On July 15, I was scurrying the two little ones out the door to a well-child check-up with our pediatrician and then off to Vacation Bible School. My husband had left his sunglasses in my car, and, after putting them inside the house for him, I missed a step of the garage stairs and fell. Ouch. I landed with a lot of force on my left ankle, resulting in a Grade 3 ankle sprain. In case you're not an orthopedic surgeon by night, this means that I completely tore ligaments in my ankle. Fortunately, I was able to avoid surgery, and a severe ankle sprain pales in comparison to other health problems. My recovery has taken months, and I am still not able to do everything that I could do before 6:45 a.m. on July 15. Namely, I am not able to run 9 miles...yet. Throughout the process, I kept thinking about what this experience could teach me or draw my attention to. I thought I would share a few thoughts about struggling readers here.
#1 Make it impossible to imagine life without it.
I rarely miss a day of running or walking. Unless I am sick or it is Christmas, you can find me out running or walking before everyone else wakes up. I run to eat cupcakes. I run to get stronger and faster. I run to clear my head. I run to be drenched in sweat. I run to feel energized. When I injured my ankle, I struggled to feel balanced. From July 16 on, I made it my mission to be able to run again. The sooner, the better. I couldn't imagine my life without running. I wonder if our struggling readers can imagine a world without reading. Sadly, my guess is that most of them could. We need to provide as much real reading time as possible to help them to create a reading life. We need to help them discover their reading preferences and find reading material to match their interest and their purpose. This is my passion.
#2 Pushy cheerleaders rock.
Progress was S---L---O---W. I was crushed when my running buddies were training for a half-marathon in August and September, while I was trying (and repeatedly failing) to write the alphabet in the air with my toe and brush my teeth while standing on one foot. But my rockstar physical therapist was there. She provided specific feedback about my progress each time we met (and we met A LOT) to show me that I was getting stronger. She was also there to encourage me to try this new exercise and develop "confidence" in my ankle again. We set manageable goals for each week. For my running buddies, running two minutes would be a laughable goal. But I was pumped the first time I ran two minutes. Our struggling readers need us to be their pushy cheerleaders. When peers are reading much higher, they need us to notice their progress and offer specific feedback. Setting short-term achievable goals can help struggling readers to develop their confidence and feel success. How do we balance
#3 Take the brace off.
When I saw the orthopedic surgeon in mid-August, he prescribed a serious brace, complete with laces and three different straps. It took me ten minutes to put it on at the beginning. I have worn it everyday. Initially, I had to wear it all day. By mid-September, I only needed it for exercise. I probably should have tried to wean off it in mid-October like my physical therapist suggested. But, here I am in mid-December. The brace has been doing some of the work as I have build back up to running three miles. (And I discovered last weekend my left calf has lost some muscle mass and is smaller than the right. Not cool.) It's time to take off the brace. But there is a reality that my ankle will never truly be the same. I'm hesitant and scared that something will happen. I wonder if our struggling readers are afraid to try books that stretch them as a reader. I'm thinking of those struggling readers that reread the same few books over and over again. Do they become dependent on a certain amount of help or type of text? How do we gradually remove the scaffolds once we've closed the gap?
I truly took running for granted before, so, while I have my fingers crossed that I can run a half-marathon somehow next year, this experience has helped me to reflect on what it means to truly struggle with something.