After thirteen years of teaching, I’d argue that a huge part of what teachers love about their jobs is what many of us refer to as the “aha!” moments, the moment when a kid “gets it”. There’s a magical moment when they look up at you smiling in absolute triumph, with a look of “I got this! I can do this and more!” And for the teacher, a feeling of pride, proof that the science we follow to support each unique student works.
It’s magical to experience that moment, but it doesn’t happen by magic. It happens by teachers following the science of reading, the more nitty-gritty, day-by-day teaching and progress, the process of taking benchmarks, monitoring, scaffolding, and gentle release of support that teaches them to fly on their own as we move through the steps that build on each other carefully.
I'm thinking of one student, who I’ll nickname ‘T’. He came to kindergarten with very little exposure to the pre-literacy skills we hope our little learners have. I remember excitedly introducing an activity meant to get kids using basic early skills like coloring and writing their name. This is the kind of activity that helps the kids settle into their new class while the teacher gets to know the wide variety of skills the kids are coming into kindergarten with. ‘T’ needed a lot of support through the whole activity, which was not unusual on its own. What stood out to me was the perplexed look on his face when I gave him a pencil to write his name. He’d clearly never held a writing tool. He watched the other students and settled on grabbing it with a closed fist. I quickly swooped in and showed him how to hold it correctly and provided the scaffold of writing his name in highlighter for him to trace. To look at the same child at the end of the year was just a breathtaking difference. He had gained so much confidence over time and was just beaming with pride! It had been a year of “aha” moments and hard-earned accomplishments for ‘T’. He had, with the use of kinesthetics, learned the phoneme ‘blocks’ that words are built with, and been eager to learn early phonemic awareness skills and decoding of simple words, alongside learning early sight words.
I systematically tracked his progress as he continued to master each skill, each time, becoming one step closer to reading independently. He was amazed by the abilities and world it opened for him, and it was empowering to have the knowledge I needed to scaffold his learning and support his growth.
There are so many skills that go into learning how to read, so many to track for each student. It takes expertise and patience to apply all of them in a balanced, scaffolded way that supports each unique learner in their journey to independence in reading. But it is well worth it to know the science and the process to get to share these moments with students and successfully move them from where they came to you to where they leave you. It’s just the best.