Keeping it all in check

Last week I went into the second grade class where I go once a week to read with some struggling readers.  I saved a little time to read with two other students, very capable and avid readers, who had been begging me to pick them every time I showed up at the door.  It turned out to be a wonderful experience for them AND for me.

Since I spend all my time with readers who are struggling I sometimes wonder if I’m losing sight of the end goal of what proficient readers actually do. It’s always good to read one-on-one with the more capable readers to keep a clear perspective on what is expected of average and above average readers, to listen and watch what they do at the point of difficulty, and to create that vision of an effective reading process system.

Reading with Iman and Maysia (both successful ELL students) made me realize that all the things I’m trying to teach, support and reinforce with the struggling readers ARE the things that proficient second grade readers actually do.  Both girls self-monitored their comprehension and fluency incredibly well — stopping and asking questions if there was a vocabulary word they were unsure of; rereading to confirm the flow of the sentence after noticing a punctuation cue; commenting on the storyline; spontaneously predicting what might happen next; and slowing down to break words apart and then picking up their pace when the problem was solved.  When Maysia read “Manyara stole away in the quiet of the night…” (Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters), she stopped and said, “That must be a different meaning of stole” and then offered an idea about the meaning.  She asked a question when she got to the phrase “the old woman was silhouetted against the moon” because the concept of silhouettes was new to her.

For Iman, I picked the book Angel Child, Dragon Child.  I did a short book introduction about the main character who comes from Vietnam and gets teased by classmates for the way she talks and the way she dresses.  Right away Iman made connections to how she felt starting school coming from Pakistan.  As she read the first part of the book to me she made comments about the mean attitudes of some of the classmates and later inferred that the girl had never seen snow saying, “I guess Vietnam doesn’t have any.” She solved several words quickly on the run using meaning, structure, and visual information.  As she left to finish the book on her own, she said, “You know my mom bought me this book last year and I never wanted to read it. But now I see it’s really interesting.”  I wondered what made the difference for her.  Was it because of the book introduction I did that allowed us a few minutes to chat and get ready to read?  Or was it because a visiting teacher had showed some interest in her as a reader?

Listening to capable students read and discuss texts and observing them with an eye and ear toward strategies and reading process helped me form the vision of what is possible for all readers at this grade level. The experience revitalized me, making me realize that the excitement, interest, and proficiency that these two girls showed is what I want for every student in the class.

How are you maintaining a clear perspective on what is considered “proficient for your grade?”  Are you including more than numbers and levels in that vision?

1 Comment

  1. I agree that when we spend most of our time with struggling readers (or mathematicians, in my case) we can sometimes lose sight of what it looks like and sounds like when these students read or problem solve.

    I recently worked with a group of very strong mathematicians. Working with them allowed me to think, “What are they doing at this point of difficulty that allows them to be successful?” “How did they figure out the meaning of that tricky word in that problem?” “How did they talk about this problem in ways that differ from what I’d hear from a struggling student?” Working with these kids gave me some important insight into what these kids are doing that struggling kids aren’t and some thoughts on how I can help strugglers make connections to what seems so automatic for some students.

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