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The Unexpected Journey as Children Learn to Read


​"Just finished reading 'Ramona Forever' with my daughter. When I closed the book, she took it and held it against her heart and I thought, 'what a wonderful thing to write stories for young people!"  - Kenneth Oppel (author)"Children learn to read at different speeds and ages. Don't supposethose kids who read early love literature and those who learn later do not. If your child is slow to reading text, then read, read, readto them yourself. Give them stories and audiobooks and playsand poetry too!" - Heather O'Neill (author)*************************Teaching children to learn to read has always been an unexpected journey - every child I have given birth to, all my grandchildren (including Capri who is only 2 months old and is pictured above trying to turn the page of a book I was reading to her), and every learner I have encountered in 32 years of teaching reading with children of all ages, have each travelled the 'learning to read' road with their own idiosyncrasies, ups and downs.As we enter another era of 'here is how children learn to read' with all the discussions emerging around 'The Science of Reading', including additional funding to help 'fill in the learning gaps from pandemic learning disruptions', I want to clearly state I have yet to find any road map, any set of instructions or directions for learning to read that have worked the same way for any two children. Whether we share common resources, funding, lesson plans, books or programs, every child will experience learning to read in their own way and with their own particular set of successes, hiccups and challenges and each one will bring their own background experiences, their histories of reading within their families, their personal cognitive strengths and challenges, their personal preferences and their own stories and understandings of stories to their experiences with reading. We can standardize the practices, the assessments, the expectations. We just can't standardize the children. Thankfully!!It's not that we have to re-invent the teaching wheel for every child - it's just that we need to have a wide repertoire of approaches, strategies, techniques, resources, materials and ideas accessible within teachers as we sit with each child and try to make sense of what they already know about reading, what is working for them already and where their challenges lie. And then we need to travel their journeys with them respectfully, thoughtfully and with the greatest of joy as we accompany them on their particular learning-to-read adventure :)At EHS, we do this every day and we always have - we have long been invested in the belief that learning to read is different for every child even as we know the foundations of fostering a love of reading are most often grounded in shared experiences with reading. Children learn to love books through listening to stories and sharing their ideas about stories together. Knowledge is socially constructed through shared experiences, questions and investigations - we learn to read and to love to read simultaneously. These shared experiences are the cornerstone of all our learning at EHS. These are just the first steps, however, in supporting our learners in their own learning to read adventures. Most of the time, as I move in and out of classrooms during our whole school literacy blocks, children are working in pairs or small groups with teachers, staff and volunteers focused on various aspects of learning to read and write. Learning to manipulate letters to create words and craft sentences. Exploring elements of genres that begin with the fundamentals of stories - characters, settings, events, beginnings and endings. Differentiating fiction from non-fiction. Making personal choices about which stories they love to read most - and who their favourite authors are. Recognizing the importance of writers as well as illustrators. Learning to modulate their voices to capture the energy, emotions, excitement of the texts they are reading. Listening to stories, telling stories, predicting what will happen next. Asking questions, finding their own answers in the text and then asking more that remain unanswered but provoke deeper thinking. These are just some of the experiences children invest themselves in as they wander along the various paths of learning to read. And, when they falter or hit a rut with learning to read, their teachers are there to offer other ideas, experiences, nudges towards considering different ways to understanding reading. If every child learned to truly become a reader because they knew their alphabet, understood all the grapho-phonemic relationships and could apply them to texts effortlessly, teachers and parents could teach predictably and be comfortable with the knowledge we were all doing 'the right thing'.  The problem is that it hasn't quite worked out that way in the past 50 - 100 years of knowing how to teach these specific skills. We've had to learn to improvise, and adjust and let kids take the lead in learning as they share with us what makes sense to them and what doesn't.  Sometimes it takes a lot of teacher observations and listening to figure out exactly where the disconnect exists for kids when they are faltering along their particular reading journey. Sometimes they just need some more 'growing' and 'maturing' time than others in their age or grade group. Sometimes there are significant learning issues that require considerable modifications - including use of technology - to foster new understandings. Almost always, it takes more time to become a proficient reader than the child, the teacher or the parent would really like...and keeping the faith that learning to read eventually does happen is a strategy requiring attention itself :)Almost always, by this time of the school year, I am working with learners who appear to be off-course a bit on their learning journey.  I usually work with them independently, for about 20 minutes, 2 - 4 times per week. I begin by re-visiting the paths I know they have already travelled - building the alphabet in order, identifying sounds, noticing vowels and consonants. We are re-visiting practices of noticing and discrimination - what have we noticed or not noticed along the way of learning to read? What sounds are most familiar and which ones still surprise us (the soft sound of /g/ is often a surprise!) and what things have they been taught that didn't yet 'stick' - just because we have been taught something does not mean we have internalized it yet. Yet. A most powerful word to be sure!There are a couple of things I have learned as I coach these young readers that may be of interest to parents:when children learn to 'sing' the ABC song, they often say /lmnop/ as if it were just one sound - slow this section of the song down from the earliest experiences with the song and clearly articulate /l/, /m/, /n/, /o/, /p/.  This is a frequent pothole on the journey to learning to read - in order to appreciate letters and sounds and manipulate them in text effectively, we need to clearly hear and recognize each discrete letter
when young learners create a physical alphabet string from magnetic letters or scrabble tiles (my favourite literacy manipulative!), they are also visually recognizing and discriminating letters from each other and tying those letters to sounds - a key aspect of developing reliable familiarity with graphemes and phonemes and their relationships
there have always been 26 letters in the alphabet, from which literally hundreds of thousands of words and sentences are formed - the greater the familiarity of children with physically moving those 26 letters around in their fingers as young learners, the greater the chance they will be able to make sense of how letters group together to make words in somewhat predictable ways - physically play with letters lots - continuing with this practice even after children know them well :)
"We all learn from someone else.  We're all taught. We are never alone as long as we can find beauty and truth in the amazing, astonishing combination of only twenty-six letters." - Sarah ban Breathnach (author) Helping children appreciate the significance and beauty of the alphabet is a key part of my work with learners every day and our explorations often (not always) offer new paths for entering the world of reading.  In the next couple of blog entries, I will explore some other alternative strategies for encouraging new readers who are encountering roadblocks on their journey to be avid, skilled and successful readers.  And I will continue to read aloud whenever possible - including with baby Capri - to foster an enduring appreciation and enjoyment of stories on her journey towards a joyful reading life!Lorraine Kinsman, PrincipalEric Harvie School  

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Eric Harvie School

357 Tuscany Drive NW Calgary, AB, T3L 3C9
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School Contacts

Principal
Lorraine Kinsman
Assistant Principal
Ben Strand
Education Director
Prem Randhawa
Trustee
Dana Downey

School Information

Grades
K-04
Enrolment
377
Programs
Regular
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School Hours

Morning Start
8:15 AM
Dismissal
3:15 PM
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