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Waiting for the Magic

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Summertime and fun times with visiting grandkids…four year-old Alec discovered the magic of fireflies last night and soon-to-be third grader, Evie, and I are sharing the experience of reading a new story, Waiting for the Magic, written by one of my favorite children’s authors, Patricia MacLachlan.  But here’s a secret…she’s sleeping in and I’ll admit that I sneaked the book to the sunroom early this morning with a cup of my favorite coffee and just read the final page!! 

In the story, ten-year-old, William, and four-year-old, Elinor, are experiencing their parent’s separation.  To fill the hole left by their father, their mom promptly goes out and adds four dogs and a cat to the family.  Mama said, “This is a bit of magic, isn’t it? All of these very nice dogs living with people who need them?” 

William doesn’t believe in magic and is perplexed when Elinor announces that she’s just heard Grace, the greyhound, say that she wants fresh, tepid water right from the faucet!  In time, William magically hears the dogs and learns that sometimes we find love in all shapes and sizes. 

In the short time that it took to finish this heartwarming story, I was captivated by Bryn (the brown dog with long velvet ears) as she commented, thinking about her previous owner.  I lived with a writer once.  Writing is not magic.  Only hard work.

My mind drifts to my professional life.  I imagine Bryn becoming a part of classroom life, especially one occupied by primary children.  She thinks…I lived with children once.  Reading is not magic.  Only hard work. 

If we’re going to teach students to read, well and deeply, then we can’t waste time waiting for the magic.  I want my grandkid’s teachers to know The Simple View of Reading (Gough & Tunmer):

·      Decoding x Language Comprehension = Reading Comprehension

Decoding:  Efficient word recognition

Language Comprehension: Receptive vocabulary and grammatical understanding

Reading Comprehension: To perceive the words and derive meaning from print                  


As we expect students to read grade appropriate text around which instruction is centered and engage in rich and rigorous evidence-based conversations about text (referencing only two of the ELA shifts), it’s clear that all teachers understand this equation.  Both decoding skills and language comprehension abilities are necessary and strength in one area CANNOT compensate for a deficit in the other.  To illustrate, the values of D and LC must be between 0 and 1 (0% - 100%). 


·      A student with strong decoding skills will achieve reading comprehension equal to his language comprehension skills.

D  x   LC =  RC

1.0  x .50 = .50

Improve his language comprehension, and an equal improvement will occur in his reading comprehension.

     1.0 x .80 = .80

·      A student with strong language comprehension skills will achieve reading comprehension equal to his decoding skills.

D   x   LC =  RC

               .40 x   1.0 = .40

Many teachers may be misguided here if it appears that a student comprehends well even when decoding accuracy is poor.  What’s the implication?  We MUST improve the student’s decoding because this research proves his comprehension wasn’t as “good” as we thought. 

     .80 x 1.0 = .80

·      Here’s a critical piece: A weakness in one area will be intensified by a weakness in the other area.

     D   x   LC = RC

     .75 x .75 = .56


If you teach my grandchildren, don’t spend any time waiting for the magic.  Teach them to decode well and expand their language comprehension, knowing that it’s vitally important for them to learn to read well, write creatively, engage in rigorous conversations and persevere through grade-level text. 



I imagine that I hear Bryn talking…Teaching reading is not magic.  Only hard work. 

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