I was teaching a self-contained 4th/5th class in an urban school when I realized I needed to understand how to teach reading. Really teach it. From the beginning. The students who made that very clear to me were my newcomer English learners (ELs). ELs come from all language and literacy backgrounds. Some are literate in another language, some come from cultures where generations of people have not had the opportunity to learn to read and write. But they all had in common that they needed to start with reading foundations and I didn't know how or where to begin.
My students inspired me to start my journey as a literacy teacher. One who teaches students who are expected to read to learn while they are learning how to read. This is a daunting task. There are no easy answers, but there are many researchers and experts whose work has been pivotal in my development as a teacher. One of these, whose book I recently read is Maryanne Wolf. Her book is titled Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. This book was published in 2007, and the fact that I didn't learn about or read it until 2018 says a lot about what prevents our students from becoming fluent at listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
Wolf writes in beautiful scientific prose about what has had to happen over time for our brains to be able to read. One of my favorite quotes is this:
Each brain of each ancestral reader had to learn to connect multiple regions in order to read symbolic characters. Each child today must do the same.
Despite the fact that it took our ancestors about 2,000 years to develop an alphabetic code, children are regularly expected to crack this code in about 2,000 days, or they will run afoul of the whole educational structure--. (p. 222)
This book really brought into focus the work of the reading brain. This is the science that teachers want and need, but to whom, for some reason, it is denied. We aren't hard-wired to read as we are to speak. The understanding of the brain-science, married with expertise in reading and writing approaches and strategies that build fluency in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, oral language, and writing will give teacher the agency to make decisions on learners based on effective assessments and sound pedagogy. Our kids deserve this. We know it.
As one of my graduate students put it, "Teachers need the WHY behind the HOW. I can recognize a strategy that seems to be useful. But when I know WHY it works, then I step out of the fog and into the light!" Let's bring our kids into the light of literacy...we can't wait!