Set Your Eyes On Your Goal

I have a student who is an absolute joy to work with. He is only seven years old but he already has a clear-cut goal. He wants to be very successful in school. He has some obstacles. He lives in the inner-city. The poverty-rate at his school is 70%. English is not his native tongue and his parents have to have someone else who speaks better English come to their house and help him with his homework. They want him to be successful.

At my school, students are given a timed reading fluency test three times a year. Students who fall below the national norms get tested every two weeks. The fall norm is 44 wpm. I have 14 students who fell below the norm. That's 50% of my class. Before people get too up in arms about this, I'd like to add these children are not reading passages like "The fat cat sat on the mat" in 18 point font. These are passages in 12 point font which is difficult enough for many seven year olds due to the physical development of their eyes. These passages are also filled with pretty difficult words. Suffice it to say parents are shocked when they see what their child is supposed to read. I'd also like to add that English is a second language for over 1/3 of my class and special education students are included in that count as well.

By the way, I just had a new student transfer in from a private school. He wasn't meeting their academic standards so they sent him to us. Unlike private and charter schools, public schools don't have the luxury of sending our students somewhere else if they don't meet the academic or behavior expectations. They also do not provide special education services so perhaps we should not be so quick to criticize public education until we have all of the facts. Okay, I'm getting down off my soapbox. This is for another time and place. This is a sore spot for me and I need to get myself back on topic.

The little guy I mentioned in the beginning fell below 44 wpm this fall. He had 24 wpm. However, this has not deterred him in the least. He comes to school each morning with a big smile on his face ready to seize the day. He attacks each new challenge with vigor. He faithfully completes and turns in his homework on time each week. He works very diligently in class and asks questions if he doesn't understand. I never have to tell him to stop playing around and get busy. He never sits around daydreaming, rather he uses his time wisely at school.

To date, he has memorized the List A and List B Dolch words which are common English sight words. He took each list home and practiced hard for weeks. He was so proud when he read the lists to me. He'd misplaced List B once. Many children would have simply shrugged and decided that meant they didn't need to practice anymore. This boy met me at the door the first thing the next morning and told me about it. Could he get a new list? He wouldn't lose it this time. Currently he is working on List C.

While he is still below the goal, he has increased his score to 38 wpm. He has met the goal of increasing 1.5 wpm every week since the monitoring began. Oh, in case you're wondering, they never read the same passage twice. It is a new one every two weeks so it is not a matter of him memorizing the passage.

While he is still below the norm, I am confident he will be successful in school. He has his eyes set on his goal and he does everything he can to make that goal. I have a feeling that he puts some of us to shame.

I started thinking about the goal we have as Christians. Yes, we are saved by grace however, I do not believe God expects us to kick back and do nothing. He expects us to be faithful servants and grow even if we are royal princes and princesses! We need to ask ourselves exactly what our goal is, what do we need to do to obtain that goal and then get busy!

K :princess:

Kirk M @blessings2you ·

This is a great testimony to perseverance and will. Most kids would just give up and settle for second or third best. Thank God there are a few who refuse to be held down by their situations.

What do you do to help him? Do you personally work with him, one on one or is it a program. I think it is amazing to see the progress he is making in such a short time and I was curious what, besides having a goal, you would attribute this little guy's rapid progress to specifically.

I know you employ many interesting and successful methods of teaching your kids and I think it could help others to know how you take a child like this and get him from 24 to 38 and I am sure to 44 shortly.


K Reynolds @kreynolds ·

I think most of his success is his desire to do the very best he can. He's definitely not a quitter! Although his mom and dad don't speak much English, they are both very involved in his education. They attend all school functions. They have enlisted the help of friends and family members who can help him with his reading and spelling homework.

It would be nice if I could work with him on a one to one basis. Unfortunately, he has 27 other classmates and I have to divide my time between all of them plus teach all of the other subjects besides reading.

I wish I could report the same sort of progress with all of my students. While some have made these kinds of gains, some have made minimal progress or no measurable progress at all. One even did a bit more poorly but these are 1 minute timed readings and all it takes is one bad moment, feeling a bit under the weather, etc. to change how well you do on your reading.

We read a lot. Classroom libraries just aren't in the budget at a lot of poorer public schools so most of the time the classroom teacher has no choice but to purchase books with their own money. This has been true in my case. We have reading anthologies but for the most part the stories are not well-suited for children who do not live in a print-rich home environment. It would be like you picking up a book printed in a language you didn't read or speak. The reading level is also far too high for most of our students plus most of the stories are very boring! The kids hate them.

Over the past couple of years, we've been working at trying to provide students with reading books at their level. My students are assigned certain baskets from which they can select books. These are based on their reading ability. They all have their own book boxes which are those cardboard magazine holders. They may have up to three books at a time in their book box. They also have a reader's response journal in which they write about a book after they have finished reading it. Right now things are pretty simple. They write down the date, title, author's name and write a short summary. They write: My favorite part of the story was...because...

While a few of the students do need assistance, this is simple enough for the child who can only write a few sentences and yet has enough flexibility for those who can write much more. Some children will write a page or more. Thinking about why they liked that part and telling me why forces them to think at a higher-level. This is a pretty tough concept for kids. Some of them are starting to be able to do it well. For others, it is still a struggle but we're working at it. As time goes on small groups of students will start reading the same texts and develop questions the author does not answer in the text and discuss those questions.

This is sort of based on shared inquiry which is used in Junior Great Books. The idea is to move kids from solely learning to read into reading to learn. We're trying to tap into the natural curiosity children have in order to get them excited about reading because it enables them to learn about many things they wonder about.

Well, it's not exactly Jane and her brother (his name gets censored so I'll say brother instead) but I'll tell you what, the kids sure love to get out their book boxes and just read.

Kirk M @blessings2you ·


I had no idea what is involved these days in helping kids learn how to read. Thank you for sharing so much and I pray you keep seeing success where you can with who you can see it with.
Thank you for all your great "heart".