For the first few weeks of school, my time is largely devoted to reading with numerous individual students, gathering information to help inform what these readers need next instructionally. ( Did I just make up a word? No matter- it is the one I need).
While there is a certain intensity to this work early each school year as I listen to, observe, take notes and analyze behaviors, patterns, strengths and errors of early readers, this time is also quite precious to me. I am with many children in first through fourth grade, one-on-one, catching up about summer, the start of the new year, books, friends, pets and playground news. Often I get to see how summer has afforded time for all the previous year’s learning to soak in and take root, and once shaky readers are now more confident, practically subconscious with skills and strategies they practiced with determination the previous school year. Time spent during vacation reading what they chose, being read to by parents on those unrushed summer evenings helped it all come together. I watch as they read to me, with great satisfaction, deep pride and barely contained excitement. “Oh the places you will go,” I want to shout.
And so today, when I invited a child to come with me to read, and she looked up and said, “I’m not surprised you want to read with me. I’m not very good,” my heart sank just a little.
“What do you mean?” I asked her.
“Well,” she continued, “sometimes I feel dumb. I don’t know words. I can’t remember.”
“Ah,” I replied. “I sometimes have that same problem when I’m talking.”
“What? You do? I never have it when I’m talking, just reading.”
It wasn’t the moment to explain to her the word retrieval challenges this fifty-year-old experiences. So instead we just giggled a little bit together.
“Well,” I continued, “here’s the thing. You’re in first grade. And there are so many things to learn. Words, sounds and stories. You can’t imagine the learning adventures you’re going to have.”
She looked up at me, with a barely detectable glimmer of hope in her eyes.
“I’m serious…” I added. “Honestly, if you knew all that stuff already, I’m not sure what we’d do all year. First grade is the best. Just you wait.”
“Really?’ she asked. “Really,” I replied. And then we looked at the pictures, made a couple of predictions and read a few words in a short story together.