Grade one is a big year for students. They are learning so many new skills that are being put directly into practice each day. They are writing not just letters and numbers now but words and short sentences and stories. They are writing numbers, and are starting to do more with those numbers. They are growing socially, learning not only how to play with one another, but how to support and care for one another, social skills are a big thing is this grade, and the foundation for them continues here. Reading is perhaps one of the greatest and most important skills a student will learn in grade one. It is essential that students learn how to read and they move from recognizing letters and knowing letter sounds to reading small words, simple sentences and short books.
This is the grade where the most progress can be seen in the progression of reading levels and where children become good readers. Being a good reader however is not just about reading at a certain level, being able to read at a certain speed or with a certain accuracy or fluency. Good reading is being able to read, but also being able to understand what one is reading; being able to understand the events, the characters, the beginning, middle and end, the conclusion and conflict, and being able to tell someone about the book. I look at myself, I am able to read. But too often I find myself having to re-read a few pages because even though I read it, I can’t tell you one thing about it. I was on auto pilot, recognizing the words and reading them, but it wasn’t going to my memory and I wasn’t thinking about it.
I was in a grade one class a few days ago. It was a great experience. They have grown so much since the beginning of the year, physically and in their skills and abilities.
The classroom was full of books, students had a box with their own books to read and they had library books as well. There was a word wall in the classroom and students would gladly take out a book a read it. At first glance, it seemed as if this classroom was a good environment that would foster reading among the students. However, sometimes first appearances can be deceiving..
Upon looking at the word wall, some of the words were quite complex for a grade one student. The books on the tables were not at the students reading levels, they were similar to books you would find in a grade 4 or grade 5 classroom. While walking around the room and listening to students read, there were reading errors. Now perhaps this was because they had read that book many times before, or perhaps it was a symptom of a processing skill they had not grasped yet. Some students were substituting words with names of characters or relatable items that would relate to the story but did not make sense in the sentence. When asking the students to read slower, and to go back and look at the sentence, they would correct the errors but they were not always happy about this.. These are little things that students need to work on now, so that later on this does not impact their reading and understanding.
By April of grade 1 / the end of grade 1, students should be reading at or around the level of “G to I” if one is using the Fountas and Pinnell reading program. This is the program this particular school and division uses. Most students in grade 1 will start at level A and will proceed to level I, and some even advance forward more than this. The lettered levels are benchmarks.
On this day of me being in grade 1, I had a student come up to me and say, “But I can’t read”. He told me he didn’t have any books to read. Upon looking in his reading bucket, he had children’s magazines but no books for him to read. The magazines were more for him to ‘look at the pictures.’ Looking at the pictures is a component of reading, but only allows you to understand a small part of the text or to make guesses about the text.
Most students in this class of 14 were reading around or close to levels f, g and h. One or two were a head of this, and a couple were behind. Keep in mind, the levelled letters, are about where they should be.
When I had taken the students to the library that day, they knew what reading level they were at, as they were supposed to take out a levelled book, one they could read to their family and then an interest book from the bottom shelves of the library, one their family could read to them. Another student was having trouble in the library choosing a levelled book. I asked him to read a book to me, and he had troubles. I said this is too hard for him, and he tried a book at a lower level, which more suited him. Maybe he could have read the book at the level he was tested at, but perhaps me, being a substitute teacher and putting him on the spot did not help his confidence, or make him feel safe. He probably felt nervous and put on the spot which would effect his reading ability.
When we got back from the library, I asked the EA who had come to join our class about this student. I said, “How come he is unable to read? This is April and he will soon be in grade 2.” I really did not get an answer back from her. She took the boy to the back and read a harder book with him, trying to get him to read the words.. this was not the right approach.
When I left the classroom that day, this bothered me a lot.
It cannot only be a:
- cultural reason as to why the boy cannot read (First Nations student)
- family not reading with him at home reason as to why he doesn’t understand letters, words and short sentences
I did not know if this boy was on an IEP or alternative programming as I was not provided with any information about the student or about how to adapt or differentiate for any students in the classroom for that day.
Perhaps these contribute to the student not being able to read. But a bigger piece is that he is not receiving the supports from his teacher to help him succeed. This is a little boy full of energy. He wants to be able to read. He wants to be like his fellow classmates. He won’t want to be the student in grade 8 reading grade 4 children’s books when his classmates are reading novels and information books at a higher level.
I talked with a few teacher friends of mine. They helped me understand where the students should be in terms of reading abilities, where they should be moving towards, what the reading environment should be like and supports that can be in place. My one friend teaches grade 1 at a different school. Her room as appropriate levelled books, the students have their reading books at their desks with them, there are also letter booklets and word booklets that students take home to help them focus on specifics. The classroom has a word wall with Dolch Words for grade one, and there are also letter and small word sounds on the walls. The students that need extra support work with an EA on a set plan for reading when the EA is available. Some students see another teacher for even more one on one reading support.
It is how we create our reading environments, offer support and read with students that helps them. Books that they are interested in or have prior knowledge about can also help to foster reading and keep the child focused and interested in reading the book.
Ultimately, each teacher teaches differently. Each classroom is different from that of a similar grade level. Our students are all different and they learn in different ways.
They need to be supported.
I don’t want this little boy to slip through the cracks and be pushed along like students I have worked with or like my own cousin. I want him and all students to be able to read.