I am a mom to two amazing little girls. My oldest has Rett Syndrome, a severe neurological disorder that mainly affects girls. It affects every part of her body: her ability to walk, speak, or even use her hands. In addition to wife and Rett mom, I am a teacher. I taught 1stgrade for 13 years. I loved every second of it because I love teaching kids to read. First grade is a pivotal year for building a literacy foundation for kids. I could go on and on about the phonics and phonemic awareness etc., but I won’t. I just want you to understand that passion of mine before I tell my story.
FROM A TEACHER’S EYES
As a teacher, you can imagine my excitement watching my own daughters learn to read. On this literacy journey, I get to see them through each of the stages while seeing their eyes as they break this code and learn to read, and learn to love to read.
Then suddenly, I have a daughter who is non-verbal. Juliana has no purposeful hand use. While I have had many students with special needs over the years, I have never had a student who is like my daughter. How do you teach a child who is non-verbal to read? How am I supposed to listen to the sounds she is making to see if she is blending? Get a reading level and assess her writing? Make words? These are all the foundational pieces necessary for building literacy.
AN OKAY PLAN?
I discovered early on that Juliana definitely was reading. When we read together at night, I could see her track the print. Through the use of flash cards, I knew she knew her sight words. I guesstimated a reading level and quickly found she was able to answer comprehension questions.
So, I knew she was reading. I just didn’t know how much or how to help her become a better reader. I kind of thought this is what we would do. I would just give her books, assume she was getting them based on the comprehension she exhibited and continue to raise her reading level over time. This was an okay plan I thought, but I would never know for certain how much she was getting or what she was missing.
ANSWERS THROUGH RETT U AND BALANCED LITERACY
Then enters Rett University and Susan Norwell. As soon as I saw the first course title published, “Guided Reading for Girls with Rett Syndrome,” I knew this was the missing link for us. I immediately signed up and watched it all in one sitting. I could not stop.
What really appealed to me is that the course is based on “Balanced Literacy” which is the most current, research-based method to teaching literacy that’s currently used in education. It is a four block model that includes Guided Reading, Self Selected Reading, Word Study and Writing. Each of these blocks is essential to building a solid foundation in literacy. It is a model used by most school districts today because it is a very effective method to teach reading for ALL kids.
SUSAN NORWELL’S MAP FOR SUCCESS
Susan has taken this method and very simply and seamlessly applied it to work for girls struggling with Rett Syndrome. She lays out the framework in a way anyone can understand and then provides video examples of her working with girls with Rett Syndrome.
I love that all the girls in the videos are so different; some very different from Juliana, but some very similar too. You get to see how these methods can be successful with a full range of girls. I love that this isn’t a kit or a program that you have to purchase and use exclusively. These are all best practices to be implemented with just some good readers, literature and a white board and marker. It’s very practical.
So after taking the course myself, I was excited to share with Juliana’s school. We were lucky enough to find the time to watch and discuss together as a team which I highly recommend. There’s so much value when you can go through the experience together and talk about how this works with your girl. Important things like how, when, what books, etc.
SIGH OF RELIEF
What did I sense from her teachers? It was like a huge sigh of relief.
Rett U gives them a plan and a model to work towards. They were already familiar with balanced literacy, so it wasn’t something “extra” or something different they would have to incorporate. It was the same method they were using with other students. This course gives them a map to navigate this road with Juliana.
I am so grateful I found Rett U and proud to say that we’re moving onto chapter books and learning so much more about what Juliana loves. One thing for sure: she loves being treated just like every other 8-year-old kid in class.
Rett U is a priceless tool for her school and for our family. It really is true that when you teach someone to read AND write, you empower them to do great things. I see her growing so much as a reader and as a writer. I can’t wait to see all the wonderful things she will write one day. Now, we’re looking forward to it sooner rather than later! Thank you to Rett U and Susan Norwell!