It’s no secret teachers work hard during the school year, but they enjoy their time off as much as the students do.
However, even in their off time, teachers spend time getting ready for the next year, brushing up on new skills and techniques, and staying abreast of any changes made in national policy. Researchers are discovering another way for teachers to prepare for the next school year; read more children’s books.
A 2011 study authored by Burgess, Sargent, Smith, Hill, and Morrison, discovered that teachers that read children’s books had a significant advantage. They engaged in industry-recognized best practices far more often than their peers. They have a better understanding of what is popular in children’s literature. This insight provides the ability to cater their lessons to address what students might be reading outside of the classroom.
Beyond the technical help educators can provide, their understanding of children’s literature allows them to pair the right student with the right book. That can be an important spark in getting a student to read for pleasure. We wrote recently about how giving the student a choice in what book to read is important for building new readers. Guiding them to the books they are likely to enjoy helps them find stories they may not have discovered on their own. Sharing the same information with their parents brings them into the process as well.
And the best reason of all? Some of the children’s literature out there is just amazing. Brain Pickings featured seven beautiful children’s books released in 2017 recently. They are not only visually stunning, the stories they tell rival any book for adults on the shelf. Many well-known authors of adult books have also written a book or two for younger readers. They bring the same attention to craft and detail to the work.
When teachers love to read, it shows, no matter the book’s target age group. This enthusiasm for reading can be infectious, and spreading that excitement is the best way to get a student to read. Giving a student a book about a subject they love is one thing; handing it to them with some hints about what lies within the story they are about to consume takes it to another level.
The late Maurice Sendak once said “I don’t write for children. I write. And somebody says, that’s for children.” There are beautiful stories for adults to discover in children’s books. When teachers begin to find those wondrous places, they can share them with their students. They can start their journey of finding more literature that they can share with the class. Showing their passion for reading to the classroom will help it spread like wildfire. It is a lesson that has to be experienced by the class, not taught.
The impetus for building student literacy is typically school-related. Teachers and administrators want them to be successful in school because they know the importance of early education on the child’s future.
There are also the state-mandated goals that measure student achievement and can affect the school district in many ways. Beyond those two significant incentives, there is a third one that is important to the student. Low levels of literacy have an impact on the student outside of the classroom. And not just their ability to get homework done.
Coming from a home where the parents struggled in school can inhibit the growth of a student. Parents with low levels of literacy tend to have lower incomes. With fewer resources, there is a higher probability of housing and food instability. Students without this stability concern themselves less with the grades they are getting and more with how will they provide the familiy their next meal. Possibly where they will be staying that evening.
Parents working hard to make ends meet do not have that extra time to spend speaking with their children or helping them with homework. One indicator of student success is their vocabulary as they come into school. In a study done by Hart and Risley, students in low-income families are exposed to just one-third of the words that students in professional families. And vocabulary is essential to student growth.
With time being at a premium in low literacy homes, the learning experiences children have there can also be limited. There are very few trips to bookstores, museums, libraries, or other areas students can have educational experiences outside of the school.
Those trips may be limited by geography; lower income houses are typically not located near these centers of learning. Another limitation is their connection to the community that can help them find these unique places.
Those with low literacy work hard to hide their lack of reading ability. They use isolation as a way to protect their secret, not being involved in their community or school. Staying separate from these resources may mean they miss valuable opportunities to help their students, or themselves, outside of school.
Staying healthy can also be a challenge. From reading labels on food to understanding the medicine a doctor prescribes, low literacy has an impact the general well being of a family. Even common health issues can be exacerbated when medication is not used correctly, causing the student to miss more time from class.
They are either ill themselves, or they may not be able to leave home because of a sick relative. Missing this time can put students further behind, adding to any frustrations they may be having in school.
Schools offer a unique opportunity to break this cycle of illiteracy. Building a love of learning in school may inspire the rest of the family to improve their literacy. Siblings may be drawn to mimic what their brother or sister is doing, and become interested in reading themselves.
They may become the readers in the house, helping parents interpret bills or introducing them to new places to go in the area. Getting a parent to build their skills, through inspiration from a child or working with them personally, is a mechanism that can stop that vicious cycle.
For many children, going to school is just one part of their daily ritual. They grumble get out of their comfortable bed, have breakfast, and are transported to school for a day of learning and spending time with friends. They receive their assignments for the day, then head home to complete them before they head to bed and get ready to complete the cycle the next day. That is the ideal: a stable base for children to build their education upon.
That is not the reality for may children. As of 2013, most students come to school from low-income households. They can leave for school malnourished and tired from sleepless nights in unstable homes. Heading to school can be dangerous as well, especially if their home is in a high crime neighborhood. School can add to the struggle when they cannot stay awake, are focused on their hunger instead of lessons, and have no time at home to complete assignments. Such a fragile base is difficult to build an education upon.
There are ways that the school itself can be a place to help students from low-income or unstable homes educate students in subjects beyond the three Rs.
One way was suggested over two decades ago by Dr. James Comer, a child psychologist from Yale University. He believed that “no significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” He developed a process called the Comer Process, known by some as the School Development Program. It is a system that looks after the whole student, helping them develop social and life skills in school along with being educated. Teams are built to help students manage their lives inside and outside of the classroom.
It takes a major commitment to apply the Comer Process to a school. There are many other options for schools to ensure that students are being supported for the time they are there.
- Building Relationships – You do not need to treat students as friends, but you do need to give them respect. A trusting relationship is a big step in discovering what is happening outside the classroom that could affect them inside of it.
- Formal Communication – Unless the home is highly religious, formal speech is not often used in low-income families. Most tests over the years are written formally, which makes them harder to understand for these students. Building this form of vocabulary is incredibly important over the long haul.
- Understand their Resources – By understanding what support a student has, arrangements can often be made by the school to offer what they do not have. Time and tutoring are usually the two things most students in low-income families need most.
- How to be a Student – Being a student is a skill that is not inborn; it is learned. Asking questions, planning assignments, and preparing for tests may not be taught in the home. Especially if the parents struggled in school. But it can be taught with other lessons.
Low-income students offer schools the opportunity to be a haven from their day to day life. They can help them with life skills they may not find at home, adding stability to what can be a very unstable existence. A stability to help them become lifelong learners.
The creation of a lifelong learner and passionate reader extends beyond the classroom. It involves a group effort, which includes the friends and family of the student. They are the support system that ensures the lessons learned in the classroom get reinforced outside of it. They are the ones that make sure that homework gets completed promptly and passive learning occurs. Researcher Susan B.Neuman, in her paper Guiding Young Children’s Participation in Early Literacy Development: A Family Literacy Program for Adolescent Mothers, states that “engaging parents and children in mutual activities that include book reading, but are not limited to it, may constitute the richest potential for supporting children’s early literacy development.”
It can be a challenge to get parents to engage. Parents have busy lives, and while they want to participate, other problems in life prevent it. They are not only making sure their children are doing well at school, but they are also working to pay the bills, get children to social events and possibly taking care of other family and friends. Schools intimidate some parents, based on their history with education. Teachers have a variety of tools at their disposal to invite and encourage parents to become more active in their child’s education.
- Get to know the parents. After school, have family nights where the parents and students complete lessons together. Make time after the lesson to work with the parents to show them how to help students with similar assignments. This allows the teacher to get to know the parents, opening up communication.
- Build the right communication channels. Like students, parents have their preferred ways of communication. Some react quickly to email, while others are very responsive to text messages. If access to the internet is an issue, phone calls may be the best way to open channels. Finding the method that works best with the parent improves the teacher’s ability to put parent and student on the same page.
- Provide parents the tools teachers use. Parents can be very willing to help a student, but not know what the lesson is or how they can help. Sharing tools with parents, like Powerpoint presentations or websites with learning tips, encourages parents to get involved. Not only are they involved, but they are also reinforcing the lessons presented in class, reinforcing the information.
- Allow them a peek inside the classroom. Parents that know what their students are doing in the class are more engaged. When they go on a field trip, send the parents some pictures. If they have a project, provide the parents ways to participate and show off what other students in the class create.
- Tell them something good. The overwhelming assumption when a teacher sends something home is that it has a negative connotation. Send more good feedback than bad builds trust with the parents and makes a note from the school a little more exciting to receive.
Opening the door for parents to help in the classroom is a significant benefit to the students. Teachers and parents, when they combine their resources and efforts, provide a seamless educational experience for a student. This has long-term benefits for the student, and the family as well. It creates a culture of learning in the home, which is an advantage to the whole community.
Over the summer, home is an incredibly important place in the development of a love for reading. That center shifts when the days get cooler and school begins. The classroom becomes the place where children continue to build their literacy skills. Instilling this desire goes beyond lessons taught in English class. There are amazing stories to be told in Science, History, the Arts and Social Studies. Every subject offers tales that can be inspirational to students!
The best time to foster a love of reading in students is when they are young. Younger students learn by imitating what they see in the world around them. In school, this means seeing teachers reading books while they are doing work at their desk. Or having a discussion with the principal about what books they are reading. Becoming role models for reading and literacy can go a long way to developing a love of reading in a student. There are plenty of ways to do that as a school:
- Share what you read – Let students know that reading is not only for homework! Teachers and staff should be willing to share what they are reading with their students, letting them see that reading is an activity for everyone.
- Read a book to the class – Students do not have to do all the reading themselves. Opening a book and telling the students a story, complete with different voices and changes in vocal tone, can bring the words to life. This technique is incredibly helpful for students who learn best by listening. Hearing the words also helps improve student vocabulary.
- Give students learning strategies – There is nothing quite like the feeling of accomplishment. Especially on a task is difficult. Developing multiple ways for students to build reading skills helps them overcome these obstacles on their own. Every word they learn on their own boosts their confidence in their reading skills.
- Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) – First mentioned by Beverly Cleary, Drop Everything And Read is a great way to give students an educational, unplanned break. Between lessons teachers can have students read a book of their choosing, showing that reading can be done at any time. The combination of self selected reading materials and the encouragement of someone they look up to delivers positive reinforcement of their hobby. Students will want to read more as a result.
- Fill the class with books – Not every student will have a book for an impromptu reading break. If they do not have one they are working on, having a library in class can provide them options. Composing this library of books and topics the children enjoy will make DEAR time more enjoyable!
- Create active assignments based on what they have read – Worksheets about what a student has just read can dampen their enthusiasm. They can write stories about what happens next, or discuss in class what they think the reading meant. Having them engage with the story can help reinforce what they just read and improve reading comprehension.
The environments that students are part of is only part of the equation for encouraging reading. Demonstrating that reading is a pleasurable and relaxing activity helps students develop a similar perspective. The combination of parents and teachers acting as reading role models is the best way possible to encourage a love of reading in children.
Reading is considered the most important skill people acquire. It’s the foundation for further learning. From Kindergarten through third grade, children learn to read, and from grade four onward, they read to learn. If kids don’t master reading by third grade, they eventually run into some serious limitations and challenges in life. There are, however, ways to lay the groundwork for educating readers and make reading part of life-long learning.
Drill the Alphabet
Not fully understanding the letters of the alphabet and their relationship to sounds can deeply hinder reading proficiency. Students need clear instruction for how to identify, name, and write letters. They need to practice letter-sound relationships and review those relationships as they learn new ones. Activities like singing alphabet songs and viewing and reciting rhymes help them acquire alphabetic knowledge. Students have to be immersed in the world of the alphabet so that they can use letters in as many activities as possible.
Focus on Phonemic Awareness
Students need to be aware of the sounds of words and syllables in our alphabet-based language. The lack of this awareness trips up a majority of students who become non-proficient readers. To unlock the meaning in words, students need to know the sounds in those words and letters. Activities should focus on learning specific sounds, such as b in bump, and have students practice these sounds in as many words as possible. Students can then begin identifying and saying all the sounds in a word. From there, further strategies help students build on what they keep practicing and learning.
[bctt tweet=”From Kindergarten to 3rd grade, children learn to read. From grade four onward, they read to learn.”]
Boost Their Vocabulary
Gaining a large vocabulary is essential for unlocking meaning in written text. A limited vocabulary makes it difficult for readers to make all the connections among words, phrases, and sentences. Introducing and teaching new vocabulary in reading materials should be an ongoing strategy. Use word-learning strategies such as finding meaning from context, locating word parts to decode longer words, and searching the old standby: a print or online dictionary.
Read to Them
One of the best ways to teach something is to show it in action. Share stories and informational writing, and get students to think about the ideas and visualize what they hear. This is definitely something parents can do at home and teachers can do in classrooms. Reading to kids reinforces that reading is part of life, and it exposes kids to language and vocabulary that they might not experience in normal conversation.
Make Sure That They Read
Reading is a skill, and it takes practice to become proficient. Setting aside daily reading time at home or in the classroom is a good start. It’s important to have students read and reread stories and then gradually introduce them to more challenging texts. Use comprehension strategies that get them to ask and answer questions about the reading, visualize what’s happening, and make connections to what they’ve read. Also let students be responsible for choosing their own reading—they are likely to read more if they find something that interests them.
One of the best ways to teach something is to show it in action.
Let Them See You Read
This is especially important for parents. Children learn much by what they see happening around them. When they see adults reading regularly, they see that it’s what people should be doing. Modeling reading at home, or anywhere, increases the chances of a child becoming a proficient reader. After all, it may be difficult to sell the importance of reading if children don’t see others doing it, too.
Visit a Library, or a Bookstore
Show students the places in which they will see a vast amount of reading material and the nearly endless possibilities of what they can discover. Arrange a field trip so that students see what these places offer and how they can satisfy the reading interests of nearly everyone. Chances are, most libraries and bookstores have plenty of people browsing the aisles and inspecting books. This also shows students that people in general believe that reading is important.