5 Things You Must Know About Teaching Reading
1) It’s About Words
How well kids read is absolutely decided by how many words they know. Don’t let anyone convince you it’s about skills and strategies, grammar and conventions, or the specific terms of literary analysis. That stuff is gravy. It’s good to know, it’s on the test, and you should teach it well. But at the end of the day, know that when you’re teaching the skills, you’re not really teaching reading. No child’s ability to read a word is determined by whether or not they can compare and contrast. A child’s ability to compare and contrast is determined by whether or not they can read a word. So your job is really about making sure they learn new words. And that means make sure they are reading many new things, every day, ---reading myths, reading science, reading history, reading fiction, reading historical fiction. If your students aren’t reading, ---which means them moving their eyes across words, not listening to you talk about similes or plot--- if they aren’t reading three different things and for at least thirty minutes a day, you’re failing them.
2) Every Curriculum Is Terrible
No curriculum has even been designed, let alone approved, adopted and acquired, for the students who will come to you in this classroom. Remember that and remind everyone else, especially people who preach “fidelity.” Curriculum is designed for classrooms where minorities are in the minority and that is not yours. In this world of 80% ELLs and 5th graders reading at second-grade level, we must scaffold and supplement constantly. Don’t let them stop you. Don’t let anyone convince you, even yourself, that students should be constantly reading from a text two or three grade levels too hard. That’s a lie perpetrated by the lazy, by those unwilling to deal with the hassle of differentiating for teachers or students.
3) Make It Real
Whenever you can, have them read with a purpose. Read about upcoming field trips. Read about what’s in the news. Write them letters when you’re upset and make them read them. Write summaries of what they learned in science and make them read them. Let them “research” items of interest on the Internet, which is just reading cleverly disguised as free-wheeling fun. Let them see that reading is a vital tool of living, not a painful process where teacher interrupts all the good parts to make them listen to how to read.
4) Show Them The Love
If you don’t love reading, get out of here. You’re in the wrong job. You’re like a dentist who doesn’t like teeth. As a teacher of reading, you must love to read and you must show that love to your kids. Let them see you read. Silent reading time should include you. Talk to them about what you’re reading. Casually drop, when the next blockbuster comes out, that you read the book. Read aloud to them, daily, from a book you love, and let them hear that real fluency is not about mechanized words per minute, it’s about reading with the pacing and expression that best brings the story to life.
5) Their Happiness is Your Success
Most likely, no matter how good of a job you do, most of your children are not going to pass the reading test this year. You need to accept that. Most just can’t learn enough words fast enough. They will come to you reading at second grade and you will send them on reading at fourth grade. Tremendous progress, but not passing. Next year, they will go from fourth grade to sixth grade and finally pass. But the only way to make that happen is if you teach them to love reading. They must find that reading is a source of happiness, or they will never keep doing it long enough to catch up.