This summer, I was part of a six-week literacy program to help underprivileged first and second grade children enhance their literacy skills. For three hours each day, we focused on one book and completed activities related to the book. Once we finished with our daily book, we had fifteen minutes for personal reading time. One day during this reading time, I had one student blatantly tell me, “I can’t read.” After sitting down with her, I discovered she really could not read. She could spot sight words like, “the,” “a,” and “and,” but not much beyond that. She also had a difficult time picking out the phonetics of words.
If she has a hard time simply sounding the words out, how is she able to identify the definition of the word? The simple answer is she cannot identify that word. As a teacher, I had nine other students to interact with; therefore I could not spend every day teaching her words and meanings. On days I was unable to work with her, she would sit with a book and make up the story. While this is really great for the imagination, she was still not reading.
It broke my heart to watch this sweet girl in my class interact with books, but never be able to fully indulge in the excitement of a book. As an avid reader myself, I thought about how I learned to read many years ago. I remembered sitting on my grandfather’s lap, reading the newspaper. Now, this reading was not exciting to me as a five year old, but the happiness I felt when my grandfather praised me for reading is a feeling that will never leave me. So I tried this technique with my struggling student. We sat down with a Dr. Seuss book and we started sounding out the words. On days I was unable to work with her, I made sure she had the same book to use. By the end of the summer, she could read the entire book. On the last week of class, as she read the book with another student, I really understood the importance of literacy and what it looks like. I started to understand where it starts and how to reinforce its growth.
What I learned is that literacy does not suddenly appear in kindergarten or first grade. Literacy starts as the language you use around children or the way it is directed toward children and the way you speak to others. Oral language is a child’s first interaction with literacy and they are always listening.
After determining the meaning of literacy, I truly grasped the importance of Pages & Chapters’ program, Open Books. This program incorporates fluency, phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, and comprehension; all of the skills in which most of my students were lacking. These are the five components that are vital to a child’s success in literacy. This leads to success in school, in post-secondary school, and on. Literacy starts before a child walks through the doors of a school. It starts at home with the family, with family friends, and with other children.
So I am challenging all of my family, friends, and readers to be aware of the children in your lives. Make it a requirement to sit down with them for fifteen minutes each day to read. All it took was fifteen minutes a day for four weeks for my student to learn. You have the privilege of sharing the love of reading with another person and please never pass up that valuable moment.
Pages & Chapters Intern