Blast from the Past: First posted November 26, 2017 and re-posted April 24, 2020. Parent involvement in their children's learning is always important. However, during this pandemic that responsibility becomes imperative. In some cases, this responsibility can be best met by making sure the kids' are logged on for distance learning with their regular classroom teachers. Unfortunately, that isn't universall available or might not be working well. That's where this blog entry may be helpful. It lays out some very basic things parents can do to help. Keep it enjoyable. Be safe.
Our schools have recently sent the home reports and parent-teacher meetings have recently taken place. I have heard from quite a few concerned parents that teachers have told them their child is 'struggling with reading' and have recommended reading to the child at least 20 minutes a day. These are parents of children k-2. The recommendation to read to the children frustrates the parents, and me as well, since all of them are already doing this. They are looking for more specifics on what to do. Do you have any insight?
Let's face it: As much as teachers complain about a lack of parent support when parents try to help, we tend to elbow them aside and ignore their concerns. No wonder my friend, Chris Lonigan, refers to this advice as the "chicken soup of reading."
Your question reminds me of my own experience as a parent.
It was parent’s night in my child's first-grade. We were new to the district and the teacher had no idea what I did for a living. Her spiel started out:
“At ______ School, we teach reading scientifically.”
I sat up straight.
For the next 45 minutes, she explained that she was going to be teaching letter sounds and using a basal reader.
Scientific? Not especially. But it sounded reassuring and impressive. She seemed knowledgeable, the program seemed sophisticated, and our kids were going to be well served, apparently.
I started to think about what would happen in a few weeks if some of her charges weren’t doing so well (about 20% of kids don’t). It occurred to me that, she would most likely do just what your teachers did: she'd recommend that the parents read to their struggling kids.
The conversation I imagined at the time would go something like this:
Teacher: Johnny is not doing well in reading.
Mom: How can I help? What can we do?
Teacher: Read to Johnny.
Mom: But I do read to Johnny. How can I help? On parent’s night, you told us about the sophisticated scientific way that you teach reading. How can I help with that?
Teacher: A reading program like ours is best left to skilled professionals, Mrs. Jones.
Mom: But I’m a physician (or lawyer or engineer or banker or, well, you get the idea). I can handle it.
Teacher (frustrated): I’m not sure this is taking a helpful turn. Perhaps you could meet with our school principal.
A few things you should know:
In other words, your colleagues are prescribing a practice that has not worked in the past, that would not be likely to work given what it can do, and that ignores the actual problems that the kids are likely to be having—so even if effective, reading to the kids would not help them to read better.
What a crazy approach, especially given that research shows parents really can help their children to learn to read and that they often will... if asked, if encouraged, if supported.
I can’t recommend exactly what should be recommended here because that is going to vary, depending on what the kids need. Parents can help with phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, high-frequency words, letters, etc., and we should ask for help with whichever ones are a pressing need at the moment.
Here are a few examples of how parents can really help:
1. Oral reading fluency. Listen to your child read daily (teachers can provide both the books and the guidance on how to do this). Research has shown that, once kids are reading, it is helpful to read aloud. to someone. I encourage parents to use the Pause, Prompt, Praise (3P) approach for this activity:
Pause: When the child makes a mistake, Pause… give him/her a chance to correct it. Don’t butt in until the child gets to the next punctuation point or where it is obvious that the error isn’t getting fixed.
Prompt: When a child makes a mistake, you can prompt him/her to sound out the word better (look at that again… sound it out… what if we break the word there?) or to use the meaning (does that make sense?… what should that say?). If the child doesn’t get the word after one prompt, tell the word and keep going.
Praise: Praise the child for anything he/she does well (you read that great, you made a mistake, but you fixed it, etc.).
2. Phonemic awareness. Play word games: For example, I spy with my little eye something that begins with /m/. Recently, while dining with my grandchildren (a prek and a k), I'd say a word, “Big,” and they would try to change just one sound in the word to make a new word (dig, or bib, or bag, etc.). Gosh, that was fun.
3. High frequency words or letter names. Give parents the 100 most common words (grade 1) or the 300 (second grade). Have the parents quiz the kids in 5 or 10 word/letter sets during commercial breaks of television shows (that would, for a 30-minute show, give the youngster 6 minutes of interval training).
For more specific examples and free materials for phonics, phonemic awareness, and other skills go to the Resources section of my website, https://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/ppt-resources and look at Great Sites for Teachers and Parents. Especially helpful in this regard are Reading Rockets, Balanced Literacy Diet, and Reading Bear.
There is no good reason not to tell parents the truth about what their children are having trouble with. And, there is no good reason not to provide them with specific activities, materials, and advice on how they can help their kids to succeed.
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