I am a musician. I began studying the piano in late elementary school. Somewhere in early high school I began taking two lessons a week. One lesson was the normal playing and improving technique. The other lesson was theory. I don't remember a whole lot about those theory lessons but I remember really struggling with the circle of fifths (a basic, important concept). I spent years trying to learn it with my piano teacher to no avail. It never seemed to click.
In college I was a music major and took music theory my first semester. Early in that first semester our professor taught us about the circle of fifths. I can vividly remember immediately thinking, "I get it." I don't think he did anything noticeably different than my piano teacher had done (she was an exceptionally talented, well educated musician) but it clicked this time. In fact, it seemed unbelievably simple and I was astounded at how difficult it had previously seemed.
As a first grade teacher I think of this often. I work with many students who are reading 'below grade level'. I wonder if they just aren't ready yet. Will they sit in a reading group one day and just have it click? Am I beating a love of reading out of them because I'm pushing them so hard before they are ready? Is all of our hard work in reading the foundation for that aha moment when reading finally works for them?
I have no idea. However, I have watched my own daughter, a first grader this year, as she has been learning to read. She finished kindergarten right on benchmark. However, I would not say that she was really reading yet. Recently, around the end of the first quarter of first grade, she just seemed to get it. All of a sudden she wasn't just guessing what word it might be or skipping words that were tough, she was reading. A friend says it's like the reading fairy has come to visit kids. It seems like an overnight change.
I had looked at the circle of fifths countless times for several years without understanding. Then, I looked at it and got it. Did those previous years play any role in my understanding? Do my guided reading groups with very beginning books make a difference? Would it be just as good to spend that time reading to the kids and talking about books until they are ready to get it? Is it possible we are telling parents their children are reading below grade level when they are simply getting ready to read at their own pace? I wish I knew.