A reader emerges

I’m not tutoring today. It’s the last week of the school year for the two first graders I’ve been working with.

Reading about robots, Star Wars and science, the boy caught up to to grade level, which would have been second grade level in my day. He no longer complains that a book is “too many pages” or “too hard.”

The girl couldn’t read. She could sound out letters, but couldn’t put the letters together.  “Mmmmaaaaattttt” would be “rug” on a good day, some random thing in the picture — “flower” –on a bad day. She never saw patterns. She’d laboriously sound out “cat” but have no clue about “sat.” And once I’d given her that, we’d get to “mat.” No clue.  She couldn’t remember the main character’s name — “Tam” — from page to page — and we’re talking about pages with three or four words on them. She seemed to think the point of reading was to say what was in the picture. (She was quite perceptive at analyzing pictures.)

She was getting help from the reading specialist and the teacher — but she wasn’t improving. Then, in April, she figured out rhyming words, aka “word families.” She saw the pattern.

An “emergent reader” is today’s educationese is a child who can’t read. When a beginner begins to catch on, she moves up to “early emergent.” I was so sick of that damned cat that I tried her on slightly harder books. She was very, very, slow and needed lots of help. But she stopped saying “sock” on the page with a picture of a sock, but no “sock.”

In May, she started reading at a normal speed in her “early emergent” books. She read five books in 30 minutes — with time to discuss the stories.

The teacher talked to her parents about reading with her over the summer. She’s going on to second grade — and she’s got a chance to make it. I can’t tell you how happy I am for her.

About Joanne


  1. It is wonderful when you can look back and see the progress that you have made with a child. It makes all the work worthwhile.

    From a policy perspective, how do we create this opportunity for all struggling readers? How do we get the public to understand the challenge of educating some of some of our students?

  2. Every teacher thrills when they see the light bulb go on.

  3. Christina Lordeman says:

    So wonderful!!! What do you think it was that made it finally click for these two students?

    • The boy wasn’t that far behind to begin with. He just needed a little more practice with books he enjoyed. (I’ve never met anyone so enthusiastic about squishy bugs.) The girl is young for the grade. Maybe she needed more time. Or, it’s a miracle.

  4. Congratulations on the success!

    Kids do develop and learn at different rates, which is one of the problems many educators have with rigid timetables. I went though constant stress with my son and those damn charts of what kids are supposed to be doing at 12 or 18 or 24 months, because his pattern was to lag and lag and lag, and then suddenly leap to “normal,” and sometimes to a point well ahead of developmental expectations. He did that with everything from walking to art (representational drawing) to reading to swimming. He was assessed at 3 by a specialist for delayed speech, and she deemed him “low normal” (that’s my 2300-SAT Oberlin student). Of course how a kid like that would do without the close attention you were giving your students is a question.

    Is this comment based on data and research of past vs. present standards, or just an offhand remark?
    “… (first) grade level, which would have been second grade level in my day….”

    Because what we usually here is that kindergarten is the new first grade, etc.

    • *sorry, hear.

    • The teacher told me she switched from teaching second grade to first grade the year the new standards went into effect. It was the same curriculum taught a year earlier.
      In her view, some kids aren’t ready for it, though most can handle it.

      The school is in a mostly middle-class area with high-tech immigrant families and some blue-collar immigrant families.

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        My mother-in-law taught first grade for 35 years in Long Island, NY. Her comments to me lead me to believe that expectations have been pushed down quite a bit. Previously the expectation was independent reading by the middle of first grade. Independent reading meaning easy readers like Frog and Toad.

        I volunteer as a classroom helper two Fridays a month at a charter school serving mostly disadvantaged kids. Most if not all of the kids are reading independently by 2nd grade. Those that aren’t receive “reading intensive” – an extra pull out program every day. The school scores at about 85% proficient on the NJASK test in 3rd grade – much higher than other local district schools.

        The solution for struggling readers seems to be just more and more intensive time on task. Practice, practice, practice. Gentle, gentle, gentle.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    It’s said that neural connections aren’t complete until late teens. It would be odd if every kid’s reading capacity(which is not natural, not evolved for and is made up of other capacities directed at work they were not designed for) was all hooked up at the same age a dozen years earlier.

  6. You know how we now look back at parents trying to potty train their kids at 1 and realize they were fools? I wonder if that’s what we’re doing with reading and kindergartners.

  7. Barbara Wilkins says:

    Congratulations on the progress you made with your students. It’s good to know that eventually efforts pay off,