By Susan Dankworth
Reading is a craft that finds its foundations in the home, prior to the preschool years, as children experience stories in books and learn how to form the letters of their names. It’s a process that can be taken for granted as the process of learning to read is so subtle, encompassing many, many layers of interaction and activity; and it is something that is practiced every day, even when we’re not paying attention. However, becoming good readers does not happen by accident. While the early relationship with reading has more to do with the idea that words on a page tell a story, it is a skill that is built upon and refined by breaking this overarching idea into integral parts and teaching isolated pieces that will eventually work in unison to create a “reader”.
In the primary setting, grades K-2, we have a specialized list of jobs to do relative to the teaching of reading. We must ensure that all students understand that letters have a specific formation and name. At the same time, these specific formations are related to a specific sound; and these sounds can change depending on what the letters are in front and behind.
Eventually, we introduce the idea that specific patterns of letters make words and that combinations of words make sentences. Finally, these sentences come together to make stories. Sounds easy, right? While the concept is simple to understand, getting young children to understand is much more complicated. But to the diligent teacher, it is a reward worth the wait – and the work!
Students who come to the Kindergarten classroom are completely unique in their abilities, and these abilities are influenced by their home environment, the involvement of their parents, their nutrition, their sleep routines, their behavior, and a hundred other factors! Our job as teachers in the primary classroom is to harness the knowledge our students already have and use that as a starting point from which to add new information. As you can imagine, the uniqueness of each individual lends itself to a great number of starting points for the classroom teacher! The goal is to meet each student where they are and build from there. Gone are the days where every student gets the same lesson, and those same lessons are taught from year to year. Today’s teachers are charged with an awesome responsibility – offering lessons that suit most and then offering regular individualized and small group interventions that help make the generalized lessons customized for the specific needs of each child. These interventions close the gaps between concepts (for example, providing additional help to ensure that all letter sounds are mastered) and help students make connections so that true understanding takes place (mastering these sounds will provide the knowledge for reading whole words).
Specialized instruction offered through intervention practices not only helps teachers to target particular objectives, it also offers a learning environment for children that is more focused and, hopefully, less apprehensive (as these interventions normally occur 1-on-1 or in groups of 3 – 5 students). Students involved in intervention are certain to receive practice in a skill that is aligned to their current needs that will either fill necessary gaps in the learning process or enrich by extending their understanding through higher level thinking. True integrated intervention practices help all children on both ends of the learning spectrum by the work of everyone on the team.
At Greenville Elementary School, regular intervention is a required component of our instruction and is offered by all teachers at all grade levels. Each classroom teacher is responsible for tracking the overall achievement for each student assigned to them; however, they are not alone in this effort. In addition to carrying out classroom interventions with their own students, each teacher has the assistance of one or more intervention specialists (Miss Beasecker, Mrs. Oswalt, Miss Innes, and Mrs. Kiefer) who collaborate with classroom teachers to offer specialized assistance for those across the grade level. Each grade level also has the assistance of an OSU-trained Literacy Collaborative coach (Mrs. Crews, Ms. Shilt, and Mrs. Riffle) who work with children individually and in small groups, throughout each day. Recently, we have acquired the help of a teacher who has become specialized in the phonics process – the practice of connecting letters and groups of letters to the sounds they represent. Mrs. Kiefer’s expertise has allowed us one more avenue to intervene on behalf of our students in a very specialized manner. In addition to these areas of support, we also have paraprofessionals (Mrs. Fisher, Mrs. Moore, Mrs. Aldora, Mrs. Capasso, and Miss Zumbaugh) who work to fill in gaps by practicing basic skills with students one-on-one within the classroom setting. Finally, for the past two years, our assistant principal, Mrs. Gorman, has been offering assistance by working with small groups of students for 30 minutes each afternoon. It definitely takes a village, and a LOT of coordination and cooperation, to ensure that each student gets what they need, each and every day.
As you can imagine, the work that we do to ensure student success with the reading process is complex and rigorous! Our students learn to read through intentional instructional applications, individualized practice, continual informal assessment practices, targeted interventions, and consistent collaboration between adult team members. The constant monitoring of what students know and what they still need to understand creates a continual feed for our intervention practices and future plans.
As students grow and progress through higher grade levels, the intervention process changes. In the early years, the focus is on teaching the foundational building blocks presented in these paragraphs. As students master these elementary levels, they will continue their growth in reading through exercises in comprehension and mechanics, genre exploration, and an unlimited number of applications that will reflect grade-level “reading” expectations.
Reading instruction continues after students learn to read; and because of this, interventions will evolve as well – providing continual assistance that help students succeed.