, I came to the realization that it was MY fault that my son was struggling. I had spent so much time helping other children, that I neglected my own child when it came to his learning. My son went to Pre K and did well but I knew that his work in Kindgarten was too easy and not challenging him enough. Wanting to be "diplomatic", I allowed him to sit in a classroom and relearn everything he already knew despite everything in my intuition telling me to move him out of the classroom he was in. When he got to first grade and was expected to know his parts of speech, read whole books,etc. --he wasn't ready.
After we got home and I got him to sleep, I sat up all night and cried. By the morning my tears were gone and I began to think of a plan for him. I knew I could not let my bright, wide eyed, little man become a statistic --I had to do something. My plan was not only get him reading proficiently but to hold me accountable for spending enough time with his academics as I did my own job as a teacher.
As soon as I got to work, I went into my principal's office and I let her know to pull me from all extracurricular activities. I could only stay for tutorial twice a week all of my other time was to be devoted to helping my child.
After consulting our school's reading teacher and his teacher I developed this plan:
1. I made the time to work with him on his reading. There was a time when I started my career that I was in my building until 6pm every night. Then when I got home I would stay up grading papers. That had to end--immeaditely. Since I was in a leadership position in my school, I was able to give some "work" to others and I made a promise to be home by the time he got out of school. I blocked out 2 hours a day to work on homework and after that we decided to learn (while having fun) . I made sure NO MATTER what I was there to help him with his reading and work. We cleared a space on our dining room table, I got some supplemental books, his homework folder and EVERYDAY we worked. Some days were good--others were bad but I noticed by me being consistent made him try even harder to do well.
2. I made reading visual to him. Everyone used to laugh when they entered my house but I immediately began to post "sight" words all over the house where he frequented. Every time he saw a word I would make him pronounce it, spell it, tell me what it meant and (if able) use it in a sentence. Before long, I had a house full of words and I started to notice that he began to use these words daily. I even began to post sentences with the words up and we were constantly reviewinghis words. Before long, we made a game of it and when he could correctly pronounce a certain amount of words I would give him a "prize" for his hard work. By increasing his vocabulary, I increased his phonics and reading level.
3. I made reading fun for him. The fact is that many boys don't believe that reading is fun because let's face it..there is not a lot of books that appeal to them. So, I decided to let him choose the books he wanted to read. First, I took him to our local library and based on his ability I let him choose books. I let him get as many as he wanted and as we finished we would get more books. There were times we would leave the library with so many books that I'd be about to "topple" over. I made him read the books to me, I read the books to him and we discussed what happened in the books to work on his comprehension. It got so bad that the library staff would anticipate us coming in. When he got to a certain number of books read, I would again reward him with a "treat" for all of his hard work. During the summer we joined reading challenges held at the local library that rewarded kids for reading books. He loved it because he got cool treats and I loved it because it was free. Through a lot of searching, I found books like A to Z Mystery Series that he loved and that he could read.
4. I used electronics to help his reading. Back in 2005, the internet was not as abundant with educational websites like Starfall so I bought CD-Roms based on his grade for him to work on. Every other day, he would get on the computer for 30 minute increments to read and play games with reading skills. This helped make learning fun--and even now he uses online sources to help him in areas he is struggling in. Many times he would be playing a "fun" game but not realizing he was reviewing Phonics, comprehension, etc.
5. I stayed in constant contact with his teacher about his progress in class. I emailed, called and conferences with her about her professional opinion (she had taught 1st grade for 30 years) on what I could do. I made sure to show her that I was there to help her. I asked to see assessments so I could see what he was struggling in so I could reinforce skills at home. I got so "involved" in his schooling, that I was relearning all of the 1st grade curriculum and I was amazed. The things he was expected to learn in first grade, I know I didn't learn until third grade! His teacher also told me that in Tennessee, the odd grades are the hardest grades for kids because that's where most of the new curriculum is taught, while the even number grades reinforce skills--especially in elementary school. By the end of the year, I had spent so much time on the curriculum that I felt like I could teach elementary school- in another lifetime.
In the end, he passed the first semester and ended up making all B's by the end of the year. I was so proud that he was promoted to the 2nd grade based on his hard work. Now he wasn't afraid to read and struggle through words he didn't know.
Seven years later, he is on his way to the 8th grade but reads on a 10th grade level. He is currently taking 9th grade literature, due to his academics and this summer he's reading "The Illiad" and struggling through it on his own. Last school year he ranked number 14 out of 250 7th graders at his middle school. Just today I got a letter for him to be tested for being "gifted" and every morning he leaves for school he has a new book in his hand--he is officially a "bookworm". Despite him being older, I still do a lot of the same techniques that I used when he was 5-6 with not only with him but with my two toddlers. Inspired by his struggles, I make sure that I always spend just as much (if not more) time with my kids making sure they're never a second priority to my kids at school. Never again will I allow any of my children fall behind.
What are some things you do to enforce the belief that "reading is fundamental" in your house? Have you (or your kids) struggled with reading?[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]