Happy Reading
 

   Featured Educator: Sarah Wilder

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? Did your childhood experiences with books influence you in your teaching, your parenting or both? If so, how?
Have there been books, authors or characters who have had a profound effect on you as a person (historically and/or currently)?

Wilder: My earliest memory of books and reading was having my mother read to us on Sunday afternoons as I child. I loved hearing the sound of her voice and how she would engage us when discussing whatever it was we had read together. I've continued this tradition from my childhood on Sundays, as well as most nights, with my own two sons. With my older son, our favorite author to read together the last couple of years has been Barbara Parks and her Junie B. Jones series. These are hysterical and such a great way for him to make those personal text to self connections since he has quite the sassy, but sweet little personality just like Junie B. We've started the read the Zach File series this year together. My two year old just loves any book about babies or monkeys so we read quite the assortment!

My personal favorite author is Eve Bunting. I don't remember reading her books as a child, but I vividly remember the first time I read her book, Fly Away Home, in a college Master's course for my teaching degree. I had read the book and then was up discussing it before our class along with two other members in my group. As soon as I began talking about the details of the story and my thoughts about it, I began unexpectedly crying. I had made all these personal connections to the text and since it reminded me of difficulties my brother was currently struggling with in his life. Although showing emotion was embarrassing at the time, given I'm a very controlled person, it was an extremely powerful experience for me. I absolutely love almost every single book of Eve Bunting's because she discusses topics to which the reader can easily relate. She always evokes such powerful emotions from her readers. These experiences have greatly influenced my teaching since I constantly try to select texts to which students can easily make those valuable connections.

HAPPY: What about early educators? Were there individuals who had a lasting impact? Would you acknowledge them here?
Did your process of becoming a skilled reader, including early interaction with books and print, inform your own teaching in some way? Could that process have been better or more fun, somehow?

Wilder: An individual who had a lasting impact on my experience with reading was a University of Louisville Methods professor. She facilitated an experiential experience of us in a small group as "readers" in an elementary classroom. We were given a book which had pictures to go along with the story of The Three Little Pigs. However, the words were like a foreign language. It made no sense! There were no patterns in the words or clues to help you decipher what the words actually were. We were given this without prior notice and put on the spot. It is important to note that I had never struggled as a child in school in reading. I was always at the top of my class. However, this experience was such a powerful experience for me to have as a pre-service teacher. I realized how difficult it must be for some struggling readers although I had never considered that prior to this since I hadn't experienced that personally in school. It definitely shaped the methods I used when teaching reading in my own classroom. It was beyond powerful and very thought provoking!

HAPPY: Are reading aloud and wide reading valuable for today’s learning environment? How do you approach this in a preschool setting?

Read-alouds are an essential component to a student's educational experience. Even though the demands on an educator's schedule are so heavy and increase every year, it is imperative that we take at least 10- 15 minutes a day to read aloud to our students. This is one of my students' favorite part of the day, as well as mine. I absolutely love hearing the students volunteer valuable connections they are making to the text during this time and the meaningful discussions that evolve from these read aloud experiences.

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

I try to focus mainly on positive reinforcement to motivate my students. I have a special group this year and have had to become even more creative. I divided them into four separate groups. Each group has a small bucket with the group's name on it which the students chose. I found a variety of small foam balls (soccer, basketball, football, and baseball) which I hot glued to sticks. We have named it this system "Catching Compliments". The students can work as individuals and as a group team to catch a compliment ball for his/ her group bucket. They absolutely love this system and I do as well since it helps us all focus on encouraging positive behavior instead of having to focus on just punishing the bad behavior. It absolutely decreases the amount of misbehavior I have to address as a teacher. It just creates a much more positive and uplifting environment in our classroom.

HAPPY: How can educators promote literacy skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) in age-appropriate ways. How do you set and meet high expectations for very young children without creating stress or overwhelming them?

Given the new E/LA standards, I would imagine some teachers probably feel so overwhelmed trying to incorporate these into other content areas. However, it is such a natural fit for most content areas it's honestly not that difficult. I teach the language arts (reading, writing, grammar, and spelling) to my homeroom and social studies to all three 5th grade classes. I am constantly referring to text to world, text to text, text to self connections to make sense of the information we're reading in U.S. History. It's critical to connect this very new information to previous knowledge if my students are to succeed. We process what we're learning when reading and then write about it. We take reading notes as we're reading to make sense of the information. I could go on and on, but reading skills and strategies are so deeply embedded in everything we do in social studies.

HAPPY: Personal summary: share any memorable moments from your experience with students… when there was a real world connection made with reading or writing that touched or inspired you... when you knew completely that your work made a difference with a learner or learners?

I was actually speaking with my own son this morning about the love of reading. He shared with me that in Guidance class this week they focused on setting goals. He had the second highest AR points overall among all 1st grade classes last year. He received the silver medal and only missed getting the gold by less than two points. He loves reading, as well, but he is also extremely competitive and shared that he had calculated that he needed to read a particular number of books each week to reach an overall new point goal he had set for himself this year. Those types of situations really make me excited and proud, both as a mother and educator. When kids are that motivated to read and love it so much that they become focused on setting new goals over the course of a year, I know that we have instilled in them a passion and love for reading that will benefit them in so many aspects of their educational experience and in their adult life as well. Reading impacts students' success in so many various content areas that we can take comfort in knowing we've positively impacted a child's entire life!

Sarah Wilder teaches 5th grade at McNeill Elementary School in Bowling Green, Kentucky. She has been a teacher for nearly a decade; she is the state’s 2011 Elementary Teacher of the Year.


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