Learning to Read in Home Sweet 'Homa

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 16 2012

Institute in Review, Part I

On Friday I said goodbye to my first group of students, and it was wonderful and sad and exhilarating and heartbreaking. They were fourth graders, and our class was reading and writing intensive (most of our students were significantly below grade level in their reading skills). So much happened this summer that it amazes me I only spent four weeks with those kids.

Here are some of the highlights: 

I LOVE teaching. I love it. I was really doubting myself and whether or not I was in the right place  in the first week of Institute, but meeting my students changed everything.

I LOVE teaching reading. This summer we read The Tale of Despereaux and The BFG as our class novels, and it was so much fun. Our students definitely responded much better to novels than they did to short stories. They liked knowing the characters, and they especially liked the daily suspense of wanting to know what happened next. Every student in our classroom was invested in what would happen to Despereaux and Sophie, and I think hearing more of their stories was what motivated a lot of them to keep coming back.

Teaching context clues, making predictions and visualizing came pretty naturally to me. After introducing predictions and visualizing, we were able to use those skills throughout the summer. Teaching cause and effect and theme came less naturally to me. In fact, I had to reteach both of those objectives several times, and ultimately it was my coteacher who successfully taught theme. Struggling with those to lessons taught me a lot about my weaknesses as an instructor. For example, I know now that my tendency when the material is more complicated is to instruct more and give the students less independent work time, and that’s the opposite of what they need. The harder the material, the more independent work time they need. Also, I know now that if I think the way I’m explaining something sounds confusing, it sounds that way for students, too. For me, rehearsing (out loud!) introductions to new material is going to be very very important to having a successful lesson.

We also set rigorous growth goals in reading for all of our students. We wanted them to move from instructional (struggling) to independent readers at the reading level they tested on at the start of the summer. This is roughly the equivalent of several months of growth in reading skills. Four of our students met their growth goal, four students exceeded their growth goal, and one student DOUBLED her growth goal. Two of the students who exceeded their growth goals were our two lowest readers at the start of the summer. Telling them about their growth in reading was probably the most emotional and rewarding thing I did this summer.

Not everything that happened this summer was wonderful and successful. There are things I struggled with and there are students I failed. I’m still sorting through the hows, whys and lessons learned for those, but you can expect an update soon.

On a personal note: I’m settled in to Oklahoma City, and orientation at my school (where I’ll be teaching 6th grade reading) starts this week.  I’m happy to have so many friends from Institute in town, but I’m missing some folks (and dogs) in Texas horribly right now. At Institute I was too busy to miss anyone too much, but now that I have a few days to relax I’m starting to feel homesick. Oklhaoma City is pretty cool, though, and I know I’ll be fine as soon as I get back in the classroom. 

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Comfort the Afflicted, Afflict the Comfortable

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