Reflections on learning to read

Toni De Tallo’s Harford Hills fifth-grade class looks back on reading for the first time
with Becky Ponder and Lisa Turner

Sometimes when I look at our fifth grade students, charging down the hall in the morning full of self confidence, I remember them as young kindergarten and first grade students. I can remember their early days and their halting first steps at becoming readers. I wondered what these children remembered about their first experience as readers.

First to recall her experience was Mia, “I forgot the name of the book I first learned to read, but it was something about a dog. It had like six pages. And whenever I see this book, I think of myself as a little girl carrying around this book and being so proud of myself.” Mia went on to say, “I read small books and I would pronounce all kinds of things weird, but my parents at the end would clap for me.”

In contrast to this, one student had an unkind babysitter who put her hand over the child’s mouth every time she made a mistake and said, “No, reread it again!”

Children might love the books they first learned to read, but sometimes their perspective of them changes as they grow older. When Andrew was little the first book he read seemed so overwhelming. Today he looks at the book and it seems like such an easy book to read. One of the things that puzzled Andrew, when he was a beginning reader, was that he could understand what the words meant when an adult read the book. When he read the book, however, he could read all the words, but he could not understand the meaning.

“My first books were the Biscuit books,” wrote Megan. She checked out a Biscuit book every time she went to the library. She still looks for the Biscuit books when she visits the library.

Some fifth graders remembered cherished characters from their favorite children’s books. “I loved Sam in Green Eggs and Ham,” wrote one fifth grader. “It was so funny how Sam kept bothering Dr. Seuss with [silly things] like green eggs and ham.” It is hard to be a doctor when you have such unconventional friends!

A classic comment made by primary grade teachers is the importance of mastering sight words. Annie remembers her mother telling her, “We have to learn the words that appear a lot in books.” The quote stuck with her as she learned the long list of sight words.

Lukas thought reading was special when his grandmother read the collection of Box Car Children books to him. He thought she was the best reader because when she read the words, she changed her facial expressions.

“I loved this book about farm animals and the sounds they made. I ‘read’ the part when the animals made the sounds and realized I was reading,” describes Angel.

It made one child feel important to get that all-important parent signature on the books from her booklist!

One student remembers chanting the letters “a, e, i, o and u” over and over. When she did it she got a treat for getting the vowels correct.

One student could not read at all in kindergarten. As she was sitting and listening to a friend read, she looked over at the text and realized she could read the book.

Many students told me that the first books they read are still read today. It brings back happy memories to re-read old books from their early days in elementary school. Raven spoke for many when she said, “My favorite book . . . is still in my room today.”

Toni De Tallo is a fifth grade teacher at Harford Hills Elementary
Becky Ponder teaches pre-kindergarten and inclusion at Harford Hills Elementary
Lisa Turner is a kindergarten teacher at Harford Hills Elementary

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