Reading Readiness and the Tiny Tot

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“Now, on to our literacy program,” Tiny’s teacher remarked during Parent Orientation.

Oh, good, I thought, this is why I’m here.

“We really need our parents to start reading with their children every night. They need to know how to hold a book, turn a page, read from left to right–especially left to right, because most of them try to start on the right side of the page. They also need to know which direction is up. Most of the students are still holding their books upside-down.”

What? No way. The kids in Tiny’s class don’t know how to hold a book the right way, or know where the front is? I groaned inside. Is this the class that Tiny is in for the rest of the year? They’ll catch up. They’ll catch up.

I had to believe the students in his class would catch up.

“Also, help me teach your child letters, and the letter sounds,” Tiny’s teacher continued. “It’s important that they know what sounds the letters make, so that reading comes more naturally.”

I remembered back to my student teaching years, when I sat in a first grade classroom, clapping along with the teacher, teaching the letter sounds as a morning lesson. Did teachers not do that anymore? Not like it mattered, because Tiny already knew each letter’s sound. We mastered that last year.

“Now, this is the book we’re working on. Let me show you, so that you can see the level the students are on, as of today.” She leaned down, pulled up a book, and projected it onto a screen. “As you can see, it’s repetitive. I like the pond. I like the frog. This is a Level A book. We are teaching the children to look to the pictures to figure out the words, and that is really helping them so far.”

Are you kidding me? I thought. Tiny’s latest book, still a phonics reader, was more difficult than that. We were working on looking at the words, not the pictures, to sound out words, along with mastering sight words. I had spent the summer emphasizing the phonics readers, mostly because he hadn’t read with his dad during the summer. I was introducing verb tenses to already known words (like/likes/liked/liking), and he was starting to understand that concept, but not every time. Still, I had been teaching him the concept of sounding out words to figure them out, which is the most important part of reading, to me. Pictures, in my world, don’t count where reading is concerned.

“By the end of the year, the students will be able to read on a Level D book. Our Benchmarks say Level E, but most of them will be on a Level D. In November, I will begin assessments, and start Guided Reading lessons. At that point, the students will bring home books for you to read with them. Don’t be surprised if they can read it with fluency. We will have worked on the book so many times, it will be easy for them to read. Now, I would like you to help them with reading every night, but the teaching of the reading will be up to me. That’s what I’m here for.” She smiled at us then, the parents of children whose kids couldn’t sound out letters, hold books upright, or know to read from left to right. She was our literacy savior, the person who would teach our children to read.

I, however, was not impressed. November? They won’t assess the children until November? How will she know what level the children are on, if they are reading Level A books until November?

For the rest of the Parent Orientation, I zoned out. Worry over Tiny’s progress niggled in the back of my mind. Would he fall behind, or become disinterested in reading, being stuck on books he could already read? I assured myself, however, that the teacher knew from working with Tiny, individually, that his progress was more advanced than what she was explaining as the norm in her classroom.

The meeting wound to a close. I stood, and made a bee-line to where his teacher stood. “Hello,” I said, introducing myself. “I’m Tiny Tot’s mom. I was wondering if you knew of any specific readers that I could purchase, to work with Tiny at home?”

“Well, we will be working on books in class,” she replied.

I was not impressed with that response, by the way.

“I understand,” I replied, with emphasis, “but Tiny is ready to advance in reading, and I wondered if you knew a good reader to suggest? We’ve read through all the Biscuit books. He really likes those.”

She was smiling, but she had no clue what I was talking about. That much I could tell. “There are a few easy books at the store. I’m sure any of those will be fine. Pick the easiest level.”

Frustrated at her response, and clueless look in regards to my child, I said, “He’s figured those out, but thanks,” and started to turn away.

I think she realized my irritation. She had this quizzical, confused look on her face as she responded, “Well, I should probably assess his reading.”

I smiled, nodded, and turned away, thinking, Yeah, you probably should.

No, it was not my most mature parenting moment. I was irritated; I was feeling a large amount of frustration. When I was teaching, I assessed my kids within the first week. All fifty of them. I did a computerized assessment, and I did a one-on-one assessment. I did both, because I learned more about my students working with them individually. Now, with my twenty-three college-aged students, I have already figured them out. This teacher and I have teaching in common, except I know every student’s strengths and weaknesses. Why didn’t she?

Did she know my kid, at all? Did she know any of the students in her classroom?

No, Tiny hasn’t mastered reading. No, he’s probably not the best reader in her classroom. But, what he has proven to be is an emergent reader. And, as an emergent reader, he’s begun to demonstrate fluency and comprehension. We’ve been working on that, a lot. But, because he’s an emergent reader, one who’s shown reading readiness, I’ve wanted him to progress–to move forward with his reading.

He’s been ready, but I haven’t pushed him forward. I’ve been a language arts/English teacher since before he was born, but I haven’t felt like the defining force behind his reading skills. His preschool program did that for him, and I helped in the evenings. I only helped, I only encouraged their direct instruction, because I’ve never taught students how to learn to read. I taught the nuances of reading: comprehension, inflection, fluency, and critical thinking. I taught the older kids, therefore I’ve always been afraid to teach the littler kids.

Little kids like Tiny Tot.

But now? Now I’m learning that his progression must come from me, if it’s going to occur. His classroom teacher won’t assess reading levels until November. By November, I expect my child to have mastered a Level 1 book, and demonstrate beginning readiness on a Level 2 book. If that’s my expectation, then I must I take over his literacy instruction, instead of just helping the main instructor along.

I’ve got to become his instruction.

Yesterday, I went to Barnes & Nobles, and found a group of longer Biscuit books. Tiny loved the phonics Biscuit readers, so I knew he would like these new Biscuit readers. I sat down with him last night, and showed him all the new reading materials. He eagerly chose a book, and began reading. There were a few times when he needed help sounding out words. Still, my motherly instinct about his reading readiness was correct. The book wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t difficult, and he should master it in a few days.

My emergent reader has become a reader. If I want him to have a successful year of reading, without falling through the cracks, then I need to Mom up, and teach my child the way I teach other students–with love, encouragement, and a strong desire for successful reading.

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