Remembering How to Read

November 6, 2013

Elizabeth Stanfield '16 is a Community Fellow with the Swearer Classroom Program, which provides struggling D'Abate students in grades K-5 with individualized attention and in-depth focus on reading and writing.

The Swearer Classroom Program marks my initiation into the real world of elementary school education. I came into Brown as a wide-eyed freshman eager to get involved in community service - a desire sparked primarily by my heavy involvement with a church-sponsored summer program that provided meals and activities for neighborhood children.

Room 101, however, taught me that the academic year presents challenges much greater than finishing a house made of toothpicks and marshmallows. I learned very quickly in Mrs. Molho’s classroom that elementary school students are responsible for so much more learning than I ever remembered. Working with a small group of three or four students, I came to realize how impossibly tricky many of their tasks are – reading in particular – through the endless minutes spent reading the same page.

As a Classroom Program volunteer, it was my responsibility to coach the students through reading exercises to improve overall literacy. Yet how could I figure out how to coach reading skills when I had no idea how to articulate the origin of my own literacy? That is to say, I could not conceptualize the challenges sparked by something that was so second nature to me.

I didn’t get my bite of humble pie until this fall, my sophomore year, when I enrolled in CS 015: “Introduction to Object-Oriented Computer Programming”, and found myself staring at jumbles of letters that made no sense. Assignments were initially excruciating not only because the topics where hard, but also because I did not speak the language needed to facilitate them. In a way, however, enrolling in this class allowed me to re-experience extreme problem solving and also re-evaluate the steps that are important in learning something completely foreign: practice, persistence, and help.

Although I ventured to room 205 last spring, I’ve now returned to room 101 this semester with a clear sense that we are not expecting immediate perfection from these students. Instead, the Classroom Program emphasizes the importance of positive reinforcement and taking our time, regardless of literacy levels. I can’t wait for my small group this semester to read like pros, but I honestly think that getting to work alongside them to create a vast collection of reading breakthroughs is even better than reaching the end goal.