The BIG Secret Is Revealed! by Lynn Mangold Newmyer

Reaching milestones causes a person to stop and reflect. This year is an important milestone year in my career as a reading interventionist and instructional coach. I have held that positon for twenty years and I am entering my (drum roll, please) fortieth year in education. Yes, that is a grand total of forty years including many years as a class room teacher and a special education teacher consultant.

Upon hearing this, people start asking questions. The first one is usually how have you had the persistence to stick with such a challenging job for so long? And the next one is always how have you managed to be successful with so many students who are really struggling?

What is the secret? You should ALWAYS start with a great story! The story can be a fictional work or informational text, but it IS always about the story that will capture the attention and imagination of the child.

We have spent many wasted years debating whether students need this type of instruction or more of that kind of instruction.  What a student needs most is an astute teacher who can tap into that intrinsic motivation of helping the leaner to find just the right text to leave them wondering, questioning and thinking, “I want more!” With that type of motivation, children are then ready to do the hard work of learning to read, which is a complex act. Reading is a problem solving, meaning making action and students need to be taught a wide repertoire of skills so that they can be become strategic.

I can hear the questions  bubbling up. ” But don’t students need to…?”

Yes, students need:

  • letter knowledge
  • phonics
  • high frequency words
  • an understanding of how books work

however, not as discreet unrelated skills unto themselves. I see many plans for students who have been referred for extra help. The plans are worded something like this:

“Johnny will increase his high frequency vocabulary by 10 words in six weeks. He will be able to read a list of grade level high frequency words in (fill in the blank) minutes. We will use flash cards.”

The issue with that plan is reading,” the words,” becomes the goal instead of reading actual text.

For every student I have worked with, there has been that ONE book, the book that seems to be the one that helps them start to understand what reading is and why it is such an engaging act.

Because I work with first grade students, I am often using leveled text that does have real stories that are engaging for students. There is a particular series of books that have several stories about a family that plays jokes with each other, goes to amusement parks, weddings and the beach.  I chose this series of books after many formal and informal conversations about things that Ricky enjoys doing with his family and friends.

Ricky had just finished reading, “The Merry-Go- Round” by Beverley Randell. In the story, the youngest member of the family, Nick was having a very difficult time deciding what she wanted to ride on. When she finally chose the horse, Ricky exclaimed, “I knew that she would choose that!  Girls like horses! Hey, do you think that they had bumper cars where they were at? I love bumper cars and I got to ride them this summer because I was tall enough. You know it is so fun to bump into the other peoples’ cars.”

He looked over at my side of the table and saw a small pile of books that I was considering choosing for his new book tomorrow. He spied the cover which had a picture of bumper cars. “There IS a book about bumper cars. Can we read it tomorrow? I know, I know! I bet Nick might have a hard time choosing what color car to ride in. she might want a pink one and I haven’t really seen any pink bumper cars.”  Of course we read, “The Bumper Cars” by Beverley Randell the next day and he was finally on his way. “The Merry-go Round” was his turn around book.

Last week, I was doing an interactive read aloud with my new first grade intervention group using Becky Bloom’s book, “Wolf.” We were discussing how Wolf had changed over time from being a character that would gladly eat all the farm animals to an educated character who now read stories to the farm animals who had become his new best friends. Bailey shared, “Wolf changed and was inspired because he became such a good reader. Will we be good readers, too?” Another turn around book!

And yes, I am sure that you will, Bailey.

Lynn Mangold Newmyer is a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader and Instructional Coach for the Walled Lake School district in Michigan. She has had to pay additional weight fees on luggage when she travels as she is an avid collector of picture books! You can follow Lynn on Twitter as @LynnRdgtch.