Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How I Became Literate (essay)

September 7, 2010
How I Became Literate

            Years before I entered Kindergarten, my mother and I started traveling to the local library weekly and always left with a large tote bag full of children’s books.  I remember loving to listen to my mother read to me every night.  My first favorite book was a beginning book called Pat the Bunny.  When I got a bit older I also loved having Bill and Pete read to me, and frequently chose it as one of my weekly selections to bring home from the library.  I do not remember learning to read, as I am told it came very naturally to me.  However, I do know that I was able to read before entering Kindergarten at the age of four.  I truly believe that my reading skills are as strong as they are today because of my mother’s constant focus on literacy when I was a young child.
            Books have always been a common gift in my family, especially from my mother’s brother Brent.  My Uncle Brent has given me a book for every holiday and birthday for as long as I can remember.  Because he lives out of state, I remember always being so excited to see which book would come in the mail and when it would finally arrive.  He always wrote really nice messages accompanied by the date in the inside cover which I thought was “so cool”.  Uncle Brent always sent very large hard cover books and often chose collections such as Shel Silverstein books.  These are books I have saved over the years and plan on using in my first classroom when I become a teacher.
            When I was in first grade I participated in a “Reading Buddies” program at my school.  All first graders were assigned a fourth grader to read to them for an hour a week.  My buddy was named Kristen and I remember being so excited when it was “Reading Buddies” time because she was a “big kid” and it made me very feel grown up to spend time with her.  I also loved the books she would pick out for me.  Since I was a very fluent reader, we took turns reading to each other when we met up.  It was nice to have someone to spend time with who seemed to enjoy books and reading as much as I did.
            When I was in fourth grade I participated in the “Reading Buddies” program again, but as a “big kid”.  I had two first grade buddies and reading to them was so much fun!  Neither of them were very confident in their reading skills so I typically did most of the reading in the beginning of the school year. However, as the year went on, my buddies practiced reading more and more during our time together.  It was actually during this program that I first discovered my love for reading to young children.  This program gave me the opportunity to be a mentor and role model to younger children.  It was nice feeling admired by my buddies but it was even nicer to see their reading improve throughout the school year.  It was then that teaching began to make sense as a future career for me.  I loved younger children and seeing their academic progress throughout the school year sounded so fulfilling.
            Around that same time, I started to read to the children at my mother’s daycare in our home.  The children loved me and reading to them was fun.  I learned to hold the books so they could see the pictures while I was reading.  I picked up on what types of books were best received by the children and which ones they found boring.  Through reading to children, I became a better reader myself. 
            In middle school I loved chapter books.  I was in an advanced reading group that met every day at school.  I liked the challenging books the group presented me with.  We kept track of the books we read throughout the school year on big chart paper in the front of the classroom.  I have memories of being so excited to add new books to the list whenever I completed them.  I always challenged myself to read as many books as I could in a week because of the rush I got after finishing another book.
            One of my weaknesses as a student has always been my spelling skills.  I am not naturally a good speller and it is something I struggled with growing up.  In order to help overcome my spelling frustrations, I started to pay attention to the way words were spelled when I was reading.  Although I had previously understood how to pronounce and read most words, I had not spent much time focusing on the actual spelling of the words I was reading.  This extra focus definitely helped me as a speller and is a trick I still use today.  Becoming a better speller made me a better reader and much more literate.
            In high school I continued to earn perfect grades in all of my language arts and reading classes.  I took all college prep advanced classes and excelled in them a great deal.  One of my favorite teachers was Mr. Brown who taught my AP English class senior year.  Jim Brown was an inspiration to me as a teacher because of the way he challenged me as a reader in ways I had not been challenged for years.  He broadened my horizons by opening me up to new books and authors such as Shakespeare.  Mr. Brown drowned in a boating accident two years ago and traveling back home to his funeral reminded me of the huge impact he had on my peers and I.  Even though most students from my high school had long since traveled away to college, thousands came home to celebrate his life.  That day I realized just how many people Mr. Brown influenced to be successful readers.  It had never occurred to me until that day how many different types of students he taught.  While he taught AP English, he also taught the lowest level English classes offered at our school.  It was not only the “good readers” that loved Mr. Brown’s classes, but all types of students.  At his funeral, many students shared the common fact that Mr. Brown made them want to learn to be good students and go to college.  Mr. Brown made reading fun for everyone and I hope to someday be as good of a teacher as he was.  Seeing the impact he had on everyone who met him influenced me, and my future Language Arts teaching career, in more ways than one. 
            To this day I still consider myself to be an active reader.  I enjoy mostly fiction books but do read other genres from time-to-time.  I am attending college to receive a degree in Elementary Education with a concentration in Language Arts because it is truly my passion.  I still read every single day and often cannot put down a book once I start it.  I am a member of a program online called GoodreadsGoodreads keeps track of the books I read and the dates I finish them.  I like this because I tend to forget if I have read a book before and this website helps me keep track.  The website has book reviews and recommends books to me based on the reviews I have given other books.  It has a section to keep track of the books I want to read next and I add to it whenever I see a book that sounds interesting to me.  I also still challenge myself to complete a certain number of books a week, even more so in the summer time.  I still struggle with spelling but honestly think being “a reader” makes it much easier for me.  I read to children whenever possible, especially the two children I nanny for.  I hope that I can start them on the same track my mother set me on when I was their age, by making early literacy a priority.

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