My oldest child was a very bright, very curious learner who spoke very early. At nine months she said, "Baby Jesus” and "Christmas tree.” I started reading to her when she was only two-months old, and she was captivated by the pages. So we were surprised when she struggled to learn to read in elementary school.
I remember quite distinctly losing my patience with her one night when she was reading a book to me and paused at the word the. "The word is the, t-h-ethe,” I stated rather forcefully. "It’s been on every page we’ve read, and it’s been the every time. Why can’t you read the?”
A year later she was referred for testing, and we found out that she had a reading disability. We were excited because we assumed that now that we had the label that they would fix it. But at that time, my daughter was sent for vision therapy, and a lot of time and money later, she had not improved her reading.
This is when I started my quest to learn all that I could about reading. I read articles and research; I attended conferences; I enrolled in multi-sensory reading courses, and I became a local LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) trainer. I did all of this to help my own children become proficient readers.
Today, my daughter is a very accomplished young woman in many arenas, but I have never been more proud of her than when she read Beowulf aloud to her senior English class.
Someday my daughter will be in therapy, and it will all be my fault because I yelled at her because she could not read the word the when she was in first grade. My answer to her will be "Oops, I didn’t know.” But teachers can no longer use the excuse that they don’t know. Fifty years of research tells us how we can identify a potential reading disability, so we can prevent a reading disability even before the child begins reading. Fifty years of research tells us how to teach reading so that most children will learn. Fifty years of research tells us how to assess and remediate reading failure.
My heart is forever with struggling readers, and my goal is to provide teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to teach reading and to assess and remediate reading difficulties. My hope is that one day all students will be able to read Beowulf to their senior English classes.
Robi Alstrom is an educational consultant and literacy specialist with ESSDACK who has experience at many levels of education. In addition to teaching both general education and special education at the secondary level, she has also taught English and psychology for community colleges. Furthermore, she has had the unique experience of serving as a reading interventionist for students in sixth through twelfth grades. Although she is well-versed in many aspects of literacy and instruction, her true passion is helping students who struggle in literacy become proficient readers.
Robi’s educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science Education and master’s degrees in English and Special Education in addition to certification in social studies and ESOL. Furthermore, Robi has 15 hours of college credit in multi-sensory phonics and spelling. Prior to becoming an educational consultant and literacy specialist at ESSDACK, she taught English and social studies at the middle school, high school and community college levels; managed an in-school mentoring program; served as an at-risk reading interventionist for students in grades 6 through 12, and taught special education reading and English.
Robi’s interest in the science of reading resulted from her desire to help her own children, who were struggling readers. As a result, she has spent the last 15 years studying reading research and attending trainings on effective literacy instruction. Because a reading difficulty impacts, so many aspects of education and life, Robi’s desire is to provide professional development for teachers, so they can deliver effective reading instruction, so all children can become proficient readers.