Eugene moved here from an inner city, cockroach-ridden apartment with his mom and seven brothers and sisters. He was in fourth grade simply because he was tall. He barely talked and he was totally illiterate.
Eugene’s talent was in understanding the physical world around him. He knew how things went together and he could figure out whatever was unfamiliar to him. He knew all about animals and little kids. He knew how to take care of himself. He had figured out almost everything that he knew on his own. He was a great artist and had a great memory. He could build anything.
Unlike many other struggling students, Eugene fortunately didn’t have an attitude problem–he eagerly would plug away at a challenge. But he just wasn’t getting anywhere. He was the biggest child, but the worst reader in fourth grade.
Although Eugene was blessed with a positive attitude, he hated writing and reading aloud. He refused to read in front of other people because he was embarrassed and ashamed. No one dared make fun of this tall boy, but everyone was in pain when Eugene tried to read aloud. All meaning within the text was lost on Eugene because he spent so much time and effort decoding each word.
Eugene’s problem was that no one had ever really taught him to read. He didn’t know that there were vowels and consonants, punctuation, quotes or spelling rules. He only knew a few words by sight. In fact, Eugene had only two reading strategies — looking at the pictures and listen and remembering what the other students had read out loud. But these were great assets for a beginning reader! What key did we need to unlock Eugene’s ability to read?
The first thing we did was ask Eugene to assemble a new piece of technology that we had purchased. As he put it together, he and his committee had to make a list of the steps one needed to take for assembly. The idea was to make it easier on the “inept” teacher when she tried to do it on her own. Eugene and his committee had a list of 23 steps when they were done. I took the list and tried to put the technology together.
Eugene saw me following his written directions. As we went along, Eugene revised his list so I could better understand how to proceed. When we were all finished, he typed out a copy of the list so I could tape it to the box and help other teachers use the machine in the future.
Eugene was so good with machines that we trained him on the school’s television equipment. Again we made a list so that he could remember the steps and gain independence. From that day on, whenever we needed a show taped in the auditorium, I called upon Eugene to do the taping. It turned out he had a knack for videography. It must have been his artistic eye. The boost in ego was great for Eugene’s morale. It gave him something to be proud of, and he was admired and respected by fellow students and teachers alike.
We started using various methods of reading to help Eugene. He would read with a partner, I would read to the class or to him, a volunteer would read with him, or he would read silently. We gave him the Dolch list of words and asked him to practice reading it as often as possible. We also began reading lists of word families to give him every opportunity to develop methods to decode words.
Another thing we tried was to have Eugene draw pictures of stories so that he could recall and retell story lines. We wanted to give him many opportunities to talk about the stories he was hearing. He needed to hear proper grammar used by adults so he would develop an inner voice to tell him when something sounded right.
Now Eugene knew there was a reason and a use for reading and writing. He began to work on the various projects that were assigned to his fellow students in the fourth grade. One of these projects was to write a legend. worked hard on his legend and became one of the two students from his homeroom who were selected to read his legend at the Pow Wow.
All fourth graders and some visitors were present at the Pow Wow. Eugene got up, took the karoake microphone in hand, and read his legend. Yes, he made some mistakes and stammered over a few of the words, but he just beamed when the crowd acknowledged his achievement with applause.
Eugene will never be able to forget that awesome moment of glory–and neither will I.
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.