Paula Williams: Eagerness to read is a learned trait

Mar. 21, 2013 @ 06:49 PM

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents and at the feet of their elementary school teachers.  There is no more important task for an elementary teacher than to “hook” students with exciting literature and instill in them a love for reading and for learning.
There is a critical transition that happens around second and third grade where students move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”  By that age, they need to have mastered the basics of reading — phonological knowledge, decoding unknown words, understanding what they read so they can retell it, and reading with some fluency.  Those skills then pave the way for lifelong learning.
It is not always an easy road for young students learning to read, however.  As a teacher of exceptional children, I have found that all students can learn to read, but students with a learning “difference” often need a different approach. They need more direct instruction that takes the mystery out of reading and provides the “nuts and bolts” of all the sounds a letter or combination of letters can make, the rules and the exceptions for long and short vowels, and many other things that we as adult readers take for granted now that we have some experience at the process of reading.
That was the case for a young student I first met three years ago at Pilot.  Ben (not his real name) was not a reader when I first began working with him, and over the next three years, several teachers in addition to myself have had the privilege to share in his journey toward becoming a reader.
Last week, his stepmother sent us all an email that I would like to share in part with you.  Of course, we are all saving it close to our hearts.  It’s the very reason we teach.
She wrote: “Ben’s dad and I want to pass along some great news.  When Ben first started with his Individual Education Plan, the only thing we would hear on a regular basis was how much he hated to read.  It made us sad but we kept telling each other and him that once he started reading, he would love it and not want to put his books down.  His standard answer was ‘That will never happen.’  Well, it has happened!
“I picked him up after school this afternoon, and he was sitting on the sidewalk reading, which was a big shock.  When we got in the truck, I tried to talk to him, but Ben didn’t have time.  He said, ‘I’m reading.  Can we talk later?’  He read all the way home.  We walked through the door and he sat down and finished the book.  That was an hour and a half later!  We did his homework and he said, ‘Can I go to my room and read the next book?  I love to read now!’  It nearly brought me to tears.
“This has been such a great day!  I can’t tell you how excited his dad and I are that those words came out of Ben’s mouth! So much credit needs to be given to all of you as his teachers. Thank you so much for all of your effort and persistence with him.  It is paying off big time!  Know that your time and encouragement with Ben has not gone unnoticed.”
I must say that the sentiments in the above email are rarely shared with teachers.  But this one note has given me new resolve to make a difference along with my colleagues in more students’ lives — in every student’s life I touch each day.
Parents and grandparents:  Share the joy of reading with your children.  Let it become contagious at your house.  Never forget they can “catch” that joy from you!  Dr. Seuss wrote:  “The more you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Paula Gulledge Williams lives in High Point and teaches at Pilot Elementary School in Greensboro. Her columns appear on this page every other Friday. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.