I am the teacher of a 2nd grade classroom. More specifically, I am the teacher of a 2nd grade classroom that includes many ELL students (with multiple newcomers to the United States), medically-impacted students, high-achieving students, under-performing students, and students from families with every kind of support system under the sun. I am the teacher of 2nd graders of students, who with great justification, are all over the spectrum as readers.
In recent years, the implementation of Common Core has made me much more critical of instruction. I’m, not without incredible guidance from and teamwork with exceptional colleagues, becoming a more deliberate and effective teacher. I’m learning how to really engage my students in listening and speaking for a purpose. I’m integrating writing as a means for demonstrating comprehension and making meaning of text with more authenticity than ever before. I’m increasing the complexity of text I offer students. And, what I am probably most proud of, I am increasing the cognitive demands I place upon students. However, this in itself is a problem for me. I sometimes get so wrapped up in teaching comprehension skills that I forget what I previous alluded to. Not all of my 2nd graders can read.
I don’t think I’m alone. I see this push for increased comprehension and critical thinking in many published CCSS resources. I hear about the concerns of getting kids to standard in their written responses when talking with other teachers. I go to professional development that is solely focused on increasing student comprehension. It’s important. However, when you have 2nd graders still learning to read, you can teach your heart out, and kids will still be missing a key component for success.
As teachers, we want more than anything to promote kids to the next grade level with all of the skills they will need to be incredibly successful. So we work – HARD – on preparing students to be ready for what they will see the following year. In my district, for 3rd graders, that is strong comprehension components. Yet, I know so many teachers, myself included, that can easily forget about the ‘Foundations’ piece of reading. Students arrive in 2nd grade not being able to access all of the comprehension questions I pose for them. This isn’t because of poor kindergarten or 1st grade teaching (especially in my land where my K-1 colleagues are nothing short of miracle workers!). It is because teaching kids to read doesn’t end in 1st grade.
CCSS has an entire strand entitled “Foundational Skills” that encompasses phonics, word recognition and fluency for 2nd graders. In Kindergarten and 1st grade it includes print concepts and phonological awareness. And the work isn’t done in 2nd grade! Grades 3 – 5 also have this same strand.
The push to increase the comprehension pieces of reading is so big that it’s easy to overlook the most important part of the whole thing we’re striving for – critical literacy. When you can’t access the text, it is hard to criticize it. These skills are called “foundations” for a reason. Effective reading blocks will include phonics, fluency, vocabulary AND comprehension instruction. There will be interventions and enrichment in place for all of these components.
Last weekend I helped my husband do some electrical work in our laundry room (Holding the flashlight is really an integral part to the job, right? ). When pushing up one of the old ceiling tiles I caught a glimpse of something that made me laugh. Above the molding, hidden up into the attic, there was a strip of the most horrific wallpaper I’ve ever seen. I mean this was bad. Yellow and orange floral print that I can’t imagine was ever stylish. At some point a previous owner realized this decor wasn’t working anymore and installed a dropped ceiling with molding and painted the room a bright white color. We came along and painted the room a trendy beige with a beautiful blue accent wall. And then it hit me (probably because my part of the job was so mindless!). Education reform is like the changing of decor. Things go out of style or are deemed ineffective so something new comes along. The cycle happens again and again and sometimes you’re even brought back to where you started several cycles ago. Yet the structural components of the building must remain. Perhaps one set of standards is gone and CCSS is in, but reading foundations are not dead.
I want all of my students to make the jump from learning to read to reading to learn in 2nd grade. I’ve found some really effective programs and routines that are helping me to achieve success in this. While I won’t endorse any specific curriculums, I’d love to chat with other teachers about foundations resources via Twitter, email or your comments below!
It’s easy to get caught up in all that’s new. Yet some old things are irreplaceable. Solid reading skills is one of them. Have you seen it happen? Do you have stories of a perfect reading balance? How about an imperfect one?
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.