My Dear Fellow Teacher
by Sherri Lucas-Hall
My Dear Fellow Teacher:
As you return to the classroom to serve students, I want to share the story of my 5-year journey with you, in hopes that you will join me.
I began this journey in 2016, when I didn’t even realize what the journey would involve. I was doing research so that I could perfect the craft that I had loved and wanted since I was a little girl with a dream. You see, I have wanted to teach since about third grade. (My family tells me it was before that because I was a mean pretend teacher. LOL!)
Anyway, my journey began because for the 5 years that I had been in the classroom, I noticed that each year at least half of my students were struggling to read. These were not typical readers. No. I noticed that at least HALF of the new students that came into my classroom each year were struggling to learn letter sounds and sight words. These struggles also translated into struggles in writing. I NEEDED to figure out why so MANY of my students were coming INTO school with these struggles. I taught kindergarten for the first 7 years of my career, and I KNEW that this was a foundational grade. There was something missing in what my teacher prep had given me. So, like any teacher who wants to perfect his/her craft, I started looking for the why. In 2016, I hadn’t heard of the science of reading. I found the Florida Center for Reading Research along with Reading Rockets and both resources were showing me the importance of sounds in words and connecting that knowledge to letters and letter formation. It made sense. I KNEW that some of my students were having difficulty hearing sounds in words. I could tell during Guided Reading, because it was the instructional method I had learned about in my teacher prep coursework. I could tell when I was using the LLI books that I used with my EIP students. These were the students who struggled the most.
I asked my principal at the time if I could tutor a group of my students after school and use the research that I had discovered at the FCRR. She allowed it and I officially began this journey of learning what truly works for students who struggle to learn to read. That year I tutored 4 of the 10 students from my classroom who had struggled the most .I used the resources/knowledge that I had discovered on FCRR.org and Reading Rockets to tutor those students. By the end of the school year, each of the 4 students, who had struggled the most in my classroom, were able to read and write in a way that they had not been able to do before I began tutoring them. By that time, I had looped with those students from kindergarten to first grade, so I knew the skills they came to first grade knowing. One of the students had struggled all throughout kindergarten to learn sound/letter connections and sight words but did not know more than about 5 words. By the end of the school year, she was reading, and we both cried when she left the school a week before the school year ended.
In 2018, I read the work of Emily Hanford and knew that my journey had a true purpose. Emily put a name to the work/research I had discovered through the FCRR and it was called the Science of Reading. My journey into the science of reading would forever change my beliefs and practices as an educator.
I now know that the science of reading is over 50 YEARS of science/research that tells us how the brain processes language and the methods of instruction that BEST work for teaching students to read. This understanding/knowledge works best for ALL learners and supports the way the brain processing system works. So, the needs of those who don’t struggle will be met along with the needs of those who have sound processing struggles. Our language is speech to print, and students MUST learn to connect those sounds we naturally speak to the words we read and write. For some students this connection is easy. But for those who struggle to make those connections, instruction that is explicit, structured, and cumulative is a must. They need to be explicitly taught the connections of sounds to letters. They need to explicitly be taught to blend those sounds into words. They need to be explicitly taught to read words that we call sight words using the kind of instruction that demonstrates those sound connections. They also need instruction that connects all of this to letter formation and writing.
I’ve used all the programs that many schools/districts currently continue to have in classrooms across this nation. I used them and realized that they weren’t working well for at least half of the students in my classroom. Now I am LETRS trained, and I know what works best to support learners. What works is instruction that supports making the connections of speech to print. What works is understanding the way the brain processes language. What works is instruction that supports learners in connecting the sounds of our language to the letters that represent those sounds and then connecting that instruction to the written formation of those letters.
We cannot delay making this transition to provide instruction that is called structured literacy. It best supports the way the brain processes our language.
I’m still on this journey and I know that there is more for me to learn, but for now, I use the knowledge I’ve gained through my Educator’s OG course and LETRS training to support the students that I serve through my tutoring business. Yes, I left the classroom. Not by choice though. I was forced to leave because I didn’t have the understanding that I now have, and I failed a student in the worst way. It was unintentional failure. The kind of unintentional failure that I hear about on a regular basis these days. It was failure that happened because I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
I’d like to see more teachers join me in this journey to better serve students who are counting on us to save them. They want someone to save them from coming into a classroom and struggling. Some of them have been struggling for a long time. They’ve carried their struggles from elementary school to middle school and many through to high school and beyond. What I know is that we CAN save them. We can end the tears, stomach aches and headaches that accompany the struggles they have in classrooms across this country. We can end the frustration, anger, and withdrawal that happens because they feel like THEY are the problem.
As you begin this new school year, consider joining me on this journey through the science of reading that I’ve learned CAN save many of the students that I’ve seen struggling to learn to read.
I’d like to see more students smiling and enjoying learning again. I’d also like to see more educators enjoying the profession, the profession that I’ve developed a new respect for. What we do IS necessary.
Another Educator on the journey
Sherri Lucas-Hall is an educator and a practitioner of the #ScienceOfReading via LETrS. She works with students who are struggling to read via her tutoring service Designed To Teach Tutoring Services.