By J1 reporter Maggie Tynan
Ms. Priscilla Trecek has taken on an important task this year to help her students get better at reading. She is earning her dyslexia specialist certification to aid in her role in student services as the Learning Success Coordinator. This course is through UNO and our Archdiocese offers it to anyone. She thinks she is the only one who took up the offer. “The biggest “ah-ha” moment for me was understanding that reading is not an innate skill, not natural, and truly is a skill that has to be taught and practiced and mastered,” Trecek said.
Reading is difficult because it does not come naturally. Young children learn how to take sounds and link them to the letters. Then, they put these letters together to make words and then read these words quickly and eventually, they are able to them. By comprehending, students must use background knowledge to actively connect the text. It is a set of steps that students learn systematically to be the best readers they can be.
Trecek is learning this material in her certification class and is truly fascinated by how the brain works. The brain automatically and instantly connects parts of the brain in order to read in most readers.“Knowing this now helps me understand why kids with dyslexia struggle to move forward and seem stuck,” she said. These children then have to use other parts of the brain that aren’t normally used for reading and comprehending to help them. This is why it takes longer for people with dyslexia to read at a steady pace without getting lost.
Trecek has a 5 year old son at home. She said she is thankful to be learning this material now so she can help him with sight words and practice phonemic awareness with each letter. “This opens my eyes to the importance of having a strong foundation in what others might see as silly,” Trecek said.
Not only is she happy to be able to help her son at a young age, but dyslexia runs in her family with her dad and little sister. Her sister was able to move forward through high school and college and into the real world because of early intervention and continued support. She is now an “avid reader and reads more than me,” Trecek said. But her dad still struggles to this day with not knowing how to spell or pronounce words. He complains about it all the time but it is a completely different situation than her sister because of the support she was given. The education or learning process for reading has really developed and her sister is proof.
The earlier you can learn how to read the better and easier it gets. Schools and teachers have to get kids to love school early and to find joy in reading too. “When you are in middle school and high school, you are ‘reading to learn’ but from kindergarten to fourth grade you are ‘learning to read’” Trecek said. Elementary teachers have to create a strong foundation of phonemic awareness in place before students reach second grade.
The issue is that some teachers learned to read in a completely different way than what the modern and evidence-based way of teaching reading is, which is with the use of phonics. “I learned how to read using phonics and I love diagramming sentences. In a way, I am kinda a phonics freak” Mrs. Raabe said. Both Mrs.Raabe and Ms.Trecek were able to learn how to read using the “new” way.
This “old” way of learning to read is called Whole Language, or learning language as a ‘whole’ instead of by sounds (phonics). An example of Whole Language teaching includes being told to read by using context clues (find meaning from the text) or use the pictures for the reader to learn how to read.
Now teachers know that in order to learn how to read, elementary students need to learn phonics, sounds, sight words, and rhymes. In the 1970’s there literally was a “Reading Battle” on which way was the most effective way to teach reading. This battle was then brought to Congress which then created a National Reading Panel. They determined evidence for phonemic awareness and phonics but also laid out the five pillars used today.