Angela and her “Coach”

Marianne Morin

They say that learning to read is a simple task.

They say that children all of a sudden “catch on” to the process and leave behind the word- naming stage to soar into the greater plain of enjoying, interacting and reacting to whatever they read. They also say that if this “catching on” hasn’t happened by third grade, the child will always struggle with reading.

This is why I call the 3rd and 4th graders that I see daily “at risk” readers. If they haven’t learned to read by the third grade, they are at risk of having lifelong reading problems.

As a teacher, I imagine myself as carrying around a giant and sometimes very heavy key ring filled with a variety of keys that can unlock the door blocking the way to reading for each child. All we have to do is find the right key.

Angela was a child from a broken home. She, her mother, and her siblings had moved far away from their home to settle in our town. Angela was the oldest child in her family and she deeply missed her father.

Angela had reading problems. She herself was dissatisfied with stumbling over words and taking so long to sound out unknown words. She had limited ability to hear sounds and she wanted desperately to speed up the reading process. She was very self-conscious of her problems. She was a smart little girl who understood whatever was read to her. She was creative and talented and enjoyed discussions and play-acting. Angela was also a charmer– well liked by her teachers and her fellow students.

Although Angela was saying she wanted to read better, she was hoping someone would open her brain and pour in that ability so she wouldn’t have to actively work at it herself. She had a “poor me” attitude and didn’t really want to make a personal effort. She got along by looking at pictures, making predictions and listening to what others were saying about the story. She never wanted to read aloud because she felt it would ruin her image.

So what key from my ring belonged to Angela? Angela loved writing and acting. She loved whatever came easy. She hated looking bad and working hard. She needed more than one key!

Angela needed to drop the attitude, use her talents, compensate for or work around her weaknesses and make an effort. She needed to take some responsibility for her own learning.

We started with her strengths. I had Angela do a lot of writing. She could read what she had written because she knew the stories well. [See In Their Own Words] Angela complained a lot about editing. She hated the chore of using a dictionary. I explained that other readers needed to have punctuation and correct spelling in order to read her work. In fact, the only way to get sparkle in her writing was through editing. She needed to have signs (punctuation) to show other readers what emphasis to place while reading her story. Spelling accurately would help her readers visualize her story fluidly.

From this point we were able to see how other writers used punctuation to add sparkle to their writing. This also opened the door for Angela to learn some basic phonics rules to help with spelling.

I made her a “listening tube” out of two pipe fitting corners glued together. She held one end up to her ear and spoke the word she needed to spell in the lower half. She held onto the vowel sound in the word as if she was holding a musical note. When she identified the sound she could spell the word.

Next, we began to look how other authors placed punctuation to make the reading more interesting and exciting. I insisted she stop reading word by word and start reading in short phrases. I also insisted that she follow all punctuation rules. When words were in italics or quotes, I had her use other voices. I made her repeat the sentence any time she fell back into her word-by-word trend of recitation.

We agreed that I would be her reading “coach”, and not her teacher. She was up for the challenge and began to improve. She still has a long way to go, but now she understands how writing, reading and speaking go together and she is more willing to try. Angela has become responsible for her own learning. She is eager to write and read with expression. Her attitude has changed. Angela still has a lot of work ahead, but now she knows she’s progressing!


About Marianne Morin

I have been a teacher at Watkins Glen Elementary School for 21 years, and I love my job! When my children were young, I went to Elmira College to get a Masters degree and a Reading Specialist Certificate. At this same time I had a private Nursery School at home which all of my own children attended for free.

I am currently a Reading Teacher working with 3rd and 4th grade at risk students, and the Elementary School Technology Coordinator. These two occupations, along with a husband who is a technology consultant, have been my inspiration to incorporate technology into the reading and writing process for at-risk readers.