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Reading teacher uses book clubs to generate better readers

The new middle school language arts and reading teacher remembers struggling with her own reading when she was in high school. Nancy Wohnoutka said she had to work hard and practice a lot to improve her reading skills because she knew she wanted to go to college.
“I think reading is the basis for everything that you do in school, and if kids are not doing that well they are going to struggle in various areas,” Wohnoutka said.
That’s why Wohnoutka worked hard to increase her reading skills. Now, she is language arts and reading teacher and is one class shy of having her master’s degree in literacy, which she will complete in the spring.
She makes sure she lets her students know that they too can become better readers if they practice and want to get better.
“It’s just like going out on the football field, and you practice and practice, you get better, and reading’s the same way,” she said.
When Wohnoutka started out her career as an occupational therapist, part of her time was spent in the schools where she worked with special education students. She said she will never forget one particular student she worked with who had special needs.
“He was a smart, worldly smart kid, but when it came to reading he just was not getting it,” she said. The child would act up in order to get dismissed from the classroom. However, he was a good kid, he just had trouble understanding reading. From there, Wohnoutka said she decided she wanted to learn the steps of how to teach kids to learn to read. That’s when she went on to get her teaching degree.
This year, Wohnoutka has implemented book clubs into the classroom to engage her students in reading. She told the kids how it works: book clubs set goals, read to a certain point, then meet and discuss the book.
“I started doing that and students said to me, ‘Mrs. W, I’m really reading books,’” Wohnoutka said.
She said some students thought it was a little intimidating to read books, especially when she told them kids their age should be able to read a 150-page book in a week. However, once Wohnoutka split it up into how many pages they would need to read per day, it didn’t seem as daunting.
“They kind of use each other to rise to that challenge,” she said.
One of Wohnoutka’s favorite things about working with middle school children is learning about them and getting to know them as individuals. She started out as a kindergarten teacher and never thought she would teach older kids, but once she started moving up in the grade levels, that perspective changed.
“I just connected with the kids right away,” Wohnoutka said. Now, she said she couldn’t imagine going back down.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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