The Difference A Year Can Make #sol15 Day 11

     My daughter, Megan, turns 2 this Sunday.  Last night, I was feeling nostalgic for her little baby self and pulled up some videos from last year.  There was one where she sat in her high chair, trying out the word "cheese" for the first time.  Her vocabulary at 11 months was limited- Dada, cheese, sock.  Fast forward a little over a year and she now sings full nursery rhymes, says long sentences made up of many words, knows all her colors (including aqua).  Where a year ago, she had just a smattering of hair, now her signature trademark is her 2 blonde pigtails.  A year ago, she was just starting to toddle, pushing a toy for support.  Now, she runs, climbs stairs, hangs from rings and walks the balance beam at her Little Gym class.

     What a difference a year makes.

    I was thinking of this in light of our youngest learners in school.  Yesterday, I sat in a meeting before it was my turn to discuss my students, listening to a colleague discuss her struggling first grade readers.  Questions were asked about the amount of words read in an minute, reading level, strategies used and why this little one wasn't making appropriate progress.  Everyone's heart is in the right place, wanting this child to progress as a reader.  I just can't shake the feeling that we are rushing our kids. 

     The bulk of my teaching career was spent in kindergarten, where the abilities varied so much.  Some kids started almost at 6 years old while some were still 4.  Some kids could read books and others couldn't recognize their name.  A teacher's job is to meet kids where they are and help them get to the next level, whatever that might be for that child.  But then we started "expecting" kids to read at a certain level and tying in teacher evaluations and livelihoods to that expectation.  It was a game-changer, in my opinion.  We had no time to spare anymore, no time to give them room to develop at a slower pace, no time for patience and faith that they could do time. 

    I've read that in Finland, the apparent center of educational excellence, they don't start formal reading instruction until the age of 7.  A friend of mine who attended a school for the gifted said the same thing about learning to read- they just didn't start that formal "teaching" until later.  Clearly, that gift of time has been beneficial for the highest achieving. 

     Yet our lowest achieving students are assessed on their reading skills all the time.  Weekly progress monitoring, frequent bench-marking.  Lists of words to read.  The pace set as it is because by the time they are in third grade, they will need to be able to read passages set a 6th grade level on a state test. 

    It doesn't make that much sense to me. 

 I don't see all this frequent measuring making anyone a much better reader.  What if we slowed it all down and gave them some more time? Maybe a year would really make a difference.

I am no expert, I have no doctorate.  I am just a teacher and a mom that worries we are putting a lot of pressure on kids who would be able to do all that we ask....with just a little more time to grow. 
Megan at a year

Not yet 2....but so much bigger!


  1. Yes, yes, yes. I tend to close my door and give my kids that gift of a year of time. I can make it look a lot like I'm drilling when I'm not. The kids in my class (who get a gift of two years because I loop 1st to 2nd) are avid readers because they choose to be. They are not avid readers because they can sight read 100 words or more. Some of them still struggle with short vowels but their love of reading keeps them on an upward trajectory. I hate to have to keep my methods to myself but I know the district would not agree with me. But I know what's best and clearly so do you.

    On another note, that Megan, ooo la la is she gorgeous.

    1. Thank you, Kimberley! I know what you mean. :) Thanks for the kind words about my Megan!

  2. It's such a complex issue. I couldn't help but think how your daughter is acquiring what is most needed to be successful at school. She has insider Discourse. Preventing reading difficulties is doable and need not be harsh. Constant measuring is not always the same as attentive practice. I find that so many of the reading issues children face can be eased by knowledgeable, not just well intending, educators. There is no gift of time that ignores needs and strengths. Systematic response can make a big difference.

  3. Hi Mary Ann! I agree with you that my daughter is acquiring what is most needed to be successful at school. I have a son, as well, who is 4 and a half. Because their mom (me!) is a teacher and we are middle-class, my kids have had access to a lot of language and experiences and more books than we can keep organized! Even still, I worry about my son in kindergarten and have chosen to let him do an extra year of preschool and begin kindergarten when he is five turning 6, instead of 4 turning 5 as is customary in NY. Since I taught kindergarten, I've seen the shift in how student skills are viewed. We used to be okay with students not knowing many letters at the start of kindergarten but now if you don't know your letters, you are a "kid to watch". My son, even with all his rich language and exposure to learning, isn't quickly picking up the letters of the alphabet. He is just not interested right now. I am hoping, with the gift of time, that he will be more ready. I fear that we are expecting all students to do things that 4, 5, and 6 year olds learn developmentally and not at the same rate. I am not saying we shouldn't teach them and expose them to many literacy concepts- but why the constant progress monitoring where a 6 year old is given a huge list of words to read out of context, with no picture support? Why must we race them through reading levels just to say they are a "D" in June or a "J" by the end of first grade? It has all become a pressure cooker now that teacher evaluations often rest on student progress, including their reading levels. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me.

  4. Katherine, your little one certainly seems to be quite the little princess at almost 2. Enjoy her early years because we do need to nurture all of our children to become the learner that notices and wonders. It is a fine balance rope that we walk in education now. We want our students to grow as learners and have full reading and writing lives. In light of the current state of education, we must decide how to maneuver through the mandates and accountability issues. Inside the classroom, the heart of learning is still a passionate interaction between the teacher as the guide and awakener with the students as the travelers on a journey.

  5. Katherine.... I really loved this post, for so many reasons. Your caring attitude toward your students shines through, as does your love for your daughter. Just wait until she's 13 and starting high school! I could have sworn my daughter was 2 just five minutes ago! Thank you for sharing today.


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