Do you remember when you learned to read? Is your memory one from school, home, or somewhere else? Many equate reading with a journey, an adventure, or a window to new worlds, as it has a transformative power. However, learning to read is challenging. It requires perseverance and practice in all aspects of language on the part of the learner, as well as patience and consistency from the support system to cultivate the growth of a young mind. As a community fostering the promise of literacy, it is critical that we, as educators and families, bridge the gap between home and school for our children. Teaching students to read is one of the most demanding responsibilities educators embark on daily.
Teachers at Ukiah Unified School District are working together to understand and implement the latest information on the science of reading in our elementary classrooms. Beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, we started an ongoing training for elementary teachers through Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS). It is a two-year commitment to professional learning that provides knowledge and tools for teachers in several research-based language domains and has proven to be successful in developing readers. Teachers can use this with any reading curriculum. We have over 70 elementary teachers participating in this course, putting current research into practice and enabling teachers to confidently provide instruction. Ukiah Unified educators are dedicated to continuous learning and implementing the newest techniques to improve our youngest students' reading skills.
The science of reading takes a more structured approach and examines how our brains process language and information. It begins with the idea that learning to read is not as natural as learning to talk. Teachers start with the foundations of language, including phonics. Learning to decode language to read is complex and requires using all four parts of our brain! To break the reading code, conversations about the text that focus on language, structure, and deepened understanding have the most impact on a student's reading success. It is essential to build a foundation where students are strong in their oral language development and comprehension to stitch in reading elements such as phonological awareness, decoding, and sight recognition of familiar words. Teachers work on developing students' language abilities and knowledge of the world through read-alouds and conversations. As students begin to read more fluently, these word recognition skills and language abilities weave together like strands in a rope. Students read increasingly complex texts at or above their grade level.
Parents can help tremendously and partner with us in building our community of readers. Reading to your child as early as infancy can instill a love of reading. It creates warm and happy associations with books that increase the likelihood that kids will find reading enjoyable in the future. Reading at home also boosts school performance later on. It increases vocabulary, raises self-esteem, builds good communication skills, and strengthens the human brain's prediction engine. Not only is reading necessary, but it also builds oral language fluency and comprehension. So, tell stories, play games with words, rhyme, find other ways to say things (vocabulary), sing, narrate, and create real-world applications for language learning. Doing some or all of these things in your native language builds a strong foundation in your first language and sets up future language learning for success!