To teach literacy is to change lives

Teacher Spotlight

Meet Marshall Conner

What inspired you to become a reading/literacy teacher?

I have always had a passion for mentoring, coaching, and working with youth. After spending years as a Correctional Officer, I was able see how bad the literacy problem in our country was and how it was affecting people. This is part of what inspired me to want to teach.

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

I would have to say Bella and Rosie. These characters seem to engage everyone. I love watching my students do picture walks and having discussions about which one is Bella, and which one is Rosie. It shows me that they remember the stories and have connected to these characters.

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

My kids love to read the plays. They really get into character. They seem to always step up their fluency and use of punctuation when we do them. When they come to my table it’s usually one of the first things they ask about.

Teaching is a collaboration and not a competition.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

There are two pieces of advice I will never forget, and they have really made an impact. The first one is “Get to know your students.” This has really helped me when assigning books and activities. The more I know about them, the more I know what engages them. It also plays a huge part in their reading performance. I really noticed how my students’ fluency and willingness to use strategies jumped after the first few weeks of school. This was because we really got to know each other and established that my classroom was a safe and fun place to learn. They started to become more relaxed and willing to give their best.

The second one is “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” I reached out to my administration and told them “I really want to improve my skills teaching Guided Reading,” they did not hesitate at all. I was given all the tools I needed, connected with all the people that could support me and always received overwhelming support from my grade level team. This reminded me that teaching is a collaboration and not a competition.

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

Last year I had two 2nd grade readers that were shy. I really wanted to boost their confidence, so I arranged for us to go over to the kindergarten building and have them read to the Kindergarteners. One of them was able to read to the class of his former teacher. When he was done, he looked at me and said, “Best day ever.” Both were so proud and so confident. This inspired me to want to do more things like this.

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

I love the STP cards from the comprehension box; they are a great way to assess comprehension and get students to start discussing the text. They also allow me to ask my own questions based on the student’s response.

What do you think is the handiest Literacy Footprints tool and why?

I would have to say magnetic letters. I always have them close by for each lesson. I can have students build a word in front of me, they can break a word apart, and we can pull pieces of the word away to identify its sound. I also like how the students take pride in making sure their tray remains in the correct order.

The digital age has replaced a lot of things, but reading is not one of them.

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

I had a student this year who was not struggling with his reading level but was struggling to enjoy reading. He and I would talk about reading when we had groups or monitored his progress. I would talk to him about how reading applied to everything and how the digital age has replaced a lot of things, but reading is not one of them. I explained that if he wanted to research things such as how to get better at a video game, he would have to read about it. If he wanted to take his knowledge any further than lessons taught in class, he would have to read about it. I even shared the story with him about books being like shoes and having to find ones that fit. He thought it was funny, but he got the point. His grandparents allowed him to call me over the summer, and without being prompted he told me, “Mr. Conner, I’m still reading.”