Looking Back In Order to Move Forward As a future elementary school teacher, I have always thought the task of teaching kids could be a rewarding and gratifying experience. However, I recently realized that in order to obtain these rewarding experiences the teacher and students must work hard and with determination. Learning to read can be a very daunting task for a youngster. Therefore, as a teacher, it is your job to facilitate positive reading strategies from the start. Looking back at my experiences as an early reader, I can gain some insight as to what might help or hinder my future students.
I believe that one of the most important things you can do for your child is to start reading to them at an early age. Before I even became a school aged child my mother would sit on the couch with my brother and I just after lunch and read books. Sometimes it was a favorite book that we had picked and other times they were early reader books like Dick and Jane. I remember being snuggled up on the couch helping her point to the words as she read along. Then at bed time she would read aloud from a chapter book. My brother and I would eagerly open our minds to the words as they came off the page.
Some of my fondest memories as a child are listening to my mother read Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little to us. Since I consider reading to a child one the best ways to open their imagination to new worlds, I fully intend to different forms of literature into my classroom. I think by hearing an adult read aloud to a child, the child is then able to properly hear and feel the author’s intentions for tone and emotion of his or her book. I don’t think you are ever too old to sit and listen to a book, especially if you can open up a child’s mind to a book that he or she would never pick up on their own accord.
I firmly believe that my mother laid the foundation for better success once I entered elementary school. My elementary school experience probably started out a little different than most kids. I lived in a little valley in East Napa County which currently has a population of 488. I sense that the population has stayed around 500 people since I was little. As I entered elementary school the class sizes were extremely small. In fact the school only had three classrooms total for grades kindergarten through eighth grade.
My first teacher taught kindergarten through the 2nd grade all in one classroom, while 3rd-5th was taught in the second classroom and 6th-8th in the last classroom. I had 4 other students in kindergarten with me at the time, a girl and three boys. Some might think this to be the ideal situation because of the attention that each student would get. However, I felt the complete opposite. The teacher was constantly busy trying to make sure the curriculum for each grade level was being taught and there was very little time for students that were struggling. I remember being put into groups and given workbook pages with very little instruction or guidance as to what was expected.
Many of the boys had trouble with this approach and needed more guidance to get started in their tasks. The teacher often mistook the fact that they did not fully comprehend what was expected of them on the workbook pages as disobedience, which often lead to punishment. In order to curb the potential for punishment, the students who excelled helped those who struggled. I don’t really think this environment is particularly beneficial to children in elementary school. However, there were some great things about this learning environment that I really enjoyed.
My teacher loved to sing and play the guitar and brought her love into the classroom with her. Every morning we would get into a circle and sing songs with her. Some of the songs were just plain fun songs to sing, but many of the songs taught us letter sounds, and phonics. I remember loving circle time and singing the songs to my mom when I got home from school. I believe that music can play an important part in helping children learn to read, and even though I am not a singer or musician I intend to use music in my classroom to enhance my students learning atmosphere.
I feel learning the phonics of letters through the rhythms of music truly helped me as I began to sit down with my first readers. As I began applying what I was learning in the songs to some basic basal readers like Dick and Jane I was able to find patterns between the phonics in the songs and the words on the page. We had books that were themed each week with certain phonic sounds. The sound was then repeated throughout the book but in different words. We were able to take these books home and practice with our parents. I think that practice and repetition are key in continuing to recognize letters with their phonic sounds.
I feel these books served the purpose of achieving good reading skills for me as a child, and continue to be helpful to children today as they learn to read. There are two other techniques that my teacher used to help teach us how to read. One I consider to be a good strategy and the other I am not too fond of. The first approach was using a tape recorder and head sets. We would sit down with a book and follow along with our finger as a voice was reading the book to us in our ear. I think this particular approach works because it releases the anxiety and stress of having to pick apart the words on a page in order to learn them.
By following along they are able to develop listening skills and hear the correct pronunciation of the word and associate it with the word on the page. After listening to the book, we were asked to answer a few questions about we had just listened, which gave us our first exposure to comprehension. I feel this method works fairly well but could be enhanced by taking five to ten minutes to ask the students questions out loud about what they had just listened to, so they get accustomed to forming thoughts and speaking about books. The last tactic that my teacher used I found a little repressive.
She would sit us down on the floor with sock puppets and speak to us in baby voices. Each week the puppets would present a new constant and vowel sound to us. I remember feeling a little disturbed, and telling my mom that my teacher was trying to pretend like she was on Sesame Street. My mom reminded me that I did not take too kindly to the puppets, and that I found them rather babyish. In our text book, Mosaic of Thought, Ellin writes that too often we draw negative conclusions about a child’s ability to comprehend and think at high levels when the problem is his or her ability to articulate that thinking.
I believe that my teacher really underestimated her student’s ability to learn by teaching them with sock puppets. In all actuality, it really was not necessarily the sock puppets that really came into question, but the baby voices in which she used. These baby voices simulated that of someone talking to a toddler who is beginning to learn to speak. I think as children enter elementary school they want to feel important and what they are learning is significant, but I feel my teacher imposed the opposite effect on her student.
She devalued the process of learning by speaking in baby voices and using puppets. After a few years my mom began to see the affects the school was having on my brother and I, and she decided to drive us thirty minutes each way to an elementary school in a nearby town. This change in atmosphere did wonders for both my brother and I, but the change did not happen until I was entering the 3rd grade. Once at this new school a whole new world opened up to me. We began reading newspapers, and sharing articles that we had read with the class.
We started writing book reports and began to question what we were reading. I think the best part of the new school was having a whole classroom of students that were in the same grade. We were often separated into groups based on our reading level in order to read and discuss what we were reading. This helped my confidence tremendously. However it was not until I was in high school that the teachers began to try and teach active reading strategies, by seeking out the meaning in books like Catcher in the Rye and a Wrinkle in Time.
I struggled with these new concepts, and still do as an adult. I think I could have greatly benefitted from starting this process at a younger age. As a future teacher, and parent, I firmly believe that in order for a child to become an active reader, and really learn to love books we need to unlock their minds to all possible reading strategies. We must have them begin questioning books and theories early, so that they learn to be active readers. I also believe that students need a parent who is actively in tune with the child’s learning process.
When a parent shows the student how important reading is and shows gratitude towards progress being made, the child will excel in his class work. I think as a future teacher I will use some of the tried and true strategies like listening stations, and bringing words alive with music and rhythm. However I will not be afraid to deviate from the norm and experiment beyond the workbook pages in order to connect with my students. One of my greatest joys is reading, and I hope one day I can bestow that upon young children.