If you had asked me 4 years ago whether or not I would have broken my no Black Friday rule to buy this for my now 5th grade son, I probably would have burst into tears. Back then, he was in 1st grade, and I had taken a break from the classroom to be a Literacy Coach in my district--an experience that (I think) made me a much better teacher than I ever was before. At that time, I thought for certain the my son would be the avid and voracious reader that the son of a reading teacher would certainly be, and I was so excited for him to catch that reading bug. I had just come to find out that was wrong.
We did everything right--read to him nightly, read in front of him, made sure to make him aware of the print-rich environment around him, etc. He did not learn to read in Kindergarten, and, like both me and my husband, he was one of those messy left-handed writers who had to work a little harder when it came to learning his letters and numbers. School seemed hard for him at the time, but I wasn't concerned--it would come.
He spoke early, was (and is) extremely verbal, loved being read to and independently chose to "read" the many books in his room for pleasure. Hearing his little sing-song voice from down the hall and catching him reading Caps for Sale or Harold & the Purple Crayon to himself like we had done so many times? Always made me smile. It would be fine. We wouldn't be able to get him to put a book down. He would be under the covers with a flashlight when he was supposed to be sleeping, and we wouldn't care, because he would love to read. We were sure that his is who he would be:
My son's intervention was a balanced literacy approach modeled after Reading Recovery. It was a one-on-one, daily program, with an intense home component each night. Like Reading Recovery, he would receive a limited number of sessions. If he was not reading at that point, he would be dismissed and other, more intensive types of intervention would be considered. I was so worried, because not only was he struggling, but the whole enterprise was not leading to a love of reading--he wanted to come home and play, and was not the least bit appreciative of having to tackle something he felt he wasn't good at after a long day of having to work hard. It was not fun. This is who he was:
In 2nd grade, something began to click. He had a teacher who provided lots and lots of self-selected independent reading time. She told him he was smart and a great reader. (Thank you, Mrs. P.--he believed you!) Since then, it's hard to get him to put down a book. He's that reader I always hoped that he would be, and I am forever grateful to his teachers. Before Mrs. P., Mrs. S. and Mrs. B. recognized right away in 1st grade that this was going to be hard for him, and I thank them for swooping in to make sure that he would come out the other side. He did.
Last Christmas when he was in 4th grade, I realized that somewhere inside, he recognized this. We were getting ready to Christmas shop, and when I asked him to make a list of all of the teachers and helpers (other than his classroom teacher) that we should get something for, they were the first that came to mind for him. I found out through a colleague that he brought his gift to Mrs. B in the reading intervention classroom, and said, "Thank you for teaching me to read." This colleague shared how much that had meant to Mrs. B.. It makes me a little teary just thinking about it, because I know as a teacher how that would make me feel. To know that I had made a difference.
I put the word "balanced" in the title of this post, because I think that was the key to why his intervention was successful. The move towards a quantifiable, synthetic phonics approach that NCLB injected into our schools hadn't hit his school yet. He escaped by the skin of his teeth, because I will tell you right now--daily ORF and a race for WCPM would have killed reading for my kid. Killed it. I know what that is and it has it's place, but I also know what it isn't, and I'm happy that his teachers took a different approach. He's living proof that a balanced intervention approach can work, because it was focused on making meaning, and meaning and comprehension of great stories is what hooked him in the end.
I mentioned that we are reading Pathways to the Common Core as a faculty, and we met the other day to discuss the first few chapters. One of the ideas presented that struck me most was the CCSS emphasis on meaning and comprehension above code-based instruction. Don't get me wrong, I know that the standards recognize its place and I do, too. However, it is not the be-all end-all litmus test as to what makes a good reader. Aimsweb and DIBELS would not have helped my son. At least not without that balance.
While I cannot say that I have internalized the CCSS yet, I am thrilled with the pendulum swing back (these pendulums swing a lot, don't they?!) to the middle. We're back to a place now where we can't ignore phonics, but where we can once again value things that remain harder to quantify.
Right now, this is what my son is reading on his new Nook: