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?