I don’t know what helped Tommy learn how to read. Since he had a ‘do worksheets or I’ll shrug’ teacher for Kindergarten, I know that he didn’t learn to read at school. At home, we did flashcard drills, watched a million hours of PBS, drew letters in shaving cream and wrote with chalk or crayons daily. I read out loud, taped words to everything in the house, made alphabet soup to play with our food and spent weeks talking in rhyme. Before he turned six, Tommy could read. Once he had a basic grasp of reading, he read anything and everything, improving so rapidly that he finished everything Tolkien before middle school.
Sarah learned to read because of and for praise from her Kindergarten teacher. Sarah’s teacher made every child in the classroom feel loved and in return, the students worked eagerly for the teacher they adored. After Kindergarten, Sarah continued to be a good student, but she didn’t read for pleasure until she discovered Harry Potter.
Noah learned to read from his big sister. Sarah forced Noah to spend hours playing school. She hovered over him with books so frequently that he began Kindergarten with basic reading abilities. His Kindergarten teacher refused to acknowledge this and spent most of her time forcing him to use his right hand and reprimanding his behavioral objections to using the wrong hand and sitting still. By the end of Kindergarten, Noah preferred being immersed in a book over doing anything else. Noah still loves to read. Right now, Noah is reading. He won’t stop until he finishes this novel. Then, he’ll find a new book and start reading again.
Amy’s Kindergarten teacher taught her to read. Amy improved her reading skills at the same speed as her peers until she discovered the Kindle. The Kindle was the spark that made Amy love reading. I regularly find her reading while hiding under a blanket far past her bedtime. Most of the time, I pretend not to catch her.
Evan had a wonderful Kindergarten teacher. He had (and still has) two parents and four siblings reading to him every night. We practiced his sight words until he didn’t even pause to read them. Amy bribes Evan to play school a few times a week. With all of that, I truly believe that the tipping point for Evan learning to read was texting. He started out sending gibberish messages on my Twitter account, then proceeded to texting family and friends with my phone. Now, Evan and Amy regularly chat with the text program on their DSiXLs.
All of this is a very long way of saying that every child learns differently. Their strengths, weaknesses, motivations and enthusiasm come in endless varieties of combinations. There is no assembly line formula for teaching children to read. Eliminating proven techniques for helping students learn to read is a recipe for failure. Failure for the neediest, highest risk students. The future for children who don’t learn to read is dismal. Allowing it to happen because it’s someone else’s child is a human tragedy. The money we save now is nothing compared to the cost of supporting and cleaning up the acts of desperation by those who didn’t learn.