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Handing Over the Keys

“It’s just like we practiced. Turn on your blinker. Then, gently turn the steering wheel while lightly pressing on the brakes. Now slow down. You’re taking this turn way too fast. Slow down!”

These were the words my driving instructor cried out right before I plowed through a busy intersection in our family’s silver ‘89 Chevy Celebrity car. The wheels gripped the road, I gripped the steering wheel, while my driving instructor gripped her seatbelt.  Thankfully, my horrible driving skills didn’t cause an accident and my driving teacher didn’t quit on me. To my benefit, she couldn’t because she was my mom and she was stuck with me until I got this right. 

Thankfully she also studied psychology and understood how the brain learns a new skill. So she did what any teacher would do.  She assessed my skill level and gave me more.        More practice. More scaffolding. More strategies. She knew that was the only way I would become a proficient and independent driver. Then, she handed over the keys so I could try again.

As adults, many of us take the ability to drive a car for granted, or at least we don’t remember the considerable time and effort it took when we were younger to learn, retain and then wield this complex skillset. The same goes for learning how to read and write. It feels like second nature to us now. But we all know that’s not how it started. Unlike learning how to talk, the human brain did not evolve to read (the latest research suggests it’s the other way around: writing systems evolved over time to fit our existing brains). Learning how to read is a new skill that we have to learn just like how we learn to drive a car and play a new sport. Or do math!

It always amazes me how much working memory and executive functioning goes into learning how to read: grasping the sounds each one of the letters makes, stringing those letters together to form words, and creating a thought based on what you’ve just read.  That is just the tip of the iceberg. The list of individual skill sets required to become a proficient reader is longer than most realize. The trick is treating the skills like instramentents in an orchestra. They all need to be tuned and practiced. But even more so, they all must work together in unison to compose a melody. 

As a parent and teacher, it is not lost on me that our children equate their reading level with their intelligence. How many times have we heard these two sentences together, “You’re such a good reader. You’re so smart.” Every child, strong reader or not, who hears an adult say that makes the connection that the opposite must also be true. If you’re not a good reader, you are not smart. Right? Wrong.  The good news is, because of the groundbreaking work research scientists have done, we know exactly what skills to teach and how to teach them to ensure every single child becomes a proficient and smart reader. 

 According to the infographic, The Reading Rope, created by the queen of early language development (and a personal hero of mine), Dr. Hollis Scarborough, has laid out just how challenging it is to learn how to read. “This does not happen overnight; it requires instruction and practice over time.” https://dyslexiaida.org/scarboroughs-reading-rope-a-groundbreaking-infographic/

There is black and white data showing us the keys to successfully advancing our children’s literacy skills so they can step into their power and thrive. Our job is to make sure we hand over those keys.

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