This post is authored by John Funk.
This academic year I have spent extra time in a second grade classroom where one of my student teaching candidates is assigned. The group is challenging for her because the host teacher in the classroom has not been successful in maintaining good classroom management. I have tried to model and build positive relationships with some of the ‘special’ children in the group.
One boy in particular is not only a behavior challenge, but he is also struggling with reading. Recently, I was model teaching in the classroom to help my candidate master more management strategies. I was working with this special child, and he was stressing about not being able to read his library book. He did not even want to make any attempt at the words, because he “couldn’t do it.” Placing his library book aside temporarily, I challenged him to point to any words in the room that he could read. He pointed and we read and we counted how many words he could read as we moved around the room. He was thrilled about the 21 words he found. His attitude toward reading turned around almost instantly. He displayed great enthusiasm as we moved to decoding activities with his library book. He was now confident he could do something.
The experience reminded me of the “Reading the Room” strategy that I used with my students on a regular basis when I was a classroom teacher. I had forgotten how excited children feel about finally experiencing success when success has been eluding them. Reading researchers continually remind teachers to display letters and words around the room. In a well-established and well-organized classroom, there should be print everywhere! This does not negate the fact that visual picture reminders of classroom schedules, rules, etc., are critical to the social and emotional development of the children. However, words should be placed next to any visual clue to help the children understand about print. As the children become school-age, those words will eventually become more important than the visual clues. Here are ways that a teacher can create a print-rich environment:
- Posted Alphabet. There should be at least two alphabet sets posted in every classroom. These charts should be at the eye level of the children from preschool to 2nd grade. I know that it is a bit challenging for classrooms with limited space. However, keep in mind that items posted at eye-level or below are great learning tools for children. Items posted above the child’s line of sight are decorations.
- Name Labels: A child’s name is one of the best ways to teach about print. A child’s name should appear at least 4-5 times throughout the classroom. Attendance cards, cubby labels, helper boards, apron hooks, center tags and name puzzles are just a few possible ways to display each child’s name. Even after the child becomes a reader, displaying his name, written correctly, continues to serve as a great model for writing and spelling.
- Item Labels: A good early childhood teacher will label every part of the classroom from the doors to the sink. Block shelves, listening centers, writing tables and group areas should all have written labels indicating the word that best describes that area. Each word displayed in an early childhood classroom should be accompanied by a picture of the item as a visual reminder about the word.
- Teacher Writing: Teachers should look for every opportunity to model writing for the children in the group. This can be an important part of a rug or circle time activity. The children should be able to observe the teacher writing simple words and short sentences about something related to the topic of the day. The teacher should say the words and talk the children through the writing during these modeling sessions, mentioning writing on the line, spacing between words, and the correct way to form letters. A teacher’s handwriting should be as neat and clear as possible, even if the teacher is writing on a smart board.
- Every Opportunity to Model Print: I knew a teacher who had everyone coming into the classroom ‘sign in.’ When a parent helper came in, she printed her name on the board to ‘sign in.’ I adopted this activity when teaching because I thought it was such a good model of print and gave the children another opportunity to read.
“Reading the Room” is great support for the development of reading skills. It can also be a wonderful strategy when working with struggling readers. We know that children’s attitudes directly impact how quickly they can pick up the components of reading. It is sometimes a challenging task to get a struggling reader to feel positive and excited about reading. It is difficult and daunting for her. Reading the Room just may be a way to spark enthusiasm for working on reading skills.
Snow, C.E., Burns, S., & Griffin, P. (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Mastropieri, M.A. & Scruggs, T.E. (1997). Best practices in promoting reading comprehension in students with learning disabilities: 1976-1996. Remedial and Special Education, 18, 197-213.
Adams, M.J. (1990). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Slavin, R.E., Lake, C., Davis, S., & Madden, N. (2009, June) Effective programs for struggling readers: A best evidence synthesis. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education.