Welcome! This column, I hope, will be a way for you to tap into the latest in research without having to read volumes of books and journals. I aim to provide "straight into the classroom" ideas and I'll start with one that comes from my own research.
Last spring I was fortunate enough to conduct a national study on at-home reading (published findings in press). I'd like to share with you six ideas, many of which are based on findings from my study, that can make the at-home reading your students do more effective (and get those who aren't involved in that activity reading at home as well):
Remind parents that reading with their children, even after those students have gained basic reading skills, is VERY important.
Listening to an adult read complex text with higher level vocabulary than the student can read independently scaffolds that student's vocabulary and allows them to focus 100% of their mental energies on comprehension. If the parent can't read English, see if they can read in their native language. If they can't read at all, they can listen to their child read (in any language) and talk with them about what they read. They can tell a story.
Teach parents the importance of repeated reading.
Parents (and even some teachers) think that is a waste of time but researchers such as Dr. Tim Rasinski have proven over and over that reading something more than once, especially within a short period of time, allows the reader to become more fluent (and boosts comprehension of that passage). Why is that? Often during the first exposure, a student is concentrating on decoding new words. The second time around, they remember the words, especially if someone has talked with them about those new words, reviewed how to figure out those words, and encouraged the child to read "like an actor" (putting phrasing and expression into their reading so they sound as though they are talking). Setting the goal of perfect, dramatic delivery (without punishment for slip ups), helps the child see value in each rereading.
Don't believe the myth that parents who don't read regularly with their children don't care.
Find out about each family's home literacy (every home has literacy; it just may not match your "academic" version). That takes dedication and a positive attitude. Once you discover how families interact with language, you can then look for ways to connect that with the academic literacy you are teaching. It may be as easy as asking a family to record a favorite personal story or fable from their culture. Ask your parents who are already involved to network with other parents. You don't have to do it alone.
When selecting at-home reading materials, especially for parents who "don't know how to do it", pick books that contain family-friendly ingredients...
like great stories with a lot of high frequency words, repeated vocabulary, and parsing or phrasing reflected within the text format. Encourage paired or shared reading (parent reads a little then child reads a little). If you find books (like Treasure Bay's We Both Read series for PreK-3rd Grade) that include tips for parents, all the better. Don't send home leveled readers; children get enough of those at school. Remember a parent's job is to be a commercial for why reading is the best thing since sliced bread. You went to school for years to learn how to teach the mechanics; get them involved in building motivation and positive feelings about reading, not in strictly correcting their child.
Encourage a balance between parent/child reading time and independent reading time, no matter what your students' ages.
Encourage parents to not overdo one or the other, but have about the same amount of time spent in each. Some parents believe that, once children are able to read a bit, they really don't need to read with them anymore. That's not true. My study found that students experienced on average about 40 minutes of each type of reading (parent/child and independent) per week (that's not a lot) had significantly stronger growth in fluency as evidenced by their DIBELS ORF scores than did student with an imbalance (even when the imbalance leaned toward more parent/child reading time). We also saw those students' attitudes about reading improve. It's that fine balance between having a positive experience reading with a caring adult, getting support and encouragement from them, and then taking that into the "independent reading world" where they can practice what they are learning on their own that is key.
Help parents focus on comprehension (not just quizzing the child) but doing what I call "thinking, wondering, and pondering about the text together.
You may even want to invite some parents into your classroom so you can model what interactive, engaged reading with children looks like. I fear we too often try to get parents to do the same things we do in the classroom instead of allowing them to have the unique contribution of teaching children the "behavior of reading." Remember that, ultimately, the reason we read is not to decode perfectly or to be able to do a Venn diagram. We ultimately read to squeeze the juice of meaning out of words someone else has written, to find out something we want to know, to gain wisdom and insight, to understand others, and yes, sometimes even to escape.