The problem starts slowly. Students begin to struggle with their assignments. They work hard to understand the explanation of the concept, but it is just not coming to them as easily as it comes to their neighbor. When they go home to do homework, they do not have the same support system as other students. That frustration builds as they struggle to keep up with the rest of the class. One of the most accurate predictors of this negative behavior is literacy level.
Illiteracy is a threat to the teacher’s classroom as much as it is to the student’s future. Students who struggle to read act out during class in a variety of ways. Their outbursts cover the full range of emotions, from anger and lashing out to comedic interludes to gain attention. By the time they reach third grade, they possess a basic understanding of the fact that they are behind their peers. This can lead to the negative emotions that cause them to act out during class, doing whatever they can to distract from time spent having to learn. Students that have a hard time learning become adverse to going to school and using that time productively.
Deborah Stipek and Sarah Miles at the Stanford School of Education discovered in a 2006 study that “relatively low literacy achievement in 1st grade predicted relatively high aggressive behavior in 3rd grade … [and] low literacy achievement in 3rd grade similarly predicted high aggressive behavior in 5th grade.”
The theory was that as students became more discouraged with school, they acted out more often. These issues are magnified over time, resulting in adults that are more likely to end up with lower earning potential (75% of unemployed adults have low literacy) and a higher risk of ending up incarcerated (70% of those incarcerated have low literacy rates).
Fortunately, early intervention can help students avoid these problems. Catching this shift in behavior early provides teachers, and other students, a much more conducive learning environment. Some positive information to consider:
- Children who can read at grade level by third grade are very unlikely to end up on the wrong side of the law. Those that cannot read at grade level at this critical juncture are four times less likely to graduate.
- Better social skills help improve performance in the classroom. When students are young, Miles and Stipek discovered that reading ability correlated with higher social skills. As time goes by the correlation weakens, but it is important during the years when building good reading habits matters.
- Encouraging high achievement makes better classrooms. When students are part of a class with high standards, there are fewer behavioral problems. Especially if the class provides the tools in the classroom to succeed.
The events that influence students before third-grade may cause ripples through their entire life. Helping students equate the class with a positive experience helps mitigate future problems. The less time teachers must spend dealing with unruly students, the more time they can contribute to developing all of their students into enthusiastic readers and lifelong learners.
Like developing anything important, building better students requires providing the right environment. This is an easier task when the children are in school. A school is filled with teachers, staff, and materials that serve the purpose of encouraging students to learn. Outside of the classroom, that encouragement is not always present. Those materials are not always available when they are at home. They do not need desks, whiteboards, or even computers to spend time learning at home. All they need are home libraries.
Having a library at home encourages students to spend time reading, and learning, outside of the classroom. Richard Allington, author of Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap, states that a handful of self-selected books could have a dramatic impact on a child’s learning over time.
In a multi-year study, he discovered that just adding 12 self-selected books to a home every summer can have the same learning impact that summer school offers. When books are convenient, it is more likely those books will be used by the students and parents. It creates a home environment that shows that reading is encouraged, especially when there are books within easy reach at all times. Helping parents build home libraries have other benefits as well:
- Continuous access to books – It can be difficult for parents, especially those in low-income families, to take their children to a local library over the summer. By developing home libraries, students have easy access to books all summer long.
- Topics of their choosing – Everyone is more likely to read books about topics that pique their interest. Teachers and parents can work together to build a home library of books that will encourage children to read not only through the summer but during the school year.
- Familiarity with the material – Children enjoy things that are familiar. They love their favorite toys and clothes. That same love of the familiar can apply to books, especially a favorite character in a series. A beloved character can expose them to new vocabulary over the course of that series, elevating their understanding of the language.
- Builds family literacy – Reading can be contagious. Once one member develops a passion for reading, it can spread to siblings and other people in the home. This has a multiplying effect of bringing more books into the home, creating a virtuous cycle of overall improved literacy for the family.
- Improved academic performance – Research shows that, even when wealth and location are taken into account, more books in the home leads to greater academic performance. Owning 500 books can add 3.2 years of educational gains over time, according to Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. Even the addition of one book can have an impact on educational gains.
Creating a friendly environment for students to read changes the environment for the whole family. Even in areas where there may not be a bookstore or community library available, home libraries offer a bridge to literacy. It extends a small part of the learning environment into every home.
In the middle of the summer, it can be difficult to keep children motivated to read. There are pools to play in, friends running up and down the street, and for many, little desire to be reading anything.
School is not for another month, and there is not a scrap of homework in sight. They have a small stack of colorful and exciting books to read, and even more of them will be coming as they finish each one. Without the motivation of assignments or encouragement of teachers, reading over the summer could fall the wayside.
There are multiple ways to keep students motivated to read over the summer. These tips are just as valuable during the school year as well, encouraging students to read for pleasure as well as for homework and information.
- Create a fun environment – Getting children to do something they do not want to could be a labor worthy of Hercules. Creating a fun reading environment will make them want to read, not force them to read. Instead of external motivation, they become internally motivated, making it more likely they will grab a book as a fun activity.
- Give them choices – Allowing children to have say in the books they read and when they read them gives them control. Children that are interested in a topic will spend hours exploring it. Providing books on that subject strengthen the association that books are for more than homework.
- Discuss what they are reading – As children approach preschool ages (three to five years old), they are starting to develop their standards and communication skills. The books they are reading are perfect opportunities to allow them to practice discussing with you about a topic they enjoy.
- Set attainable expectations – Children, despite what we may think, can be reasonable. Giving them specific goals, with specific rewards, is a way to encourage them to be motivated. Go the extra mile and make them visible. Make a chart where they can color in a box or add a sticker when they complete a book. These visual reminders allow them to see where they are in relation to their goal.
- Always be encouraging – When a child sits and reads, or discusses their reading, give them positive encouragement. Support from teachers and parents builds confidence in the task they are performing. Even when they do not perform to a high level, encourage them to try again and congratulate them for the work they put in will go a long way in their eyes.
Summer reading does more than preventing the summer slide. It is an opportunity to build their love of reading outside an environment where reading is required. Maintaining the momentum of reading through the summer will help students find an appreciation for reading they may not discover elsewhere.
Children absorb much more than we give them credit. And they start to absorb it far earlier than we think they do. Studies show that babies are taking in information as early as in the womb, and their development only accelerates from there. As early as four months your child was reacting to the sound of your voice. They were not processing the information, but they did understand the tone you were using. Speaking to your child introduces them to the phonetic components of the language, components they will spend time trying to reproduce. It is not a coincidence that many toddlers first word is “No.”
Reading out loud to babies, while they may not understand the story, benefits them in other ways. The pictures in the books give their young eyes an area to focus. Reading with inflection can introduce them to different emotions and ways to use the language, as well as speech patterns. Children that are read to, and spoken to, at a younger age often have a larger vocabulary. There is a positive association made with reading; it is a comfortable place and they spend time with daddy or mommy. At younger ages (up to one year), the material itself does not matter since they do not understand the words. You can catch up on your own reading as you read to your child!
I will defend the importance of bedtime stories to my last gasp. -JK Rowling
Taking the time to read with your child is an important step in reinforcing the benefits of reading. You do not have to have a great deal of time to get into this habit. A little bit a bedtime, a few pages after dinner, or maybe some time on the weekend while at a sibling’s special event can be all the time you need to start developing a love of reading. Even while shopping or cooking there are ways to incorporate reading into the activity! Make trips to the library a part of your weekly errands. Many libraries have programs to help young readers find books they will enjoy, and you can read the books together.
As they get older and want to read, the role of the parent shifts from reader to teacher. You can help them sound out words they do not understand, and explain the meanings of those words. After they are finished reading the story, ask them questions about what they just read to help them with reading comprehension. When you start to discover the books they enjoy reading, there is an opportunity to help them find similar authors. Websites like What Should I Read Next and Your Next Read can aid in finding books that are similar to the ones they enjoy. By selecting books that your child enjoys reading, it encourages them to read more.
One of the many benefits of Kids Read Now is the opportunity to find the books your child enjoys and reading it with them over the summer months. We know that book selection is critical in encouraging reading, and we send only the ones you choose. Those books are sent directly to your home on a regular basis, along with lessons to help you both get the most out of each book. They offer the ability to either read along with your child, or to allow them to read to you. Building the enjoyment of reading is something that is developed over time, by modelling the behavior early and reinforcing it as they grow. Before you know it, you will have another avid reader and lifelong learner in the house!
Kids Read Now is here to stop the summer reading slide and help struggling readers become proficient readers. Our summer reading program produces remarkable results for school districts seeking to raise K-3 reading scores, and we do it for about 10 percent of the cost of traditional intervention programs. Even though Kids Read Now is far less expensive than traditional intervention, we know that school districts must still stretch tight budgets for funding programs. The good news is that funding for the program that raises reading scores is out there, and Kids Read Now can help schools find it.
Here are some places to start!
Title I Funding
The federal government has been contributing Title I funding since 1965. The purpose of these grants is to help schools with large populations of low-income and disadvantaged students boost academic achievement. The U.S. Department of Education states that Title 1 provides “financial assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards.” Assistance for reading programs is part of that deal, too. Title I money can be used for additional instruction in summer reading programs that “extend and reinforce the regular school curriculum.” Kids Read Now also offers free webinars with our expert, Laura Bemus. It is an opportunity to ask your questions to an expert on the application process for Title I funding.
Read more about Title I.
Dollar General Literacy Foundation
Dollar General’s charitable wing sets aside grant money primarily to promote K-12 literacy. The foundation has five grant programs that support adult and family literacy, strong libraries, and reading programs for schools.
The foundation’s Youth Literacy Grant is an especially valuable resource for school districts seeking help from organizations, such as Kids Read Now, that aim to boost reading proficiency for struggling readers. The Youth Literacy Grant provides funding for the following initiatives:
- Implementing new or expanding existing literacy programs
- Purchasing new technology or equipment to support literacy initiatives
- Purchasing books, materials or software for literacy programs
Grow Your Giving
Kids Read Now works together with the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation to bring grant opportunities to school districts. The mission is to provide matching grant money to enhance existing Title I funding.
This grant opportunity is for school districts that set up the Kids Read Now program for three years and track spring and fall reading scores, measuring the growth over time for program analysis. The grant then covers fifty percent of the first program year, and with additional funds for years two and three, the grant eventually covers one full year out of the three of the program.