WAEC celebrates Read Across America

March 3 was Read Across America Day and the celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday. The National Education Association’s initiative promotes awareness of reading activities in classrooms all week.

Between costumes for Thing One and Thing Two, hats like the Cat in the Hat, as well as green eggs and ham, Warren Area Elementary Center’s (WAEC) teachers and students celebrated with enthusiasm.

Teaching children to read is the most fundamental responsibility of schools, and parents can reinforce the learning by making a habit of encouraging their child to read in some way every day. When students learn to read, their knowledge increases in all subjects. That is why “learning to read” transforms into “reading to learn.”

The process of teaching reading is underestimated. Some compare it to rocket science because reading involves numerous skills which develop at different levels, wherein the instructor must consider multiple issues and factors, such as learning styles. Children’s learning styles differ, therefore, the teaching must adapt to the learning style of each student.

Beyond the styles of learning there are also more complicated matters, such as learning disability. Some students may have attention deficits, or other problems which impede their reading development. No matter the learning style or disability, and wherever the child’s level may be, each teacher in every grade level focuses on developing an individual child’s reading ability which helps wherever the child’s level may be, therefore, the child mature into a better reader.

Reading involves many areas: concepts of print, letter recognition, phoneme awareness, comprehension, decoding, word attack, vocabulary development, fluency, and composition are all areas of focus in reading instruction in a broader sense, Kindergarteners focus on identifying letters and sounds, but they also identify sight words. Sight words, also called high frequency words, are commonly used words that young children are encouraged to memorize as a whole by sight, so that they can automatically recognize these words in print without having to use any strategies to decode. For example, sight words are words that have one syllable or are words which students come across often, such as ‘the’ or ‘and.’ Parents can help their kindergarteners and first graders with sight words in many ways. Sometimes they can be just pointed out on a cereal box, on a road sign, or downloaded and practiced at home.

Some kindergarteners are starting to read when they begin kindergarten, however, the majority of kindergarteners start from the beginning. Mrs. Briggs, WAEC kindergarten teacher noted that kindergarteners also have trouble sounding out endings of words.

Children need reinforcement of what sounds are similar or exactly the same. Contrary to what some might think, certain concepts which are very clear to an intermediate reader may not be as easy to a beginning reader. Rhyming, for example, is not so obvious to young children or any beginning reader. In music class Ms. Bowley, music teacher, helps children identify the rhyming words in a song or poem. Children learn how to pronounce and enunciate words clearly by singing them, which is why singing songs can also help with reading development. In addition, parents can help children learn to hear rhyming sounds by saying simple Mother Goose rhymes as they do a task or while waiting in a doctor’s office.

First grade teachers Mrs. Pam Taylor and Mrs. Lori Murphy feel their biggest obstacle is phonetics wherein the student identifies the sound of the letter(s) and has to put the word together by combining the sounds. In first grade they start from the beginning, again – learning and reviewing the phonetics. Sounding out the entire word smoothly is the goal, but also teachers want students to immediately identify words; this is called word recognition. Smart Boards are used in the classroom for word recognition as well as other language arts activities.

Second grade teacher Mary Massa states that in second grade children need to gain fluency and comprehension. But comprehension isn’t the focus for problem readers. WAEC’s second grade special education teacher, Renee Hartzfeld’s biggest hurdle is identifying the reason why a child has trouble reading. She noted, “When teaching emergent readers how to be fluent readers there are many challenges you face. The first challenge is trying to figure out why they are struggling. This could stem from various reasons, they may not know all of their letter sounds, they may have a visual motor integration issue (their eyes don’t work together correctly), or they may have an attention issue that can mask their ability. Sometimes students know all of the sounds to decode a word but when it comes to putting all the sounds together to blend the word, they can’t remember the order the sounds go in. After you rule out the possible problems and get to the issue that is causing the student difficulty you have won a big part of the battle.”

Third grade presents a different set of reading skills. The first PSSA test is given. Teaching to the test aggravates teachers because it inhibits their creativity because of time constraints. It has been proven that children remember more and learn for life when they have hands-on activities, but those activities take time.

However, third grade teacher, Mrs. Katie Rodgers, hopes to supplement a reading and writing lesson with music by the French composer, Debussy, as well as drawing an image that students gain from listening to the music. This “Art-Smart” approach enhances the children’s comprehension, and helps motivate them. But since time is limited due to the approaching PSSA tests and there is so much pressure on the teacher to cover all of what is on the test, taking the extended time to making the understanding of literary devices more fun sometimes gets put on the back burner.

Ms. Walters, WAEC art teacher develops reading skills in art class as well. For example, second graders read Graeme Base’s book about dragons and then they make a dragon. They also read Jan Brett’s “The Mitten” and study texture. Reading a book and then having a project to enhance the understanding of the theme or main idea is an effective way to get children interested in books.

Ann Ryan, WAEC principal, says one of the biggest humps is when children start fourth grade because they transcend from ‘learning to read’ into ‘reading to learn.’ Mrs. Mary Beyer, fourth grade teacher identified comprehension as the focus in fourth grade, and stated that students have trouble locating information in a lengthy passage She said she works on helping them understand what the main idea is in a story, and to look for key words when locating information. Recently, a story in her class dealt with artists who drew self-portraits. Teachers work on supplementing a story’s lesson with an enrichment activity to help with comprehension as well as self- reflection. ofexample, the book, “Just Like Me” is about artists who painted their own portraits. Rohmer’s remarkable collection highlights the art and inspirational paths of 14 outstanding artists who, over the course of 20 years, have shared their art and lives with children. Each spread comprises a self-portrait, as well as the artist’s personal story and reflections on what their art means to them. After her class read the story, Mrs. Beyer engaged her students in making self-portraits. When finished, their portraits were hung outside the room in the hall, and the students had to guess which portrait belonged to whom, by looking for identifying features.

When students reach fifth grade, not only are they reading chapter books and novels, but they also delve into more complicated stories and develop a sense of taste in reading materials. Fifth graders also are encouraged to do more research and reports which, of course, requires reading and analyzing materials. In fifth grade art class Ms. Walters, art teacher, involves students in reading about 21stCentury artists.

No matter what the level, content, setting, or event where the reading takes place, reading is essential to daily living for the rest of one’s life. Perhaps in the car from an ipad, or maybe a magazine at the dentist, or even just reading a short recipe for making gelatin, children need to consistently practice reading.