My literacy journey has been full of countless celebrations as well as frequent challenges and learning opportunities. It has never been dull! It started in 1997 after I had been a Neonatal ICU nurse for a decade. My daughter, in 2nd grade at the time, struggled mightily with reading and spelling. She had highly educated parents, had been read to every day, and attended what were deemed excellent schools. Nevertheless, she was significantly sub-literate.
We first noticed Colleen’s reading difficulties after moving back to the United States from Guam in 1996. The small school my children attended in Guam taught systematic phonics. My oldest daughter picked it up rapidly, and Colleen thrived when instruction consisted of a single letter representing one sound. However, when instruction progressed to learning the complex components of the code and added in phonics rules, she struggled.
Colleen was in first grade when we moved back to Michigan, and in second grade, she scored in the 98th%ile in math on the Iowa test, resulting in her being placed in the school’s gifted and talented program. I later learned that high math scores were common with learners who are highly intelligent but sub-literate or dyslexic. The same Iowa assessment showed her to be a year below grade level in reading. She was a ‘pretend reader’.
High math scores were common with learners who are highly intelligent but sub-literate or dyslexic.
Pretend readers often fool their teachers and parents for a few years. Colleen was perceived as the best reader in the class by her 2nd-grade teacher. She could easily memorize stories read in school. However, she couldn’t read a sentence from that same story if it was pulled out of context and could not read books she hadn’t memorized or seen before. Colleen could spell perfectly on a spelling test but could not spell the same words in writing.
Learning of Colleen’s difficulties because of her inability to read any unfamiliar book and her horrendous spelling in her writing, I started the trek into how to teach reading and spelling. Since Kelly, my youngest, was still a preschooler, I hadn’t returned to nursing yet and had some time on my hands. I began devouring books and research articles on how to teach reading, attended reading trainings, and went to several schools to observe reading instruction.
I quickly realized my daughter wasn’t the only one struggling. Far from it! What I learned from my endless reading and school observations made that very clear. I learned that the national reading scores had shown for years that the majority of 4th and 8th-grade students in our country were not proficient in reading. Also, when I started talking to other parents about Colleen’s literacy difficulties, I learned that almost everyone had a child in a similar situation.
I quickly realized my daughter wasn’t the only one struggling.
After reading the book Why Our Children Can’t Read and then teaching Colleen to read in a manner of hours, I began teaching children of friends and family. Within a year, I was trained in the Phono-Graphix program and soon after became a trainer, teaching classroom and remediation teachers. I "accidentally" ended up with a reading center after the plan for my then-husband’s wellness center fell through. I used the space to train teachers and teach reading to learners of all ages. After 4 years, I created EBLI.
I never had any thought or intention of starting a reading center or any business or of creating a reading system, much less being part of a literacy movement! However, that is exactly what happened.
I accidentally ended up with a reading center after the plan for my then-husband’s wellness center fell through.
EBLI has spread almost exclusively by word of mouth to parents, educators, and homeschoolers from around the country and the world. The focus of my time and energy has been and continues to be to bridge the science and research on reading, spelling, and writing to effective, efficient, practical application via instruction for students in the classroom or remediation setting.
The questions that are never far from my mind are these:
- What can I do to help children avoid literacy lack and the suffering that comes with it?
- How can I best educate and support those who teach and/or raise these children?
- What motivates people to change from their current instructional practices and methodology to more effective, efficient practices?
- How can I help facilitate this shift in a way that eases the discomfort that comes with change?
This literacy journey of mine has evolved over time. In recent years I was the literacy consultant for The Truth About Reading documentary, and that experience took me even further into the web of how wide and deep sub-literacy is not only in the US but worldwide. With the completion of the film combined with Emily Hanford’s Sold a Story podcast, the magnitude of this crisis is getting broadcast to the world. Now, what are we going to do about it?
My journey had countless peaks and valleys. The challenges have been many; the joys have been immense. Through it all, the goal of high-level literacy for all has continued to be the beacon that drives me. Knowing that my own child’s suffering could have been completely avoided with effective, efficient instruction motivates me to continue to push forward to help other children, parents, and teachers. This mission is a massive one. Staying the course is of utmost importance even when - or maybe especially when- feelings of fear, exhaustion, or hopelessness are prevalent.
Every day I work to refine what we do to better serve. My daughter’s suffering remains my motivation and inspiration, even though it has been decades since she became highly literate.
As a leading literacy expert, Nora has spent 20+ years revolutionizing reading instruction. She has received recognition for her lifelong work in the form of several noteworthy nominations and awards, including the Editor’s Choice Award from Celebrity Press, the Quilly Award from the National Academy of Best-Selling Authors, and the Literacy Champion Award from DNA Films. She is a published author worldwide and has been featured in multiple literacy development articles and books. Nora is a featured speaker across the nation and has collaborated with universities to advance research and development of reading. She is the literacy consultant for the upcoming documentary The Truth About Reading. Nora has been featured in multiple TV and radio interviews and podcasts, including APM and Oprah Radio (where she was interviewed by Maya Angelou). Her life’s work is to teach the world to read.