Today I have a real treat for you. I recently had the pleasure of making contact with Rachel Dean on one of the many Social Media threads that I follow. After exchanging a few messages between ourselves it was clear to me that I had to rope Rachel in for an interview and she was very nice enough to agree to answering a few questions which I hope will provide a great deal of value to all of the readers of this blog.
So let’s get started.
A little bit about Rachel…from Rachel herself:
I grew up in a literacy rich environment and was read out loud to until the year I moved out of the house. I wasn't much of a personal reader in early elementary because I was a slow reader and thought that if I couldn't keep up with my older sister or mom when reading out loud then I just shouldn't try. Then from a book fair I picked up the first Harry Potter book. It looked fun and felt like a sizable book that wasn't intimidating for me to read. I bought the book and took my time reading it, I got absorbed in the story and couldn't wait to get my hands on something else to read.
Could all books be this fun?!?!
Looking back I would say that this was the book that got me hooked on reading. It took a very long time for me to realize that not all homes were built around literacy. I couldn't believe all they were missing! There were people who really didn't like to read!
My undergrad is in Early Childhood Education. I took all of the reading courses (though I never took the test to become a reading specialist) I wanted to be a General Ed teacher who was well prepared for the different needs that came into my classroom. Reading was definitely a passion that I wanted to share with children and I wanted them to learn how to best utilize books so that they would be engaged in the literature and would want to pursue further reading on their own.
I remember getting really stressed in my JR year and I was completely to my limits, my mom asked me, "What are you reading?" That was simple, text books! She told me to get a book and escape my stress for 20 minutes a day by stepping into someone else's life. Taking her advice was a turning point for me. Yes, the stress was still there, but now I had something to escape the stress and to keep me motivated through the long nights of work.
Since then I have taught preschool, first grade, started a family, became a book lady with Usborne Books & More, and back to teaching preschool. In my house, along with my classroom, I try hard to teach the value of books: how we can learn from them, share adventures with characters, explore parts of the world we don't live in, and interact and extend the stories.
So Rachel, as a teacher, how important is it, in your opinion, for children to spend time reading?
I believe that reading opens a world of knowledge. It is vitally important that children are constantly finding time to read. Reading is one of the foundations for becoming a life long learner, which is what I believe all teachers want for their students.
With respect to reading skills and in your experience, what has been the most frustrating thing that happened to you as a teacher?
The most frustrating situation in reading would have to be when I stepped into a classroom in February to finish out the year as their teacher. It was a first grade classroom and I quickly learned how very little the previous teacher had done to help these students. When I went to start up reading groups, or word studies, there was no documentation on what level the children should be reading. The children’s motivation had been completely smashed and way too many of them were beneath the first grade reading level. What frustrated me the most was that a “professional” had let the seven year-olds run the classroom and their love of learning and love of reading had been depleted instead of enriched. That class and I worked very hard from February through June to find the love of reading adventures and learning again.
What specific reading tips would you recommend for struggling readers?
One of my first tips would be to find something that the reader is interested in. There are many different types of print out there on any topic imaginable. Magazines, journals, comics, dual readers (where the parent/teacher reads a story with the student) chapter books, lift the flap books, peek inside, etc… Books do not all have to be text book “learning to read” type of books. There is absolutely something that a struggling reader would love to dive into.
Another tip would be to read with the struggling reader. Take time to read aloud to them in a story or topic that is interesting. It will be a low stress environment where they would be hearing intonation, expanding their vocabulary, work on phrasing and rhythm. The benefits from reading aloud are incredible. It will also be showing the reader that you value reading and it’s something that they would want to be a part of too.
You state that reading was definitely a passion for you that you wanted to share with children, could you share a time or two when you utilised this passion to motivate your students to read?
Since I mostly work with preschoolers, my main attraction to reading is to enjoy learning from reading and engaging in a story. To me, it is very satisfying when the children can:
anticipate what is going to happen in the story because they are so engrossed in it,
create a prop to use while reading,
can retell the story they are actively engaging in and be ready to discuss the topics,
make connections, and further their thinking.
One of my favorite reading experiences is “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”. I had read the story several times and the students were very comfortable with the text. They had brought in their favorite stuffed bear (convenient since we were working on the letter B), we made binoculars, and we sat down, ready to read the story again. Only this time, there was something different about the story. Inside the first page was a bear paw print leading us outside our classroom. Before our story time, when they were busy doing an activity in the morning, I had taken their bears and hid them somewhere on the school grounds - this was a Pre-k – 12 school. I had placed bear paw prints that lead to the next section in the book (Tall grass, gooey mud, mountains, etc…) so we grabbed our binoculars and went on a hunt to find our bears. It was the most enjoyable experience we had!
What tips or suggestions would you give to parents whose children may either not be interested in reading or have difficulties reading?
Read aloud with them! Find family time to sit down (or the car works too) and read out loud with them.
Get excited about the books and even dress up and act them out! Use one of their favorite stories to act out and put on a show for other family members. Struggling to read is very frustrating and makes children not want to have anything to do with a book. But if the entire family is excited about participating in a book activity, all of a sudden, the books don’t look so bad!
What are you currently reading and who is your favourite author?
The book I most recently finished is “All the Light We Cannot See”, written by Anthony Doerr. I would love to get my hands on anything else he has written.
If there is one author, who is no longer living, that you could meet and have lunch with, who would it be and why?
C.S. Lewis would be my author of choice. Growing up I loved the Chronicles of Narnia and reading it with my family.
I would love to hear of his experiences when he was writing those books, what his muses were, and discuss the theology he weaves through his books that have spoken to many people.
What is your all-time favourite film?
The Sound of Music.
Name a place you would like to visit in your lifetime and why.
I have always thought Greece would be a beautiful and relaxing place to visit. Now that I have children, nothing sounds sweeter than a quiet, beautiful, relaxing place to visit. And I love history!
How do you like to spend quality family time?
We love to go camping, hiking, and kayaking. Really anything to take us away from the city where we can relax and enjoy nature.
Well there you have it, some very interesting suggestions and creative examples for parents and teachers to take on board in helping their own children to enjoy all of the benefits that reading can provide.
I would like to extend my thanks to Rachel for taking the time out of her busy schedule so that she could provide us with her thoughts, suggestions and tips. Should any of you like to get in touch with her, Rachel can be contacted via the following link: