Teaching Literacy to Struggling Readers and The Village Project

In order to make the most of every session with my tutee, it was essential to use the knowledge gained from the first part of the course to continuously, but informally, assess her knowledge and develop her phonics skills. By noticing patterns of both strengths and challenges, I was able to quickly identify what areas needed additional practice or instruction. After the first session focused on phonemic awareness and general diagnostic activities/assessments, I realized that her reading would be most enhanced by working on decoding different vowel patterns and developing her vocabulary. To accomplish this, we spent our weeks learning about long vowels, vowel teams, synonyms and antonyms, prefixes and suffixes, and compound words. With each lesson, I incorporated skill-based activities such as a puzzles or word sorts, multiple reading activities such as read alouds and book hunts, and at least one writing activity such as making word lists or word flowers.

When teaching vowels and different decoding skills, I quickly realized that practice and teaching specific vowel teams or patterns were the most effective ways to help her better read and understand. I was impressed by how she so easily observed words with long vowels (either vowel teams or silent e) while she was reading that I developed the practice of having her complete a book hunt. By using book hunts and making connections with the text, I realized how much more I could put into a lesson if I looked through a large variety of books trying to find both a topic and words that aligned with our lesson for the day. I really enjoyed this process because not only was it great practice for when I teach, but I also discovered a lot of great children’s books about both literary and non-literary topics along the way. When we transitioned to vocabulary for the last few weeks, I realized that I needed to do more direct and hands-on teaching and defining for the new words. After defining words and giving clear synonyms to show the meaning, the essential next step was having her use them in a sentence to show me that she understood how and when to use the new word. With vocabulary introducing more difficult words than she encounters in independent reading and lower leveled readers, it tied in even more to our weekly end-of-session read aloud of Because of Winn-Dixie. As we continued to work together, I came to love our time reading the story of Opal and Winn-Dixie not only because of the ways she laughed at the dog’s silliness and related to the main character Opal, but also because she would identify examples of what we had learned that day as I read.

In addition to the skills, content, and knowledge of literacy teaching and practice, my experience learning about struggling readers and working with The Village Project this semester has shown me that the value of learning to read is found beyond academic skills. While my tutee Bella had areas that needed growth with vocabulary and various phonics skills, she was most excited when she connected with books on a personal level, and when she saw herself or the concepts we were learning within the characters and the stories. Additionally, I saw in my few conversations with her mother and father that they were passionate about telling her stories, but saddened by how she is unable to read in Spanish. I hope that in our conversations, and by discussing how Spanish books will still help her learn, that her family will continue to engage in reading and story telling across both languages. As a result of this experience and this course, my greatest takeaway was realizing that books are the most effective teaching tool when combined with intentional planning and instruction. By using a book or story to provide background or vocabulary for the content of a lesson, students gain a depth of perspective and opportunities for expression and emotion with every lesson and/or topic one teaches. Both because of this realization and because of how much Bella’s love for reading enhanced every lesson, I then realized how literacy truly is the key to all of learning – not just language arts.

*Bella reflects a name change to protect the privacy of the student.

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