A Sky Full of Reading Stars

By Bill Henk –  My daughter is a “reading star.”  Honestly, I’m not bragging; it’s just the truth.

Good thing.  I’m a Professor of Literacy after all.  And I’m a certified Reading Specialist, too.  Let’s face it.  How embarrassing would it be for me if she struggled as a reader?  You’d think I’d do everything possible to make sure she succeeded, right?

But here’s the confession.  I can take almost no credit.  I’ve done very little of what I’ve routinely recommended to parents who want to get their kids off to a good start in reading.  Yessir, as far as my very own child’s literacy progress goes, I’m pretty much a slacker.  I’ve operated more like a hopeful bystander than an engaged reading professional.

OK, it’s true that nowadays I either read to her or listen to her read on most nights, at least the ones when I’m not totally exhausted.  But I didn’t routinely do that until fairly recently and even then those episodes are fairly brief.  Other than that, all I’ve done is make sure that she has her fair share of books available and praise her for  being a skilled and avid reader.  It doesn’t go much deeper.

Shamefully, for an educator anyway, I haven’t done any direct instruction with her — no sight words, no phonics, no context clues — no nothing –even though I have years of training and experience teaching and tutoring hundreds of other people’s kids.

Put differently, I’ve left it up to others to nurture my own daughter’s competence and love for reading.  Including her!

Today I asked her how she got to be such a good reader, and without any hesitation whatsoever she said, “I taught myself how to read chapter books.”  And you know what?  I think she pretty much did.  Come to think of it, given the inflection she used,  her statement actually meant, “No thanks to you, Mr. Bigshot Reading Professor Daddy.”

And the last few days, she’s been so deeply engaged in reading aloud in the car on the way to school that we don’t talk; I just listen.  It’s even hard to get her to quit reading long enough to get her out of the car when we arrive.

In any case, the idea of referring to her as a reading star in this post occurred to me because she was recently designated as “Star of the Week” in her first grade classroom.  The recognition had nothing to do with her academic achievement; it was just her turn.

But as part of the deal, she had to pick a favorite book for her parents to read to the class as well as some others that she would read to them as the week wore on.  She wanted to practice these books, and all I needed to do was listen attentively and make sure she handled the texts she’d read aloud well enough to share in front of her classmates.

What I heard blew me away!  When I  finally paid close attention to my own kid’s development as a reader, I realized that she could recognize very sophisticated words and could comprehend well above her grade placement.  Although I knew she was making progress in reading along the way, I had almost no idea how much.  It was as if someone had thrown a switch or waved a magic wand, and just like that, my kid’s reading star began to  shine —  brilliantly.

That realization then turned into  a wish for other kids.  Wouldn’t it be great if all of them were proficient readers?  What if the sky was filled with reading stars?

So, as I think about some of the recent blog posts I’ve written — on Reading is Fundamental, the Lead to Read initiative, the Hartman Literacy and Learning Center, and the third grade reading networks of Milwaukee Succeeds, I find myself dreaming of a day when we adults get it right educationally, and all of our school children are reading stars, too.

2 Responses to “A Sky Full of Reading Stars”

  1. 1 Paul Manghera October 11, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Similar experience with my 1 st grader 10 years ago. I think we read with her, but I never recalled the we spent extraordinary time doin so. Then one day “Wow! Where did that come from?!” After a lot of thought, I came to the conclusion that kids are great observers-and our daughter often observed Mom and Dad with a book in hand. She imitated us and found she liked it. So I suspect your daughter has done a lot of “observing” of her mom and dad too.


    • 2 billhenk October 13, 2012 at 9:40 pm

      I think your conclusion that kids are great observers is right on the money, Paul. But some are better at putting together the pieces without guidance than others, and some struggle even with guidance. Learning language at all is a uniquely human feat of immense significance, and breaking the code of reading is yet a further abstraction. In other words, we’re really lucky that our daughters were able to do so without much in the way of intervention. It’s true that my daughter sees her mom and dad read — newspapers, magazines, and mail, but most of all text from a computer screen I’m afraid — rarely books.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What is a Marquette Educator?

Follow us on Twitter


%d bloggers like this: