Showing posts with label Parents. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Parents. Show all posts

Monday, June 30, 2014

Teaching My Daughters to Read; Part I -- Context

Hi Dr. Shanahan,

I couldn't help but notice in your latest blog post the mention of how you "remember vividly teaching your oldest daughter to read."  I am writing in hopes that you'd be willing to share - either with me or your readers on your blog - what you did (either in broad strokes or even specifics) to teach her to read.  

I would not expect you to publicly endorse a program or approach nor am I asking you to divulge anything about your family publicly - I'm simply in the same position as a father of a four year old daughter and sincerely interested in how you approached this fun and special opportunity.

Response- Part I:

Yes, we taught both of our girls to read at home before they started school. I’d be happy to tell you how, but that will have to spread out across a few entries to do the topic justice.

Anyone who has had one child is usually a deep believer in the power of DNA; anyone with two realizes that couldn’t be the explanation. Children can be pretty different, and my daughters definitely were not cut from the same cloth. Some of what we did with them was the same, and some of our efforts differed because of their differences.

For instance, language came much easier to my oldest (E), while my youngest (M) was a late talker (or, perhaps, more accurately, her development was slowed by having an older sibling who spoke for her—not surprisingly her spokesperson eventually became a lawyer). When M was three, we took her to the neighborhood elementary school to get speech services, focused on pronunciations and general vocabulary.

Let’s start with context. Most kids don’t “learn to read” just from being in a literate environment; teaching is needed, too. But that doesn’t mean that context does not matter so let me describe that. There were lots of opportunities for our kids to find out about literacy and language and to develop some motivation for it.

Both girls were read to a lot, though E received more of this—mainly because she was more attentive and interested from an early age. Shared reading started within hours of birth for both, and they were exposed to typical picture books (usually read by their mother) and advanced chapter books (my contribution). There was no set schedule for this reading, but it typically took place several times per week throughout their childhoods, including when they were learning to read from more explicit lessons.

E stayed interested in my book sharing once she was a toddler, so reading Charlotte’s Web or Grimm’s Fairy Tales to her was a joyful duty. M, once mobile, made it clear that having her father read to her was something to avoid.

This will sound horrible, but I’d have to “capture” her—that is, I’d grab her up in my arms for reading—initially for very brief periods (often fewer than 15 seconds at a time). She’d wiggle, wrestle, and squirm away, giggling all the way, but resistant to the book sharing.

Over time, she grew less resistant and could sit longer and longer; it was never unpleasant, but at first it was unusually brief and was not something to which she submitted willingly. [Lest this description sound too negative, I would point out that M. and I continued to read together until she was a freshman in high school—and those exchanges and the books themselves are something that we are quite both sentimental about today).

Each girl owned their own little library and books were often given as presents to them. They also had magazine subscriptions, too, and the public library was close. Rarely did a week go by that they didn’t bring home an armful of books.

The books that my wife read to them tended to be these library books (picture books for the most part) and from the girl’s own libraries while the books that I read tended to be in our library (or they were classic books with which they had been gifted).

It can take a long time to read books like “The Yearling,” “Gulliver’s Travels,” “The Hobbit,” or the “Odyssey.” Given that I often tried to follow the completion of these books up with some fun activity. Sometimes we would rent a videotape of the book and pop some corn and make an evening of it. A couple times we even built vacations around particular books (“Tom Sawyer” led to a visit to Hannibal, Missouri, and “Misty of Chincoteague” had us meeting the island ponies in Virginia).
The TV was often on in our house and they would watch Sesame Street often (and there are some reading and language lessons there). Later they became big fans of “Little House on the Prairie” and “Anne of Green Gables” (we read a lot of those books, too).

Lots of toys in the household had literacy or language themes, too, including alphabet blocks, early electronic toys that taught about flags, musical instruments, and flags. And, they definitely saw their parents reading and writing both for pleasure and work.

Not only did we read to the kids a lot (from the first day), but we spoke to them a lot, too. Reading is a language activity and our children had lots of opportunity to hear language, to engage in language—including songs, nursery rhymes, and language games. For example, we used to play Game of Fives. I’d name a category and the kids would try to come up with five examples (5 toys, 5 kinds of jewelry, 5 family members, 5 colors—and later 5 lakes, 5 states, 5 shapes, etc.).

As, I said, context alone is usually insufficient to cause someone to be a reader, but it does carry lessons, opportunities to learn, and motivation. My daughters were surrounded by literacy and language and this likely played an important role in the eventual success of the lessons that we provided to them. I’ll write about those lessons next week.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Parent Involvement

A friend of mine, Alfred Tatum, and some of our graduate students at the University of Illinois at Chicago developed a guide to encourage parent involvement in their children's learning (supported by Tavis Smiley). They gave me permission to post a copy of it for your use on my blog. One of the best parts of this guide is that it supports parent involvement not just in the early grades, but through high school. That is absolutely correct! Parents can play a specific and direct role in their children's learning. I hope you find it useful.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Family Literacy and Adolescent Literacy

Last week I participated in two conferences: the Eastern Regional BOCES on Long Island, NY held a professional development day for secondary teachers (and they drew attendance from all over the Island--and from Massachusetts, too). Well attended and lively. I made a couple of presentations, one on what we need to do overall to improve literacy in secondary school and one that focused specifically on how to teach disciplinary literacy. Both talks are included below.

A Good start"

Death of Content Reading"

I also spoke at a meeting of Illinois Reach Out and Read. Given that I serve on the Board of Directors of the national ROR, I was certainly happy to help out locally. I gave a very well received talk on what must be done to engage parents successfully and fully in their children's learning. I think you'll find this one useful if you are interested in recruiting some parent support. The powerpoint is here for you:

Family Literacy"

Monday, January 4, 2010

In the News

Monday the National Association of School Boards released for public use a podcast that I did last fall. They had put this together to help states with their Race to the Top efforts, by making some suggestions about the appropriate directions to take with adolescent literacy. If you are interested here is the link (my part is number 5, but the other items are useful, too):

Also, Sunday, the Chicago Tribune published my suggestions for how parents could help their kids with literacy and encourage reading. Here is that posting.,0,4127443.story">

Friday, May 29, 2009

Encouraging Summer Reading

This is the time of the year when schools often try to reach out to parents to encourage their kids to continue to read over the summer. Not a bad idea--reading is a lot of fun and keeping in practice can mean a faster start to next school year. Here are some suggestions for parents that you might want to pass on (or to use with your own kids)....

Summertime and the readin' is easy, fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high....

To Parents:

Another school year is coming to a close, but that shouldn’t mean that your kids can stop reading and writing. Research shows bad outcomes for kids who don’t read (their reading test scores actually decline). A summer away from school should not be a summer away from reading. Encourage your children (teens, too) to read over the summer. It’s one of the most loving things you can do for them!

Here are some suggestions that might help:

1. Summer usually allows families to spend more time together. This can be a great opportunity to read with your kids. Children can learn a lot from being read to, and it is a lot of fun, too. Even if they can read by themselves, take turns reading to each other, and be sure to talk about what you are reading. Ask questions, answer questions, explore the ideas together, but read.

2. As kids get older, help them find books, magazines, or newspaper articles that they would enjoy reading, and you read them, too (trips to the library together are a great idea for finding such material). Or read the same book they are reading for class over the summer so you can discuss it. The point is to share the reading experience.

3. Even if you are not reading the same books they are, talk to your children about what they are reading. Ask them questions such as what happened in the story or what might happen next, who is their favorite character, or who is the villain. This builds summarization and recall skills, and your interest can help increase their interest.

4. Create a summer reading nook or spot in your home. Make sure there is good light and comfortable seating and try to set aside one TV/video-game-free night per week for family reading. Reading night can be a special snack night, too. There is nothing better than reading with a big bowl of popcorn or cookies and milk.

5. If your children’s school program provides materials for home activities, absolutely use them.

6. If you are taking a trip this summer, send for brochures and maps and have your children read them aloud with you.

7. Don’t ignore the value of graphic novels or a popular book series like the Twilight books. These are great ways to encourage adolescents to read more. If you are having trouble finding books that your kids want to read try these resources from the International Reading Associations:

For adolescents:

For children:

8. Whether you are reading to your children or they are reading themselves, plan an outcome event or activity based on the reading. For instance, if the book has been made into a movie, watch the DVD together after reading the book. Book reading can lead to picnics, museum and zoo visits, ballgames, or even family vacations (we took our kids to Chincoteague Island and Hannibal, Missouri as a result of reading Misty of Chincoteague and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with them).

9. Write notes or letters to your children. What a great opportunity to remind them of experiences that they had when they were younger or to tell them about the lives of older people in the family, like their grandparents. Kids love getting letters and sometimes they’ll even write back.

10. Don’t just focus on storybooks. Kids often prefer to read about fact rather than fiction, including books and articles about the environment, animals, current events, sports, and other factual topics. Talk to them about what they like and help them find reading materials that match those interests.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Starting Out Right: Helping Your Child Have a Successful School Year

Here we are at the start of another school year: a time of great new beginnings for many children, and one of overwhelming anxiety for too many others. What can parents do to help ease their child into a successful new school year—particularly for struggling learners?

I suggest the following steps.

1. Talk to your child about school.

“What did you do in school today, Johnny?”


Sadly, that is a pretty typical exchange between most parents and kids, and it does nothing for improving home-school relations, for making children feel supported, or for helping both teachers and kids to succeed.

As a parent and former teacher, I suggest a different kind of questioning, one more likely to elicit a helpful exchange. Most important is being specific; it shows kids that you are really interested, and it is harder to deflect your attention.

Try questions like, “What are you learning about in math class?” Or, “Tell me about the story that you are reading in your reading class?” The more specific you are, the more likely you'll have a real conversation about school.

2. Talk to your child’s teacher, too.

Many parents are WILLING to talk to their child’s teachers. I encourage a more proactive approach.

Don’t wait for a teacher to call you, but contact the teacher early on. Perhaps ask for an afterschool or before school appointment in the first few weeks of the year, or make a phone appointment. Let the teacher know of your interest. Ask specific questions about curriculum and homework. Share your concerns and special hopes. And, make yourself accessible by offering your phone number or email address. One thing I can promise is that if you make this contact the teacher will pay attention to your child (and that is a good thing)!

3. Take a look at your child’s school books.

Have your child bring home their school books (whatever they are allowed to bring home). They don’t need to bring them every night, but have them show you what they are working on. One key thing to do is to have your child read a page or two aloud to you from the books. Are they making a lot of mistakes and struggling to make sense of the material? If they are having that kind of trouble, they are likely to need some of your help along the way. Better to know that now rather than getting surprised later.

4. Find out what your child is supposed to learn.

Talk to your child, talk to his or her teacher, look at the books… all of those actions will help you to know what your child is supposed to learn. What kinds of words are they supposed to be able to decode or spell? What words will they be learning the meanings of? How hard are the stories they are supposed to be able to read? And so on. The better understanding you have of what your child is supposed to learn, the better chance you have to help them to accomplish it. Some teachers (and kids) are good at asking for help and others are not; in any event, these requests tend to come once the child is failing—reach out and find out what is needed so that you can provide help now, rather than after it a real problem.

5. Set a positive plan for getting homework done from the very beginning.

Lay out your homework rules. For example, some parents won’t allow their kids to go out and play until homework is completed. Others prefer that the homework get done immediately after dinner. In still other cases, parents may want to consider each day's homework demands, making a decision when they see how much work has to be done (this can even be done over the phone if parents can’t be home). In any event, set it up some rules for getting the homework done. One of those rules should be that when homework is being done the television is turned off or in another room.

These are all small things, but together they can make a big difference in a successful school year. Start with these from the very beginning and you can help your child to succeed.

Good luck and have a great school year!