From Learning to Read to Reading to Learn

A first-grade teacher in a classroom somewhere in the world is approaching the middle of February. Her beginning students are nearing the end of Learning to Read and will be soon graduating to their “big” readers. If this teacher has never taught first grade before she may find herself in for a jolt. If this teacher has some experience with teaching students to read, she may be groaning inside at the approaching difficulties. And then there are those teachers who’ve made this transition enough times to have learned how to smooth out the bumpy road ahead.

This post is specifically for teachers using Christian Light’s Learning to Read and then the first-grade reader, I Wonder. First graders who are sailing through the last lessons of Learning to Read soon find themselves flummoxed by their new reading course and their teachers may also be despairing. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Over the years I’ve discovered certain strategies that make it easier to bridge from one program to the next.

First, it is helpful to understand that the two reading programs developed independently of each other. The initial writing of the Reading to Learn series was not an attempt to continue Learning to Read but to provide instruction in reading enjoyment and reading comprehension for the rest of the school term. One idea behind the series was to provide interesting stories rather than the stilted story-form necessary in keeping with skills and words already learned as in Learning to Read. The original writer of I Wonder did not attempt to dovetail the two programs.

While this idea was a good one, it has created a problem in knowing how to mesh the two programs. The Sunrise second editions of Learning to Read, Language Arts 100, and Reading to Learn 100 are one committee’s attempt to do a better job of this. However, it is not a perfect attempt. The following ideas are ones I use to eliminate stress for myself and my students.

Before the Transition

  • By the end of Learning to Read, first graders should be able to independently read the stories and answer the story questions in their lesson with little help from the teacher. In my classroom, we discuss the new words, talk about the pictures, ask a few leading questions and then everyone reads the story silently and answers the questions. We then read the story orally—often chorally. If students are struggling to do this independently at the end of Learning to Read they are not yet ready for I Wonder. If one child is struggling while the rest are ready to move on, the teacher will need to provide extra support for that child. If most of the class is not independent, spend more time working on problem areas before launching into I Wonder.
  • Language Arts 100 (Sunrise Second Edition) was developed to provide further phonics instruction needed for the material in I Wonder. If students are not using this or are not following the pacing of Language Arts, the teacher will need to provide instruction for those missing phonics skills.

Easing into the Transition

The type and format of exercises and amount of print encountered in the Reading to Learn 100 workbooks is different from Learning to Read. The stories are also much longer. Even a very independent reader can find this difficult. Though I previously stressed that students be independent readers, I start off doing much of the Reading to Learn 100 work as a class.

  • In introducing the new words, do not only rely on the lists given in the workbooks. Write them on the board to read and discuss. Or, write each word on an index card and put its pronunciation on a separate card. Let the students match the words and pronunciations. Play word games with them. Make sentences with the words. During class time, have them find the words they need to use for the given exercises in the workbook. Using tactile cards is easier for many students than finding the words in their workbooks.
  • There may be other unfamiliar words such as names and places in the text. Take time to introduce those words also. (In one story, a character’s name is Toby. If left to themselves, my students will always call him “Tobby”.)
  • Just learning to navigate pages of mostly text can be a struggle for some students. For the beginning lessons, do the work together as a class. I prefer to have everyone read the instructions and exercises chorally (together). Next, I have them mark most answers themselves, and then give their answers aloud.
  • It is recommended that each story is read twice. Ideally the students read it themselves the first day and oral reading is on the second day. (And I am a firm believer that oral reading class is not usually done as a cold read.) However, at the beginning of I Wonder the story length is daunting for most students. I often compromise by reading part of the story to them and having them finish the last page or two, either on their own or chorally. As students gain more confidence and ability, I ask more independence from them. On day two of the reading lesson, each child takes a turn reading orally.
  • Each story has a Bible verse that corresponds with it. I list the verses on a poster for each unit. Each day we recite all the unit verses paying close attention to the one for that story. By the end of the unit most students know all the verses from memory. We also orally match verses with meanings—a workbook exercise that can be difficult for some students.
  • I can usually discontinue doing the work as a class by the end of the first LightUnit. However, some years we are still doing most of the work together until the end of the second unit. By the end of the year, it is surprising how much more independent they have become.

If you are a first-grade teacher using Christian Light materials, I hope these tips will help ease some of the frustration of transitioning between Learning to Read and Reading to Learn. It takes some time but if your students are average students, you will find one day that they are very capable of handling the material. If any of you have found other tips and strategies helpful, please add them to the comments below. We can all learn together!

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