Happy Reading

   Featured Educator: Karen Drosinis

Karen Drosinis is Teacher of the Year for Virginia Beach and for Virginia’s Tidewater Region. She is a kindergarten teacher at Pembroke Elementary School. HAPPY Reading is pleased and appreciative that she is willing to share her own reading memories as well as her insights on classroom literacy.

HAPPY: What are your earliest memories of books and reading? Did you have any favorite authors, books or characters? What did you like about them?

My earliest memory of reading is as a little girl “reading” books to my dolls and stuffed animals arranged on my bed. I remember looking at the pictures and making up a story as I went along. My favorite book as a beginning reader was anything Beverly Cleary. I can remember laughing at all the mischief that her characters got into!

HAPPY: Did your childhood experiences with books influence you in your teaching, your parenting or both? If so, how?

Yes, both! I encourage both my students and four year old daughter to look at the pictures in a book in order to predict what will occur. We do “picture previews” of any picture book we are about to read. This not only gets them interested in the content of the story, but also gets them talking about it, which enhances their vocabulary and oral language development.

HAPPY: What about early educators? Were there individuals who had a lasting impact? Would you acknowledge them here?

My first grade teacher had a positive impact on how I perceived myself as a learner. She was encouraging, patient, and took the time to get to know her students. I remember her each day I teach, as I strive to make my students feel as she made me feel so many years ago: that although we may learn differently, we are all capable of accomplishing our goals.

HAPPY: Did your process of becoming a skilled reader inform your own teaching in some way? Could that process have been better or more fun, somehow?

Yes- When I first learned how to read, I learned sight word recognition along with phonemic awareness. This helped me to sound out unknown words that were not a part of my sight word vocabulary while at the same time still being able to comprehend what I have read. I remember MANY workbooks and worksheets when I was a student. I continue to teach my students the skills of sight word recognition and phonemic awareness, however I have greatly altered the instructional implementation of them. I use finger spelling as a visual support when learning initial letter sounds; I also integrate many tactile materials into the learning of letters and words as opposed to worksheets/workbooks.

HAPPY: Have there been books, authors or characters who have had a profound effect on you as a person (historically and/or currently)?

Yes- Dr. Seuss! What a world of imagination and silliness that he has created! My students not only love to hear his imaginary words, but the stories that he tells through his invented characters are delightful and fun! The rhyme and rhythm of his words help young children interact with each story. But, above all else, his books remind us all that out of something silly and strange can come something wonderful!

HAPPY: How can educators be effective in a speed-driven, entertainment- and information-saturated culture? What role can books play? What do books offer us that we can’t get from other media?

Nothing can ever take the place of an interactive read aloud with young children. Children love to be entertained and books are entertaining! From the use of differing voice variations of the characters to role playing the story and changing the ending, children can literally jump into a book! We need to continue to model the love of reading to our students if we want to encourage students to become independent readers themselves.

HAPPY: Are reading aloud and wide reading valuable for today’s learning environment? If so, how do we incorporate this, given all the demands on educators today?

Yes- very valuable. Early readers can benefit greatly from guided instruction of reading using an instructional leveled text. Many children need to hear themselves reading aloud in order to understand what they have read. Teachers also need to hear students reading aloud as we need to assess their reading behaviors in order to support them in their development.

HAPPY: What kinds of things do you do or are you willing to do to motivate your students? Please share any ideas you’d like to have others consider and/or emulate.

Reading is everywhere in my classroom! Students are reading pattern books independently or with a partner. Students are using large pointers and finger puppets to demonstrate early literacy behaviors such as one-to-one matching and directionality. I instruct each student daily in differentiated guided reading groups, where I model reading strategies of “good readers” as well as observe the reading behaviors of my students. When a child makes their first connection in a book (reading a known word) the light bulb goes off, and they want to share what they can read with others. Motivation is ALL around us!

HAPPY: How can educators promote literacy skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) across the curriculum and not just in language arts classrooms?

In an early childhood classroom, we are learning to read. As teachers, we need to remember that we need to demonstrate to our students that we also use books to read to learn new information. Using non-fiction picture books and big books provides an integrative approach to literacy across the curriculum. Using thematic units that are centered around a science or social studies topic can provide endless opportunities for literacy, encouraging students to respond to reading, participate in developmental writing (shared, interactive, guided, or independent), and reading instructional texts appropriate for each child, as well as reading the writing of the class that is displayed throughout the room. Literacy is everywhere, and an early childhood classroom should be a language-rich environment!

HAPPY: What is your personal summary? Please share any memorable moments from your experience with students… when there was an affirmative reading connection made, when a child grasped something new through literature or through writing… or went from being uninterested to being a reader by choice.

Teaching literacy doesn’t stop at the end of a school year with my students. As a Kindergarten teacher, I have the privilege to teach my students how to read. But, it is my ultimate goal to embed in them the enjoyment of reading beyond the doors of my classroom. My past students still come to my classroom to share a book they are able to read, and to be “guest readers” to my new Kindergarten students. That is what it is all about. To know that I have given them the tools to become good readers and to see the enthusiasm and enjoyment they receive from reading is a reward like no other!

HAPPY Reading thanks and salutes educators who are dedicated to creating readers and who are bringing skill and passion into the classroom consistently. The value of your committed effort with each child cannot be overestimated, nor can you be rewarded enough for holding high expectations and guiding each student to the discovery of his or her own greatness.

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