/twərk/ is an r-controlled syllable

IMG_0752Learning to read is hard work and for many kids, slow going. Knowing this, I always ask new students, “Why do you want to learn to read?”   The answers are often poignant (“I want to read the birthday cards from my grandma”), sometimes practical (“I want to be able to tell the difference between the shampoo bottle and the conditioner”) or surprising (“I want to read the subtitles of a foreign movie”).  For teens, the answers  almost always do NOT match their parents’ ideas of why reading is important. Some of my favorites: “I want to write a love letter,” “I want to tweet,” or “I want to Goggle (something not entirely appropriate).”  I always write these wishes down, so when the time comes to finally begin blending phonemes into words, we can apply that skill to something meaningful and motivating for the student.   This week, I received the following email from a parent, which nicely illustrates this concept:

James just sounded out “girls twerking booty” as he typed it into YouTube.  YouTube auto-corrected it to “girls talking booty.”  This required Tom to explain to James that he had spelled everything correctly, but since the computer was misinterpreting what he entered, he should try something else.  We are now all sitting around the living room thinking of  alternative search terms for “Girls twerking booty.”   This is not what I pictured literacy would be like.

James’ mother sent the email to me and James’ teacher. His teacher’s response?

Initial blend!  r-controlled vowel! -ing ending! Yay!

My thoughts exactly.

Shanahan on Literacy: Too Fluent by Half

To kick off a series of posts on building reading comprehension, here is a link to Timonthy Shanahan’s blog where he describes a great strategy called “intensive questioning”: Shanahan on Literacy: Too Fluent by Half.

 

and even MORE free literacy stuff!

A reader just wrote in to remind me of the extensive selection of high quality FREE resources for teachers, parents and administrators available from the Florida Center for Reading Research.  Teachers can check out the Student Center Activities for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. In addition to free, printable materials there is also a search tool that allows you to match instructional routines to activities by grade level. For parents, there is a grade-by-grade guide for supporting your child’s literacy development at home. The section for administrators includes an excellent Principal Walkthrough Checklist to make the most of classroom visits to evaluate reading practices from kindergarten through high school.

Thank you, Marie, for reminding me about this wonderful resource!

Long shots

Last weekend, I was tutoring a 21-year-old young woman with Down syndrome (I’ll call her Hannah) who had gone through her entire public school career without learning to read. Hannah is an engaging, bright and social person who is living a full life. She likes to dance (Hip Hop), she’s active in sports, and she definitely knows how to rock a party dress. How, I wondered, is it possible that this capable young woman received 18 years of “special education and related services” and never learned to read? When I met Hannah about a month ago, she did not know a single letter name or sound. She knew a few sight words, but because of lack of use, even that was not consistent. In just three weeks of tutoring, Hannah has started to blend sounds to read short CVC words (cat, hat, etc.). It’s always exciting to see this—when reading “clicks” for someone. I have no doubt that Hannah will, in fact, learn to read and that this skill will greatly enhance her life and for that, I am happy. But I couldn’t help but feel a momentary sadness when her mother wondered aloud what life would have been like for Hannah if she had acquired this skill when she was younger.

I had been pondering all of this when the next morning, I tuned in to “This American Life” on National Public Radio. The theme of the show was “long shots” and below is a snippet from the show’s transcript:

Ira Glass: Remember last year’s Kentucky Derby? The horse that won was such a long shot that the Sports Illustrated writer assigned to the race never even bothered to find out about him before the race. He’d lost 31 of his previous 32 races. At 50 to 1 odds, he was the longest long shot ever to win the Derby in over a century. Newsday published a preview of the race where it told this horse to just stay in the barn.

Announcer: As the field turns for home, top of the stretch, it’s still Join In The Dance with a tenuous lead–

Ira Glass: If you watch this race on YouTube — and you should, it’s incredible– the horse that’s going to win is called Mine That Bird. And he is so far behind that halfway through the race, you see all the other horses– they’re in a pack– and then this huge empty space, and then way behind that space is Mine That Bird. Then he picks up speed, he catches up to the pack, and it’s not until the final stretch that he passes every other horse and gets out in front. It all happens so fast that the announcer doesn’t even have time to say his name until it’s nearly over.”

Announcer: Mine That Bird now comes out to take the lead as they come down to the finish. And it’s spectacular! Spectacular upset! MineThat Bird has won the Kentucky Derby, that impossible result here!

Ira Glass: That’s how he did it. The jockey, Calvin Borel, said, “I road him like a good horse.”

Here we are again, I thought—back at expectations. That jockey believed in Mine That Bird, and Mine That Bird knew it. Hannah’ mother knew her daughter could read, and she refused to give up on that dream. Now, at 21 years old, Hannah is picking up speed and I can just see her crossing that finish line.