Early in the fall of 2020, I began meeting twice a week with a third grade student in her home. The family made the decision their children would be learning online for the year. The parents were hoping I’d be able to support their daughter in reading.

When we started meeting, I wanted to find her strengths as a reader and determine if there were essential bits we needed to revisit. I asked questions that I’d learned from Donalyn Miller so I could get an idea of her identity as a reader. There was a short assessment I used, too, so I would know what specific letter/sound skills the student needed to learn, practice, and apply.

I also asked her on that first day if she would read to me from a book she had in her home library that she knew she could read.

She brought an early reader to the table and read it without any help.

That was September. The book she read that day was a book most first graders can read toward the end of year.

Today after we’d played a game with Scrabble tiles to apply some new word work skills, I asked what she wanted to read. I had some articles, short fiction selections and a few picture books with me. She asked if she could get a chapter book she’d just started. “I’ve only read the first two chapters, but I’m kinda’ interested and I want you to hear me read.”

She came back to the table with an older copy of Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett. “A friend gave me this book and said I would love it.” You may be thinking of a host of other early chapter books she might have chosen. I confess that a long list of contemporary titles came to mind. What mattered most in this moment was that she was drawn to a book a friend had recommended and that she had chosen for herself.

When she began to read, I wanted to cry. Could this possibly be the same child who told me in our first meeting that everyone she knew could read better than her?

“I’m not very good at reading. I don’t know why, but it’s not my favorite thing to do right now.”

Kids amaze me. This reader needed what most do to create a reading identity.

Time.

Choice.

Access.

Reading models.

Support to grow.

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Valinda Kimmel

Valinda Kimmel

I’m driven by the pursuit of excellence in teaching so students can satisfy their own curiosity in learning that leads to wisdom in their adult lives.