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First Year Teacher Self-Study Course

First Year Teacher is a self-paced professional development course for novice K-3 teachers, developed by Reading Rockets. The program provides teachers with an in-depth knowledge of reading so they are prepared to guide their students into becoming skilled and enthusiastic readers.

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Week 3

A stumbling block

This week was our first four-day week of school. Because of Yom Kippur, we had Monday off. Prior to this, the students had been in school for seven days. So, once again, when they returned to school on Tuesday, it took some time to get back into the routine. I knew things were getting easier because it did not take quite as long to get back into the swing of things as it did the week before. It finally feels like we are all starting to settle in!

Last week was my first real week of teaching. This week, however, brought teaching to a new level for me. The second reading story in our series is a very difficult text. The vocabulary is very complicated and is almost impossible to sound out at this point. “Wiggly, squiggly, gliding, sliding? These words are too hard for the kids!” I thought to myself as I looked over the story. And, to make the story even more challenging, it was about twenty pages long. Even though I am not an experienced teacher, I know that in the third week of first grade, children are not really able to fluently read a story as difficult as this one. But, because it was in the curriculum, it had to be taught.

Sometimes the curriculum has material that is rather challenging for students. Because it is required, however, it must be covered and mastered. I looked at the main objectives for the story and made sure that I presented them to the class in a way they would understand. We discussed action words and came up with our own class list of them. For our sight words, we reviewed them by playing sight word Bingo. This fun way of seeing the words helped the students quickly master them. As I covered the main objectives of the story, I knew that I could only cover the text the best ways I knew.

By the end of the week, not all of the students could read the story. I had notes come in from parents, expressing their concern that their child could not get through the story and was very frustrated by it. As I worked with my mentor, she explained that sometimes stories are just too hard for the children. Being that this is only the third week of school, most students are not ready to read a text like this. As she explained that some students will just not be able to read this, I began to relax. The struggle that my students faced was not because I could not teach the material successfully, but because it was an extremely inappropriate text to be mastered so early into the school year.

I want to see my students successfully reading. To achieve this, I must introduce and review beginning, medial and ending sounds, vowels, digraphs, blends and so forth. As we examine each of these concepts, their reading will improve. But I have to remember that I am not a miracle worker. Sometimes a text is going to be too hard to read, plain and simple. Instead of forcing the students to try and read every word, I can have them read the words they do know, so they feel a sense of confidence with a challenging text. As the school year goes on, their reading strategies will improve. But it does take time for them to develop. I have no doubt that in a few months, or even in a few weeks, my students will be able to fluently read this text. But for now, I have to examine what they can do and work from there.

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"A book is a gift you can open again and again." — Garrison Keillor