To teach literacy is to change lives

Teacher Spotlight

Meet Amy Bowlin

What inspired you to become a reading/literacy teacher?

I was a struggling reader as a child. Fortunately, my mom took time to work with me and support what I was learning in school. After that initial barrier, I became an avid reader. Later in my professional career, my principal asked me if I wanted to participate in Reading Recovery training. This was the best decision I have taken as an educator. Once I completed the year-long training, I continued my studies and earned a Master of Education in Literacy. Having the tools that allowed me to promote prevention rather than reaction in literacy development with students was a lifelong inspiration for me. For years, I had seen the repercussions of what happens when the educational system waits for students to fail and then reacts. I had been searching for a better solution to help students and intervention in literacy was the answer. Seeing that gaps can be closed, learned patterns can be altered, and children can find success is thrilling.

Which is your favorite Pioneer Valley Books character(s) or book(s) and why?

I really have a difficult time choosing one character—they are all endearing. What I find most supportive for students is that when a child makes a connection with a character and they have the opportunity to read about their adventures, it sparks creativity, interest, and motivates more learning.

Tell us about a few times when your readers connected to a PVB story or character.

Where to start? As a brand-new Reading Recovery teacher, one of the first books I received was A Snack for Gilbert. My student Adan loved Gilbert the Pig. He was motivated to write letters, create adventures, and re-read stories, which supported fluency and language development, as he is a second language learner. Another connection was with my student Sarhenity and the Bella and Rosie characters. Her love of reading and writing was ignited because she identified with their personalities and their likes and dislikes. She wrote to them and received a letter back, which was so encouraging. Then she was invited to go to her previous-year K5 teacher’s class to read to the younger students and the visiting dogs that were guests that day. Finally, my student Kaylee’s favorite character was Jasper. The naughty behavior Jasper demonstrated was a source of joy for Kaylee. She wrote an alternate ending to Party Clothes, as she did not think Katie should have put the dress on Jasper in the first place. In each of these examples, the progress and development of the literacy process was enhanced through a love of and connection to special characters in the Pioneer Valley Books Literacy Footprints cast.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Being a literacy interventionist is the hardest job you will ever love, but you must remain, “insistent, consistent, and persistent!” (Maryann McBride)

We’d love to hear about a time when you were inspired by one of your young readers:

It never failed to inspire me when I could see change over time with my students. Below is Mariah’s early hearing and recording sounds in words and the final assessment five months later. She had been in a small group, but the acceleration occurred after we were able to meet one-on-one.

What is your favorite Literacy Footprints word study activity or comprehension strategy?

Using Literacy Footprints lessons was a new experience for me this year. The fact that each LFP lesson has a specific comprehension focus is tremendous. One of my favorite tools is the five-finger retelling. This comprehension tool sets students up for success when it comes to focusing on details in the story and when they may need to recall information later. It also helps them when they are making text-to-text connections.

What do you think is the handiest Literacy Footprints tool?

As a teacher, I appreciate the lesson cards, which follow a framework of guided reading, word work, and guided writing. In each lesson, there are key elements like the comprehension focus, tips for students who are English-Language learners, and then next steps for consideration with future lessons. The utility of the cards helps me add my own observations and tweak lessons for specific students.

When I work with students, I find my tool of choice is the dry-erase boards. First, it is novel for students. They find that writing on the boards is fun and often have more engagement in repetitive word work. Second, the ability to be flexible in writing and reading is key, so using the white board to cement visual processing is supportive.

What do you like best about the Digital Reader, and how has it been useful with your students?

The Digital Reader's Guided Reading Assessment Kit as well as the reports have been very useful in following the “Assess, Decide, Guide” framework that Jan and Michèle encourage teachers to use for guided literacy development. In addition, having a myriad of choices for students on their independent bookshelf promotes exploration and supports curiosity. When I was sending books home with students, I was always hopeful that the book would return in the manner in which it was sent. Often, I felt a bit stingy, having to wait to send a book with a child until the previous book was returned. With the Digital Reader, I can “send home” an entire bookshelf and as many books in their book bag that I would think the student will read that night. It is a joy as a teacher to give students access to such rich resources.

Share an example of how you helped a struggling reader succeed.

This question is a hard one, as most of my career has been working with students who struggle with reading. I cannot single one student out. What I have observed is that when a student finds success, that breeds more success. The upward spiral is powerful. Seeing the change over time in each of the processes—writing, reading, and oral communication—is all demonstrated when they can see the change themselves. One of my students argued with me when I placed his first hearing and recording sounds in words next to his last one. He claimed that he could not have written the first one, as it did not make sense and the words were not correctly spelled. Seeing that ownership and accomplishment makes all the hard days worth it!

Mariah's writing example
Here is Mariah’s early hearing and recording sounds in words and the final assessment five months later.
Mariah's writing example

It never failed to inspire me when I could see change over time with my students.

you need to support
guided reading.