Written by Brenda Braunger, Reading Recovery teacher at Hunt Elementary in Sioux City:

Our site’s first professional development session of the year featured Maryann McBride, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader from Clemson University. I had read several of her articles and tried to put into practice what I had read prior to seeing her in person. Maryann made a statement during her presentation that changed my lessons from that day forward. She said, “As Reading Recovery Teachers we are very good at writing what is wrong [with a student’s literacy development] but not so good at problem solving.”

This deep problem solving became very evident with Haley, a student who entered Reading Recovery lessons in late winter. I hope the Reading Recovery police do not come and yank me away as I reveal my incredible learning journey with this student. Maryann helped me to think deeply and differently about how I was teaching Haley.

Haley attended very little school in first grade while living in Louisiana.  After Christmas, she started second grade at my school, Hunt Elementary. After three weeks of school, she was placed back in first grade.  Because I did not have an open time slot for her when she was placed back into first grade, Haley did not receive Reading Recovery lessons immediately. By the time I got her, things were very messy.  Her classroom teacher was thinking Special Education.  As I roamed with Haley, I discovered her many confusions about letters and words and sounds.  Also, she was so nervous she could hardly read or write anything.  When we got into running records, she cringed on the teaching points, she was terrified of doing something wrong.  I had my work cut out for me.  Slowly, I was able to make her less nervous by giving her many, many opportunities to be successful.  I was very, very cautious with teaching points and made sure I was only choosing ones that would be beneficial to her acceleration and ones that I could point out the same thing she did well in the same book.  This changed my book selections.  I sought books that would support what she knew in order to help her make links to new learning. Being very careful and specific with my prompts and not moving on until a task was learned helped me to see what she could and could not do. Also, I chose word work very carefully so that she would be able to focus on the word work and not on ”learning” the word.   I became vigilant to notice where she was looking in every aspect of the lesson.  That was eye opening.  Without constant checking on her serial order, she would slip right back to looking at the end of words.   There were a few days of really hard running record books so I took home my records for that week to analyze them deeper. That next Monday, during the running record, I watched her eyes while she was reading.  After looking at the records, I noticed her errors were all coming consistently at the end of the lines. Or the first word of the line. She was starting her return sweep in the middle of the sentence and starting on the second word of the sentence!  

As I struggled with linking to the known, I discovered that she only read 23 words out of 93 on the first grade sight word list.  UGH!!!!  Those words were in her books. She read them every day.  For her, I brought out sight word cards.  Every time she got stuck on a “known” sight word I would show her the card.  She would get it in a snap.  From there, I built the word work using her known sight words.  Because it was taking me so long to grab those sight words quickly when she was problem solving, I alphabetized them.  It was through that, Haley discovered many words start the same and what she needed to do was check all the way to the end of words.   With the alphabetized cards, she could quickly check and self-correct. 

After weeks and weeks of minimal self-correcting attempts during reading of continuous text, I brought out stickers.  Her monitoring skills improved immediately.  Then I started giving her stickers for strategic attempts to solve words. I felt that, because of the awards, Haley was gaining an understanding of what she was expected to do as a reader. I talked to Haley more than I have talked to any other student about their reading difficulties. About halfway through her series of lessons I asked her what the hard part of a word was that kept tricking her. She said, “You say its boat, but boat should start with a b and this starts with a t.”  I thought we were past that! Looking back at her records, I discovered that if a word ends with tall letters, her eyes go right there. Good information to have. 

One day when she was fussing about how hard the new book was going to be, I stopped and made a list of sight words in the book and how many times each of the words appeared in that book. That boosted her confidence again.

I could go on forever. My new learning is this: Everything I did with, and for, Haley I need to be thinking how that could help my other students. I believed that Haley could be successful and I was determined to show her the way. Day after day I would look for what I was missing. I searched RRCNA website for presentations from conferences. I dug into Literacy Lessons. I reread journal articles. For word work, I would write out the prompts so that I would be more precise and say as little as possible. I guess for the first time, I felt that I was truly following my student and trying to untangle her confusions and fill in the gaps. When I didn’t know what was missing, I looked deeper and tried to find answers.

Thank you Maryann and Miss Haley.