BY SHARON MARTIN
Teaching children to read is a cooperative effort. Parents must be the first teacher. Did you know some children start to school not knowing that books typically open from right to left? Children whose parents read to them and children who are involved in meaningful conversations with their elders start school with a much larger vocabulary, an essential component of comprehension.
What the parents begin, the school and the state continue. They provide method, materials, teachers, and funding.
It is essential that parents and teachers find the best fit of instruction for any new readers. No two children learn to read in exactly the same way or at the same pace.
Phonics is an amazing tool for most learners. About a quarter of all students, however, find it to be a foreign language, one they just can’t wrap their tongue around.
Memorization and visualization, deemed inefficient by some so-called experts, work for some students. Others need to pair pictures and words or sounds and sight to become proficient readers. In an average classroom, about half the students will learn to read regardless of the method used. For the rest, a teacher needs to use the tools in her tool box to find what works.
There are students for whom reading suddenly clicks when they are in middle school or high school. Because our system doesn’t accommodate learners who don’t fit the standards mold, many of these deeper-learning students become frustrated or angry. Late bloomers, who could be saved by reading programs in the upper levels, often become dropouts.
What can a school system do to prevent this loss of potential? This is where the state comes in. Every school, both elementary and secondary, needs a reading specialist. Each site needs a library and a qualified librarian. Libraries must stock not only the classics but the books kids want to read. They need graphic novels for the visual learners and audio books for the auditory learners.
Students with vision differences might need colored overlays to make the words stand still. Some students need patient tutors. Schools need all the tools necessary to help each child learn. And students need time to read.
What can you, as a citizen do, to make sure every child becomes literate? Read to and with the children in your home. Write to your legislators and demand that schools receive funds for reading specialists and libraries. Become a mentor. Ask your City Council to adequately fund the local library. Become a literacy council donor or volunteer.
It takes more than a statement and a standard to teach a child to read. But with time, passion, and adequate tools, we can reach every learner. Our democracy depends on us getting this one right.
– Sharon Martin lives in Oilton, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer