Episode #100: Empowering Striving Readers and Writers with Laura Robb

By Barbara Bray

Join Barbara Bray in conversations with awesome educators, leaders, and influencers as they talk about their passion and purpose for planting seeds for change. Each podcast has a link to a related blog post with more information and resources.

Laura Robb, an author, teacher, coach, and speaker who has completed more than 43 years of teaching in grades 4-8 and has written more than 25 books for teachers. She presently coaches teachers in reading/writing workshop at Powhatan School in Virginia and coaches teachers in grades K-8 in Staunton, Virginia, Long Island, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, and West Nyack, New York. Her latest books that she wrote with Evan Robb (her son) are TeamMakers and School Full of Readers.

Your background 
I came to teaching very unexpectedly. I never had any education classes when I went to Queens College as part of the University of New York. I majored in English and French Lit and then got married. My husband, a singer, and a voice instructor went to Julliard which was expensive even on a scholarship. I was writing copy for an ad agency in the city and then I got a job teaching without an education background. That’s when I realized that the best teachers were the children. If I had the courage to ask them what was going well and what was going wrong to find out what they needed, I was learning and growing. I began to read a lot of professional books for teachers. That first year I taught sixth grade in a little country school, it won my heart. That’s when the story of my life really began.
Your work now as a reading teacher and coach
For the last four years, my focus is to work with kids in the public schools who are reading 3 or more years below grade level. My first year of teaching was in 1963. I did not get a master’s in education until 1987. I had both of my children, Evan and my daughter, Enina who did teaching with Teach for America. I decided that my children had to be my number one priority. Self-learning is more important than ever. I’m glad I got my master’s but I would say my children taught me a lot and they still do every day. 
What was fortunate for me, was my granddaughter, who was dyslexic asked me to work with her. In third grade, she was reading at a first-grade level. She was relentless about me making up the work with her. She’s now in 7th grade and she’s in a regular English class. When she was in 5th grade, she asked me to help her friends who were not reading well. I made an appointment with her principal and found that a third of the students were reading way below grade level. I made an agreement with the principal as long as we were not going to grade these kids unless you give them As or Bs with a qualifier and we need a lot of money for books they can read. The kids need books and they need choice. We got them and it made such a difference with the teachers I trained who are doing phenomenal work. 
It all starts with choice, reading, and feeling safe in that classroom. Kids were worried about other kids making fun of them. We got them opaque envelopes to take home books. We waited until they could choose and take books home that they really enjoyed. 
You cannot force things on children. It has to come from deep inside. When it does, it’s lasting. Reading is an intervention. If we want kids to be readers, they have to want to read. They need to have books they can read all day long. We need to be able to read together. We started every day with 15 minutes of independent reading. When we were in session, you would see kids pick a book, find a comfortable place to read, then silence and reading.