Schenck School students have unbelievable gifts and talents. Finding those does not take much looking. There are challenges, too. Everyone has his or her own difficulties, and that becomes readily apparent. Early on, when we attempt Kindergarten journal writing, two children sit with one teacher and write about what they did over the summer. Often the writing consists of beginning sounds for each word and a picture to go along with this. Though seemingly straightforward, teachers quickly experience how agonizing it actually is. One confident, bright, articulate child dove under the desk and pulled her hair over her face in a very hairy shield. Another child dutifully stayed in his seat and feigned deafness. Generally, children don’t react so strongly to something they don’t have negative experience with, especially since a teacher was there to help. It was evident these children in our Kindergarten class had become miserable writing and reading the year before. The most troubling aspect was that these kinds of reactions were coming from five and six-year-olds. The wonder of reading, writing, and learning had been denied to them before they had a proper introduction.
Our students walk into Kindergarten thinking reading is magic that they somehow missed but all their friends got. Dyslexia is neurobiological; no one wakes up one day dyslexic. It is hard-wired in your brain. There is no doubt that students who need our help are out there. In fact they come in a tidal wave in second and third grades. The resounding question is why don’t we get them earlier? First, as in so many fields, scholarly research takes an eternity to trickle down to the classroom; second, (generally) teachers and parents do not like to predict problems on the horizon for students; and third, there is not cultural precedent for screening potential reading difficulties. A repeated discussion we have in the early grades is why are we not identifying reading difficulties in Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten, when there are clear indicators of such difficulty? Some of the best funding nationally is for identification of and intervention for speech, language, and occupational therapy from birth to Kindergarten but not for reading.
The wonderful thing that is we are witnessing change in this arena. Passage and subsequent implementation of Bill 48 are the realization of long known scholarly research. The great hope is that we will have incoming students whose learning styles have been recognized and who have been taught using methods suited to how they learn, rather than those who know only frustration with reading and writing. Bill 48 represents a cultural shift toward recognizing traits and tendencies and proactively addressing them.
After doing many preschool presentations on early intervention, talking incessantly about neurobiological characteristics of dyslexia, and reviewing early reading screeners, we are on the cusp of change. It is strikingly like the beauty in teaching children who are dyslexic. They teach us to show up and keep trying. It is possible that we teach something not once, twice, or three times but so many times and so many ways that it feels as if we have taught it a hundred times. When we least expect it, there is an almost magic click and glimmer of understanding. Here’s hoping Bill 48 is a magical click that enables finding and educating students likely to struggle to read and write before they experience that unnecessary struggle.
Margaret Sasser is an Atlanta native. She graduated from Westminster and Vanderbilt University. Margaret is in her sixth year of teaching at The Schenck School, where she currently teaches first grade after spending many years teaching Kindergarten. She has particular academic interests in early intervention and identification of reading difficulties. In that vein, she visits Atlanta-area preschools to support teachers, performs preschool screening, and tutors four-year-olds.