Let Them Believe It, And They Will Achieve It!

Yesterday, I had that aha moment that occurred in the most unlikely of places: music class. Since we have our music prep at the end of the day, I usually end up staying in the classroom, organizing materials for the next day, and uploading documentation during music. Often as I work, I enjoy watching and listening to the kids. Yesterday was no exception, but it was one of the conversations, which truly made my teacher heart proud.

Our music teacher, Mrs. Crocker, was introducing the class to a new song. To get them to think about the words, she said them aloud, and had the kids count how many words were in the song. There were a few different guesses. As Mrs. Crocker went back to repeat the words and had the children think again about the number of them in the song, one of our students piped up with, “I could just count them.” Then she looked over at the text for the song — which she saw next to Mrs. Crocker’s chair — and counted the words. What?! Mrs. Crocker had not even introduced the text yet, but this child found it on her own. How? When Mrs. Crocker asked her how she knew that these were the words for the song, she said, “Because I read them!” Then she went through and read the entire song on her own: pointing to the words as she did so. Mrs. Crocker was flabbergasted, and said to Mrs. Crockett and me, “She’s such a great reader! Is she the only one in the class that could read this?” No. Mrs. Crocker then invited up about eight more students to read the text. These were a combination of JK and SK students, who confidently approached this more challenging text. Some read it with ease. Others problem solved some challenging words and read the majority correctly. Every single child that went up there, did so with the belief that he/she is a reader, and showed us just how true this is. Many more children would have eagerly done the same. When I saw Mrs. Crocker in the staff room after music, she continued to speak to me about what “great readers” we have in our class.

This conversation and the experience in music really has me thinking. While I was very impressed with the actual reading — considering that only two of these students would have started the year being able to read a text as challenging as this one — I was even more impressed with the children’s attitude towards reading. Nobody suggested reading this song. In fact, the idea hadn’t even crossed Mrs. Crocker’s mind. But when the child saw printed words, she knew they had meaning, and she knew that she had the skills to figure out the puzzle. This is key! As we instruct and support new readers, I think that we sometimes forget about the value in instilling why reading matters. We have to show kids that they can use their decoding skills to access text anywhere: from the name on their yogurt drink to the song sitting beside the music teacher’s chair. Kids need to view themselves as readers. They need to believe that they can do it, for if they do, they will work their way through future reading challenges. It’s this willingness to try, plus the foundational skills, which allow for success.

I think about my many years of teaching reading though. How often did I forget to ensure that children know why reading matters? It seems simple, and yet, how easy is it to forget this lesson? In my 17 years of teaching, yesterday was the first day I ever saw a child LOOK to read an adult text, without somebody asking him/her to do so. She looks to read everything. And she’s not the only one. Today, I had a supply teacher in for me when I was at a meeting. This supply teacher’s been in our class before, but not for many months. She couldn’t believe the growth in our students, and commented on the willingness, confidence, and skills as readers and writers. This was a #ProudTeacherMoment for sure, but Paula and I are even more proud of our kids!

Talking with Paula at the end of the day today, I realized that it’s actually something that she does — even unbeknownst to her — that I think makes such a big difference for kids: she gives every child diverse opportunities to read. 

  • When she wants somebody to read something on the SMART Board, she picks a child.
  • When people have included text in their VIP presentations, she has children read it. 
  • When a child is wearing a shirt with a slogan or a hat with a logo, she gets students to read it.
  • When a child shows her a snack or lunch item with words on it, she has the child read the words.

Sometimes the children can read the words independently. Sometimes they need more support. But Paula always finds something that they can do on their own, and with her words of encouragement — and any degree of success — kids start to believe that they can “really read.”  

It’s taken me over half of my career to have an experience like I did yesterday, but now I hope for many more of these experiences. Yes, our kids often blow me away with their reading skills. Paula and I are thrilled with their growth in reading, and their attitude towards reading. We’re just as thrilled that our students could achieve this tremendous growth in a play-based learning environment. It really can happen! But I think this shift starts with helping children see why we read, what we read, and that we are all readers. Let them believe it, and they will achieve it! What do you think? How do you develop “reading attitude,” as well as “reading skills?” Both matter.


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