How hard might it be to enter first grade and read text including such words as "going", "again" and "know", when you have yet to learn the letters of your own name? How challenging might it be to achieve grade-level expectations when the kindergarten basics still elude you? Welcome to our world!
I serve students identified as the most needy first grade readers in an urban, high-poverty school.
They are, like all first graders, vibrant, energetic and full of the desire to feel "smart." Their unique challenge, however, is my opportunity. Because of necessity my students' families focus daily on the "food, shelter and clothing" dimensions of life, they entrust the work of educating their children entirely to the school. My students begin first grade not having had the benefit of early review of basic skills, and as a result they come to me with limited knowledge of the entire alphabet and the ability to write little more than their first names, if that. I am charged with demystifying the reading and writing process for them through short-term (12-20 week) daily interventions that teach them their letters, and how to recognize and write high frequency words, and to read grade-level text using effective reading strategies. Home practice to enhance my work is key!
Each day, in one-on-one and small group interventions with our school's most needy first graders, I work with words, letters and reading strategies to help unlock the mysteries of literacy. Magnetic letters facilitate much of this work serving as models when students forget what a "b" is or need to see the character that represents the "g-g-girl" sound they are trying to write; helping them to understand left-to-right directionality in reading; creating and re-creating high-frequency words to lock them into memory; or learning how letters work together to make familiar word patterns. Magnetic letters are a backbone of my instruction, and I have long dreamed of giving each child a set of letters for home use, with which to continue letter practice after school hours either individually or with assistance from parents. My students can learn to write words, recognize all letters, and create new words, with tools of their own to enjoy and review at home.
A student who has struggled in school and faked his or her way through literacy activities as habit has begun to accept second-class academic citizenship as a way of life.
When the same student begins to see himself or herself as a reader and starts to climb in text levels and overall proficiency, nothing feels better or creates more possibility! Donations to this project have the power to place learning in the hands of students where it belongs. Together, we can build strong readers, today!
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