I have two classes left as I get ready to finish my Masters in Literacy. For my 14 fans out there, thank you for paying attention to my intellectual journey. Yesterday afternoon, I sat in an independent study not even noticing the sudden blooms of spring outside the porch window. Instead I was reviewing once and for all the importance of fluency. Reading with speed, accuracy and expression is essential to success in middle and high school and yet many of us do not take the time to encourage it. As I sat and reviewed assessment strategies and screening of fluency I was seized with the sort of thoughts that many first year teachers experience. Thoughts of, "I'm not ready!" ran through my mind. For the first time in 16 years of teaching I have been mentored and coached by experts in the field of literacy who have refined my practice as I teach. It is synonymous to working with Ina Garten in the kitchen or Bob Villa on House design. Can I continue this Mastery without their constant guidance? Oh muses how I will miss you!
First lesson of my literacy muses- I learned that many instincts were correct in teaching but more importantly, I am no longer relying on instinct alone. Guided research and modelled practices have forced me to honestly look directly at the effects of instruction and to redirect in response to students' needs.
Teaching spelling with reason: breaking words into morphemes, phonemes, understanding the structures of words resonates with high school students. When they ask- why do I have to learn this- I have an answer and a means for possibility. Roots of words carry meaning- un (done), un (refined). Un means not or done. So, now I can give them a word to decode, a puzzle and students eat it up. Undistinguished suddenly seems less terrifying.
Decoding- it's related to fluency and comprehension. Teaching morphemes and word derivation help break down intimidating words. Middle school and high school students see many intimidating words. Refining my practice has also caused me to look at my peers and their practices. We are guilty of rushing to expose students to intense content without slowing down to offer repeat practice of intimidating terms. For students in rural Vermont school can be the only safe place for them to use this content. I have restructured my practice to rely on rubrics, skill sets, word groupings consecutively. My new challenge is to spiral and reintroduce terms not only from one lesson to the next but from one unit to the next. I also believe in embedding English courses into my own. It's superfluous to push students through separate sets of vocabulary when I could easily transform my teaching to extend to the use of their terms. Learning more does not always lead to knowing. Practice does.
Fluency- the number of words a student can read accurately in a minute comes with practice. With all of my improvements in the classroom it is still a challenge to urge students to read. I have experimented with re-reading primary source text. Mandela's Speech, a letter from Cesar Chavez take on new meaning when it is used in different context. I was accustomed to avoid oral reading in the classroom because of the stress it can place on different tiers of readers. but mentoring has taught me how invaluable it is for individuals. Eagerly I've noticed great examples of practices for the purpose of fluency. Our school theater program is thriving and those students tend to be our strongest readers. Reading theater is performed annually at our elementary school for Red Clover Day. I sat at the performance this year with an aha! in my mind and how I have the perfect story to perform for a Civil Rights study. Echo Reading, is great for comparing how students think they hear and understand a reading. What happens when we change the tone? Does the meaning change? Would you like, I Have a Dream speech if the tone was angry, or wimpy? What would you think? In this case I am reminded that fluency is really about losing the fear of interacting with literacy. It is the drive to return to a piece of literature. To listen to an Audible and then to still want to read something for meaning.
Fluency builds up over time picking up momentum from many sources (Birsch, 304).
All of my studies on language have made me realize how much more I still need to learn. I need more practice. I forgot why I know what I know. I had forgotten what the difference was between an inflicted verb and a derivational suffix. I forgot how sincere and undeveloped the mind of a fifteen year old student can be when they are often seen taking on such huge responsibilities. I hope I can remember.