Sunday, June 29, 2008



This last week I have been simultaneously wrapping up one teaching obligation and preparing for another.  First off I had to say goodbye to my precious little handfuls on June 26 - the last day of school. The last day of first grade for all of them, a time they will never get back. A time which will one day be a distant memory.  

Hopefully that memory will be one that makes them smile.  I know that they have given me many smiles over the past 10 months.  And although I will miss each and every one of them in ways unique unto themselves, I was ready to wrap up the school year and welcome other challenges.

I am teaching a course at Fordham University's Annual Summer Reading Institute for the second time.  The title of my course is Reading Skills for Children with Learning Disabilities. It is part of the Ennis William Cosby Hello Friend certificate program which teaches teachers more effective (systematic, sequential) ways to reach those students who tend to fall through the cracks of the educational system.  It is geared for teachers of young children, more specifically first grade students.  

According to Connie Juel "first grade is the critical year in the lives of young children: this is when they need to make essential inroads on understanding and acquiring the alphabetic writing system in order to make timely progress toward skilled reading." 

I know many teachers who share the same thoughts as one of my Fordham students when she wrote in her reflection paper "Then when I started student teaching I began to hear "Oh I would not want to start out in first grade...teaching kids to read I would not even know where to begin".  

But once you do gain the requisite knowledge (phonological & phonemic awareness, oral language development, alphabetic principle, differentiated instruction, etc.) it is amazing to see the kids take off.  The child you say 'hello' to in September is not the same child you hug goodbye in June.  

At least not in terms of reading and writing development.  For example here is a spelling assessment given at the beginning of the school year.  It is a measure of the child's skill at invented spelling. 

You can see that he knew a few CVC sight words like man, fat and hat. For the other words that he was asked to spell he put down the initial letter sound.  

He was at the beginning stages of writing development (farther along than the student who put down scribbles or random letters but not as far as the student who wrote an initial and final letter).  This gave me tons of information and I could target my instruction accordingly. 

By the end of the school year this is what he produced.

He was not only spelling many of the words correctly but this shows that he was using initial, final and medial letters.  He has an understanding of digraphs, blends and some familiarity with the silent /e/ syllable type.  In addition his handwriting has improved.  


And it is not unusual to see this level of growth. It is leaps like this that make first grade such a rewarding experience, as a student and as a teacher.

As Lauren and I completed the final report cards it was evident that gains were made across all academic areas. But honestly nothing beats the enthusiasm of  these little learners.  I have always seen it as my true objective that each child holds onto their joy for as long as they can.  Do you still have yours?  


Steve said...

Those tests are so cute! I love little kids' handwriting. :)

It is amazing how they just soak up information when they're young -- something you know far better than me, I'm sure.

Have I held onto my joy? Well, I have my moments. :)

J. David Zacko-Smith said...

WOW! Teaching is the best gig ever! Isn't it?

Oh, and I will TOTALLY take a beach jaunt with you - I can be in NYC in under an hour on Jetblue, or meet ya somewhere. I LOVE the beach - love it, love it, love it!

I bet we'd talk for hours...

la bellina mammina said...

That's fantastic - doesn't it make your heart swell with joy?

I wanna come to the beach too - can't I??

Barbara said...

I understand so well what you are saying. My son went to a transitional first grade (which translates into another year between kindergarten and first grade). He still couldn't read until well into the actual first grade. In the interim he was in occupational therapy and was being bounced from one specialist to the other with no real diagnosis other than motor skill delay.

As with many things, he suddenly could read. And then he could read virtually everything. He ended up skipping 3rd grade so he was back on track with the kids he started out with.

It was only at age 14 that we learned that he suffered from OCD. He has struggled a lot with this ever since and he is now 27.

If it hadn't been for a school that practiced individualized progressive education and which offered "transition", he would have been quite defeated in first grade.

WAT said...

Somewhere I think I have one of those report cards back from way back when. You're a very busy dude it seems, even with yer awesome summer vacation now upon you. Isn't hard not to get attached to these kids during those ten months you're with them? I'll never forget my junior high school band teacher sobbing when we all had to move on and graduate to high school. That was so sad. He'd grown to love us and vice versa.

WAT said...

OH! I so hope u like the COLDPLAY album! It's hard to like at first, but give it a chance! It will grow on you!

Working mum said...

Interesting post. I have been working on phonics with my daughter (she is doing the Jolly Phonics system where sounds have actions associated with them) and she is now beginning to recognise letters at the start of words both in speech and written. It is going to be so exciting helping her to learn to read in the next few months - and you get to do it every year!

PS I got a bottle of wine from one of my pupils today (an 18 year old) who I only taught for 3 lessons a fortnight. How nice is that?

edward said...

you're a great teacher, Gary!

mouse (aka kimy) said...

no laid back summer for you! your fordham class sounds great....

I'm trying to remember first grade.... all I remember is that I had a serious problem with identifying with peter pan and trying to fly everywhere....

Gary said...

Steve - I've met you. You have held onto your joy.

J.DZ-S - I'm sure we would talk for hours and be prepared for me to ask lots of questions about this whole doctorate thing.

La Bellina - Of course you can come. The more the merrier, so bring along the kids as well.

Barbara - I have been hearing so many stories like yours the past three days during the first part of this institute. They are all so powerful but with not such happy endings. Mainly stories of parents who 'trusted' the school system and let their child be taught in the 'wait and see' mode. But wait and see often leads to a loss of important time which the student never recovers from. The main point is early intervention and parental influence. I am really enjoying the institute. Thanks for sharing your story.

Wat - It is hard to say goodbye. Even though I seem many of my former students during the school day it is never the same as guiding their education day to day. Of course, I always seem to have a few that really touch my heart and with them it is much harder to say goodbye. But that bittersweet combination is all part of the joy of teaching.

Working Mum - I have come around in my thinking to support teaching phonics or an understanding of the alphabetic principle of language. Not in the old school skill-and-drill way I was taught but in a fun, interactive way. Most children pick it up without intervention but for those who need it is wonderful to have the ability to help them.

I have never gotten a bottle of wine as a gift but I did get a cocktail shaker from a first grade student. An odd gift perhaps but one of my favorites.

Thank you little (adorable) Edward!

Kim - I will have my laid back moments for sure. So, did you ever learn to fly?

mouse (aka kimy) said...

re your question: I do often, however now I'm usually asleep when I do!

Aileen said...

It must be so amazingly fulfilling to watch these kids grow, and knowing that you're helping them on their way!!!!

I worked for years at a supplemental education company where much of our focus was helping kids learn to read. I can't tell you how many times I had tears of joy!

And yes...I have held onto my joy! Could always use some more though!


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