Thursday, March 29, 2018

"A child who reads will be an adult who thinks." Unknown

I had a conversation this past week with someone who thought that 100% of Americans are literate.  Nothing about that statement is true; in fact, about 1 in 7 Americans cannot read, which comes to about 32,000,000 people. ( )  I was a 10th grade English teacher for 37 years, and the number of students who read significantly below grade level was astounding!  

How does this happen?

Sometimes, students struggle for years with non-diagnosed learning disabilities, like dyslexia , language processing problems, disgraphia, visual perception problems, etc. When learning disabilities are present, teachers must find alternate pathways to the brain to promote learning.  When a student has been struggling his entire school life, and then discovers in 9th grade that he has a learning disability, the amount of work to "catch up" is overwhelming. Also, some students feel embarrassment that they have a learning disability, and they are not willing to embrace the work and labels that accompany the diagnosis. Being a teenager is so difficult, and being labeled makes life even harder.

For some students, schoolwork holds no interest. They are content to get by, meandering through the system with no plan and no motivation.  Sometimes, parents are not involved in a student's education, which hurts the student. Some students have failed and are unwilling to try again. Those students hurt themselves and any chance for future success.

What can teachers do to encourage reading? Early childhood and elementary teachers can provide a climate that encourages reading.  They can make classroom libraries with comfortable reading areas. They can discuss books with "teasers" that help to hook students into reading. They can invite local authors to visit and discuss the writing process. They can be readers themselves, and share their love of books and learning with their classes. 

Encouraging reading in high school is trickier.  Many students have already shut down from reading, so the teacher needs to work harder to spark that interest.  I taught in a program for challenged learners and reluctant readers for 34 years. I chose short, high interest pieces to whet their reading appetites, and  although they were in 10th grade, I often read aloud.  Using many voices and an assortment of inflections, the pages and characters became alive for the students, and they slowly began to read on their own.  Many lacked comprehension skills, so I created structured guides with funny twists to keep them on task and understanding.  For example, when we read Raold Dahl's short story Lamb to the Slaughter, I created a worksheet in which the student was the detective. Students were even required to draw the position of the body, and the murder weapon (a leg of lamb!)  These funny questions actually required close reading, and the kinesthetic learners enjoyed drawing their answers. In terms of vocabulary, I also spent time promoting what students already knew. When a new word presented itself, I had students think about a work they already knew that might look or sound a bit like the new word.  We spent time on roots and suffixes and prefixes, until students could take a new word apart and guess at a meaning. We drew examples of vocabulary words, which helped them to remember.  For example, the word exhilarate.  A student drew a picture of a stick figure surrounded by dollar signs jumping up and down, with the text, "I was EXHILARATED when I won the power ball jackpot!"  Having a connection to the word helps many visual learners, and my students were very successful at improving their vocabularies with this method.

Each year that I taught English, I gave a reading test on the second day of school and in the last week of school.  Most students gained 3-5 years of reading comprehension during our school year together. For some, that was close to grade level. Good initiatives from the teacher and hard work from the students can spell a modicum of success.

I have always loved reading, and I worked hard to promote the love of reading in my students.  I was not always successful, but not for lack of trying.

Reading is the most fundamental skill.  Teachers must do their best to promote literacy in every grade. 

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions. 

Rittman Publishing, LLC ®

Please invite Grady Gets Glasses (and me) into your school.  if you are not in the Pittsburgh area, we do virtual field trips with a group called Field Trip Zoom.  GRADY GETS GLASSES was the winner of Best New Children's Book 2016 from The Authors' Zone. For more information about The Authors' Zone, please visit  

Visit Dede's webpage for complete details on her award-winning book, STUDENT TEACHING: THE INSIDE SCOOP FROM A MASTER TEACHER. Many colleges have made the book required readingSigned copies are available Dede is also a national speaker on The Three C's for Classroom success: Confidence, communication, and Creativity; Avoiding Teacher burnout; and many other inspirational topics. 

I LOVE writing. And I love writing children's books- my newest passion. Although it will be a ton of work, I am looking forward to selling my books.  Since I was a secondary teacher, I know that I have much to learn about elementary students, and I will have to follow my own advice and be my genuine self.  However, I also know that I am passionate about helping kids who have to wear glasses, and that GRADY GETS GLASSES sends a positive message. I am willing to work hard and do all the things that also made me a successful teacher for 37 years. I remain inspired! 

Elementary teachers in Western Pennsylvania and beyond - I am willing to come into your classroom in person or as a virtual field trip through a group called Field Trip Zoom.  Check them out! 

Teacher friends- let me know if you want me to read GRADY GETS GLASSES at your school. I am willing to come in to discuss the creative writing process, why writing is important, and personal fulfillment through writing, along with reading my book.  I would appreciate the exposure, and I would make signed copies available for purchase in your classrooms following the reading.  Please email me at  The website now has plush Grady bunnies for sale!

Please like Dede's new page Grady Gets Glasses for updates about her children's book. 

Connect with Dede!

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