Reading Intervention Programs-Laughing Until We Cried (What Word? Cried. Spell it. C R I E D What word? Cried)

During the past weeks of subbing, I have covered a number of K-3 classes  at a variety of schools where early reading programs have been instituted to help students who are presumably ‘below benchmark’ in reading comprehension, decoding and word recognition/spelling.   As I have been following a couple different programs when subbing for literacy teachers, I called a close teacher colleague who has worked in language arts from middle school up through college.  We commiserated over the time she had to teach REACH in 6th Grade using a particular analogy which used to make us giggle into hysterics.  Although the analogy is still hilarious and was in direct conflict with the science I was trying to teach down the hall, it was always funny as students realized it made no sense.  Now we no longer laugh – it is all too real and ‘in my face’ as a sub and I can not imagine how any one could have taught this and why on earth these students were not caught earlier.  Our conversations are  now about why  little ones coming to kindergarden can not associate letters and sounds on sight (ex: students have memorized the alphabet song, however, if you point to a letter out of the sequence, the child can not say the letter and make the sound or the word which contains that sound  – Hh, how, hound) have limited sight word recall and do worksheets where they are discriminating a sight sound combination (Ex:  F/f   for  fan, fence, fun, etc. vs. p for pan, s for sheep).

Decoding Analogy in REACH- Teachers says,” All humans have a skull.  A pig is not a human. A pig does not have a skull. ”  Teacher repeats first part, students repeat first part in unison; same for second and third part.  Teacher says, “Repeat the whole analogy.” Students repeat back in unison.

Of course there is always one student who has to ask, “Are you sure? What do you mean – pigs have skulls and then you (the teacher have to explain this misconception). SRA indicates anything can be taught, you just have to follow the first rule….

As a child, I was read to every night – books from libraries, the Highlights and Ranger Rick subscriptions my parents took out for me, etc.   For all I know, I could have learned reading  as easily by osmosis as I learned from being read to as Iwould wake up with my books in bed. Even today enjoy falling asleep to a good book.

Having grown up in low/middle income household where weekly trips to the library were normal and routine, I do not understand the underutiliztion of such services now.  My parents made sure we were at the library a minimum of once a week (this was after their long day at work and a 40 mile commute on S. CA freeways) and my parents could read newspapers, magazines, etc. while we did our homework, checked out books and read what was interesting to us.   Of course my parents (both did not usually go at the same time – it was either mom OR dad) had to give up TV or whatever else they had scheduled for the evening, however, this was part of the family routine.  In addition, I knew that while trips to Toy ‘R Us were limited, spending sprees at bookstores were almost unlimited and even my grandparents would help to fund these particular adventures. I grew up in a household where you received books as gifts for birthdays, holidays, etc. and our home ‘library’ was well respected, organized and USED often.   

 I wonder why  schools do not mandate parents get a library card for themselves and their children and turn in copies of books the PARENTS and children have read.   

Added on 5/15/09

 Las Vegas Review-Journal (5/14, Haug) reported on the family literacy program being “offered at three Clark County School District campuses” to help “Spanish-speaking adults improve their English alongside their children.” The program “is funded with a $600,000 grant from Toyota” awarded through the Kentucky-based National Center for Family Literacy. In Clark county’s program, “parents attend two classes a week with their children. They also take nine hours of English instruction for adults. An additional two hours are devoted to learning about opportunities in the school system and parenting tips.” The program is geared toward Spanish speakers, and “each of the three participating schools have enrollments that are about 78 percent Hispanic,” the Las Vegas Review-Journal noted.

Nevada District Offers Program To Help Parents Improve English Alongside Students.



know we can not force people to read and yet it seems part and parcel of breaking the poverty cycle.  My amazement at how many students and parents can be up to date on TV but not read is astounding – who could believe there could be 120 (this is based on 20 students per class and two classes per grade, grades K-3) students in one small area who are still learning literacy by Grade 3? This is one school.   Then I shake my head in realizaton of the true numbers – it has to be much larger as a school district I used to teach in had to use REACH in middle school and the school district is still using the program today – which means there is still a literacy problem AT MIDDLE SCHOOL level, never mind below Grade 6.

Using a rough formula explained to me when I was in Peace Corps (for every 10 years a population of people are not educated, it takes 50-100 years to undo the problem for that population of people), I have calculated it will take about 200 years for the U.S. to crawl out of illiteracy and be functional (at least 20 years have passed since undergrad for me and the observation of people not reading). It is any wonder why bankers and real estate agents can make hay of people who ‘didn’t read the contract’, etc.  In America, you have to make an active choice to be illiterate as libraries are free  and there are boundless adult literacy programs.  

Ironically, I grew up with very little to no TV – there just was not time.  TV was something reserved for when there was a babysitter and mom and dad went out – and even then, it was limited to two hours. Having grown up this way, I do not own a TV now as an adult and find I have no time/interest.  I have Netflix and if something really important is on TV, I find a friend who will let me watch it or I later catch a DVD.  My students, over the years, have never been able to understand how I can be so ‘aware’ of the world and yet not watch TV. Many of my friends do not have TV….birds of a feather thing.  When I meet people who have time for TV, I have found they tend not to read very much.

So, my remedy to both the economic and literacy situation in this country would be that TV is limited to 20 hours a week (that is how much you should be allowed to purchase on cable). In addition, anyone who is unemployed, MUST make weekly progress on literacy tests in order to collect unemployment. So where the unemployment claim asks if you have started taking classes, instead of asking if you are taking classes, it is assumed you are taking literacy and must pass a proficiency level of reading to not have to be burdoned with this requirement and to receive unemployment.  The test could be the equivalent of the CAHSEE exam – what we expect high schoolers to have competency in for graduation within the State of CA.  This is a minimum bar. We as a population have to demonstrate that literacy is valuable and important. Until the adults start demonstrating the power of literacy, there is little a school can do.

P.S. As we were reviewing the website above and looking for the supporting research, we found limited research for normal students and we tried to find the research for special education students but it was spelled ‘sepcial‘ education so we did not read that research.

Updated 4/29/2009