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Unraveling the Mystery of Reading

Barb Zukowski, Academic Supervisor (1981-2007)

Learning how to read is hard. 

I should know - In my 36-year career in education, the majority of those years were spent helping students with dyslexia gain the skills they needed to develop into successful readers. 

Looking back on my career, there are so many awesome and rewarding experiences, but ranking at the top of the list would be the realization that, with the right training, passion, and patience, I could lift a child from failure in the critical skill of learning how to read.  Unraveling the code in incremental, step-by-step methods, utilizing specialized materials that demystified phonics was the key.  It seems so simple but has remained so elusive to mainstream education.  While many educators attempted to teach phonics within a “whole language” approach, it was not beneficial to children with reading difficulties because they were presented with material that contained multiple phonetic patterns, sight words, high-interest words, and irregular patterns within every page or even paragraph of reading material.  All it accomplished was further frustrating a child who already felt like a failure.  

Oakwood specializes in helping students who learn differently unlock the mysteries of reading using  proven, research-based teaching methods. Helping a struggling student learn to read is a journey involving many different strategies and tactics.  Each student and their brain operate differently. But for all students, there are common themes employed to ensure the child develops reading strategies and skills that will stay with them for life. A couple of principles Oakwood uses in helping students learn to read include: 

  • Systematic. Teach a child a pattern and practice that pattern until it is mastered.  
  • Step-by-step. New patterns are added only after successful retention and use of the previously taught patterns.  

Using a systematic and step-by-step approach, Oakwood is able to lay a strong foundation on which to layer other reading strategies. Once the child begins to experience success, they are ready to trust the teacher and the approach. 

Teaching a student to read is not simply about building the necessary skills, it’s also about keeping them engaged.  For those with learning differences, learning to read is tedious. 

One of my most memorable and rewarding experiences was providing support to a small group of boys in one of our youngest classrooms.  While they were gifted students, they were nonreaders and reluctant to practice the methods in the classroom.  The classroom teacher and I collaborated to get their cooperation.  If they participated and practiced the materials the teacher presented, they could come to my office and I would read adventure novels to them at their higher interest level.  The boys couldn’t wait to come to the second reading session. Because they were gifted, though just 2nd -3rd graders, I could choose novels recommended for 5th- 6th-grade students like “Sign of the Beaver”, “The Egypt Game”, and many others.  They thoroughly enjoyed reading and, over time, all became successful readers.  Those particular boys are college graduates now and very accomplished in their life’s work.  There are so many success stories like that in my long career as an educator and I feel so blessed for all those experiences.    


About the writer: Barb Zukowski initially joined Oakwood in 1981 as a classroom teacher. The energy and enthusiasm Mrs. Zukowski had for her students was boundless. Her effectiveness as a nurturing, creative, and highly skilled classroom teacher was quickly evidenced by the progress and excitement for learning demonstrated by her students. Her skills did not go unnoticed by her peers and she quickly advanced to Lead Teacher and ultimately Oakwood Academic Supervisor. Learn more about Barb Zukowski in the Trailblazers section of our website.

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