All Children Deserve a Quality Reading Education

04/11/2014  |  By Tammy Ryan, Ph.D.

Imagine learning to read without books. Imagine instructing children to read without books and with limited materials. These are realities of many teachers and children living and learning in Guatemala. In the United States, teaching children to read is also a perplexing endeavor. 

Providing a quality reading education so all children learn to read, whether Mayan children or children living and learning in U.S., is a complex process. Yet, extraordinary teaching and learning through quality reading education is occurring in these areas to make important differences in children’s reading experiences.

Providing Quality Reading Education in Guatemala
Yearly, a team of U.S. reading educators travel to Guatemala to offer hands-on literacy workshops to Guatemalan teachers. The team is guided by Marcie and Jerry Mondschein who started the project after a business trip to Guatemala. During the trip, Marcie, a U.S. reading educator, received an unplanned opportunity to provide literacy workshops to Guatemalan teachers because the teachers were on strike. Now, the Mondscheins along with many reading educators continue to offer workshops to Guatemalan teachers that bring important change to many Guatemalan children’s literacy experiences. And, change is evident. Today, when visiting in Guatemalan classrooms, you see many quality reading instructional practices such as students working in collaborative groups and students creating flip books, KWL charts, and Venn Diagrams to demonstrate learning.

Making Differences in Guatemala’s Reading Instruction
Many Guatemalan teachers have limited access to books, materials, and training in methods that teach children to analyze, critically evaluate information, and make decisions. Volunteers traveling to Guatemala offer hands-on reading instructional activities to assist teachers to immediately transfer learning to practice. During my first year with the team, I provided a workshop that trained teachers to use pictures and everyday experiences to create class stories that children could read. For example, a teacher engages children in an experience. Then, children talk about the experience as the teacher writes what the children say on paper. Next, the papers are combined into class books and reread to develop important skills in reading like decoding, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Importantly, these books are reread in class and taken home to read to family members and friends. Another workshop involved teachers in using non-rhythmic poems such as acrostic poems, If I Were poems, List poems, and patterned sentences to teach children to read and write. These activities are important because they support and enrich the Guatemalan teaching environment through a Language Experience Approach, “What I think about, I can talk about. What I say, I can write (or someone can write for me). What I can write, I can read (and others can read for me, too). I can read what I have written and I can also read what other people have written for me to read” (Van Allen, 1986, pp. 51-52).

Providing Quality Reading Education in Florida
Issues with access to quality reading education occur even closer to home. Near Jacksonville University (JU), where I teach all courses leading to the State of Florida Reading Endorsement, many children live and learn in some of the city’s lowest income areas. Children who reside in low socio-economic conditions often have limited early literacy experiences that research shows correlates to later reading achievement. Further, many of these children have limited access to books, positive role-models and experiences with academic vocabulary necessary to achieve in school.

Offering Quality Reading Experiences
Quality reading education brings positive change to teaching and learning. During the spring semester, I partner with a local Boys and Girls Club to offer tutoring services to K-5 students. For one hour a week School of Education students and I travel to the club to offer “sidewalk literacy” experiences. We find that when activities appear school related, many children become unmotivated. Most often this disengagement occurs because children lack confidence in their reading and writing abilities and lack success in completing school related tasks. In the process, School of Education reading endorsed students enrolled in a reading methods course experience firsthand the complexities of urban literacy issues while immediately transferring reading theory to practice.

The key to engagement is applying reading theory and best practices through play. For instance, lessons involve children sitting on the basketball court while listening to a story read aloud by a JU student. When the story ends, children use sidewalk chalk to draw a comprehension response to the story. Another lesson involves kindergarten and first grade students in playing Red Light Green Light. Students walk until they hear words that do not rhyme. Then, they remain still until they hear words that rhyme again. These rhyming activities help strengthen important phonological awareness skills. Other lessons involve students bouncing a basketball on alphabet letters written in chalk on the sidewalk to spell sight words. Such experiences support children in developing important reading skills while preparing pre-service teachers to understand the challenges associated with urban literacy.

Making Powerful Reading Differences
During the fall semester, club members come to Jacksonville University to receive tutoring services as part of a reading assessment course. Bringing club members to campus is an important learning experience because most of these children are the first in their families to walk and study on a college campus. Once or twice a week the club shuttles K-5 students to the campus for tutoring services offered in the School of Education’s Reading Lab. JU students administer various diagnostic reading assessments and use results to plan reading lessons based on club member’s strengths and areas of need. Importantly, going to college becomes a weekly conversation and a natural routine back at the club that makes powerful differences in (re)shaping children’s outlooks about the importance of reading to learn.

Reading Teachers Make Important Differences
A skilled teacher makes an important difference in children’s reading outcomes, not a program or a curriculum. To prepare more highly-qualified teachers of reading, the School of Education at JU opened a Master of Education in Reading Education degree program. The program is offered online so a Cohort of global educators can work together to study the process of reading, reading theory, instructional methods, and use of assessments to differentiate instruction. Cohorts co-construct knowledge through video-taped peer coaching, supervised reading practicums, and ongoing research projects. Preparing skilled reading teachers makes the difference because these teachers open the world of learning to children so the children can better achieve in all subject areas to accomplish important life goals.




Tammy Ryan, Ph.D, is an Assistant Professor of Reading Education in the Teacher Education Program at Jacksonville University. Her areas of research include using digital technologies to enhance vocabulary development in the primary grades and teacher effectiveness. She has published articles and book chapters on effective reading practices and uses of reading lab experiences to transform teacher practice. She has 15 years of classroom experience and presents yearly at national, international, and local conferences. For more information, visit She can be contacted at [email protected].
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