Recent conference thoughts

I heard some incredible literacy folks speak at the recent Reading Recovery conference in Columbus, Ohio.  I’m just now finding some time to review my notes and reflect on some great lines I jotted down. Linda Dorn said in her keynote address, “The effectiveness of our teaching is measured NOT by what the child can do with us, but by what he can do independently.”

That really makes me think about my teaching.  Am I teaching in ways that the child will take on and try what I am asking him to do?  Will Eric dip down into his reading process system and try to put in a word that makes sense and then check to see if it looks right as I’ve been practicing doing with him?  Will Rachel keep a constant check on herself to see if she is understanding what she is reading?  Will Marcus listen to himself reading and stop if he thinks his reading sounds choppy and go back and try it again.  Dorn further suggested that if the teaching has been precise and the scaffolding has been supportive and right on target for what the child needed, then the child will take on the strategic action or behavior that we were focusing on.

In another session, MaryAnn McBride mentioned that the two most important things a teacher can do for a struggling reader is to be reflective and responsive. We all complain about never having enough time to be as reflective as we want to be.   And yet, what good are we doing the child if we don’t take a few minutes to look over our running records? We’re not just taking a running record to make sure the child is in the right level book.  Rather we can use these records to zero in on what the child needs to learn next. Being responsive to each struggling reader means tailoring our teaching, thinking about what he can do, can almost do, and cannot do.  Careful analysis of our on-going assessment leads to teacher decisions about instruction that make a difference for children.  Betsy Kaye once said, “Children learn from where they are, not from where we are.”

Mary Fried reminded the Reading Recovery teachers in her audience that not only is reading a problem-solving activity, but that teaching, too, is a problem-solving activity.  It’s our job to figure out what a struggling child needs and then “teach for the greatest payoff.”  She warned against getting too comfortable with the routines of a Reading Recovery lesson and teaching on automatic pilot, rather than staying fresh and putting forth your best teaching effort at every moment.

All of these speakers seemed to have an underlying message of the urgency with which we must teach struggling readers.  We have to be our best teaching selves in order to help them succeed. When I come from conferences like these I always feel inspired to do my best work. Are you ready to be the best you can be for the kids who are having trouble with literacy acquisition in your classroom?

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