Mead Middle School Special Education Teacher Amanda White outlines how she approaches helping all students access complex, grade-level texts.
Set aside one evening a week for the family to read together. Turn off all devices you’re not reading on. Set aside time before bed for everyone to talk about what they read that night.
The Whole Story
Maybe your family is still noodling over setting New Year’s Resolutions. You want something manageable while still being impactful. For you, I recommend Read – Talk – Repeat.
- Set aside the same time one evening each week where the entire family will power down, avoid other plans, and make sure they’re home. An hour might be ideal. Keeping the same night and time each week will help to develop habit and routine.
- When you’re all together, pick up whatever you’re currently reading and start reading. If you’ve got younger children, you may want to read aloud to them. Consider also the possibility of giving them a stack of picture books to work their way through during the reading time.
- Stop reading with enough time for everyone to share what they’ve read and to ask each other questions.
- Repeat this process each week without interruption.
While the whys of this process are largely self-evident, a few might not stick out to you. By committing to privileging time reading – no matter if it’s newspapers, magazines, or books – you are sending the message to your children that reading and being readers is important in your household. By making time to talk about what you’ve read and ask one another questions, you’re signaling to your children that reading can be a social activity and part of the joy of reading can be discussing the stories and ideas you encounter. Allowing everyone to read whatever they choose also gives you the chance to model a balanced reading diet that mixes fiction and non-fiction, short and long-form, current events and classics. Perhaps the best part? No planning required. Put it on the family calendar, and read.
If you and your children know you’re going to have some time to read each week, it’s a great catalyst to visiting your local public library to browse and check out new books. This is also an easy way to access texts without worrying about your family’s budget.
The more students read, the better they get at it. Winter break is a chance for your children to access many district library books.
The Whole Story
One thing research has show – the amount of reading your student does over the course of their time in kindergarten through high school has an effect on how well they comprehend complex ideas, vocabulary, new concepts. St. Vrain Valley Schools are working hard to make sure our students have access to quality books no matter where they may be.
You kids have three specific ways to access books through the District.
- MyOn – For elementary and middle school students, the myon library has a wide selection of digital books students can read on their own or listen and read along with. Many schools in SVVSD run challenges trying to get their students to read as many minutes in MyOn books as possible during the school year.
- Physical Libraries – Every SVVSD school library has a wide selection of physical books your children can check out over break. During the last week before break, consider challenging your kids to check out new books to read as a family over break.
- The SVVSD District Digital Library – If you have a computer, tablet, or smartphone in your home, you have a device on which you and your students can access and read books from our district digital library. Everyone from our youngest readers to adults can find a high-interest book in the library.
BONUS: Your local public library will be ready, willing, and excited to welcome you and your children to browse and check out physical and digital books over winter break.
Take on a family winter reading challenge. Visit your local public library or your children’s school library and set a reading goal for winter break. Maybe it’s a family goal for the whole house. Maybe it’s a per person goal. Maybe it’s a competition to see who can read the most pages. Either way, set a goal and track progress. The refrigerator is a great way to keep track of reading progress.
Does your family have any special reading routines? Share them in the comments below!
Two factors that can help kids improve their reading and thinking about reading: 1) Having role models who help them see the skills they’re working to develop, 2) Having opportunities to question and answer questions about what they’ve read. Family or neighborhood book groups can help your children get these opportunities and build their skills and identities as readers.
The Whole Story
The idea here is not an unfamiliar or complex one. The steps to follow are:
- Pick a book.
- Set a time.
- Read the book.
- Discuss the book.
Some key variations to consider are:
- Rotating the selection of the book across family members.
- Make it larger than the household. If you’ve got extended family or grandparents who might want to join the group from afar, think about tools like FaceTime and Skype to help them connect. Also consider adding neighbors or family friends to the book group to show your kids they are part of a community of readers.
- Brainstorm some standing questions. If you’re worried getting conversation started might be difficult, sit with your children to think about how you might jumpstart a book conversation.
- Consult with your kids’ English or language arts teacher on key topics, book suggestions, or language you might try to incorporate to show school learning has a place in the home.
- Make it about conversation and enjoying the book. There will be plenty of time for lessons on reading.
Following a conversation with the electives teachers at Coal Ridge Middle School about how to foster a school-wide culture of reading and writing, Instructional Teacher Librarian Karen Hoppis took one question “How do we help students see their teachers as readers?” and built a solution.
Hoppis utilized Green Screen by Do Ink to stock the CRMS library with teacher book recommendations that literally show students’ teachers as readers. Thrilled by this tweet, I asked Hoppis to write a few words about how she did it. Ever an overachiever, she created the slidedeck below to help teachers and teacher librarians replicate and build on her process.
Take a look. Make it your own. If you have other ideas you’re using to build a school-wide culture of reading and writing, share them in the comments below.
While we aren’t all English teachers, it’s unlikely to find a teacher whose students wouldn’t perform better if they had more tools for reading content across all disciplines. The FYI website not only provides curated current articles aligned with standards and other English curriculum resources, it provides clear tips for helping students access, analyze, and apply information within authentic non-fiction texts. These articles and tips can be accessed in a moment’s notice to ask students to find a piece of interesting and relevant content for evaluation.
The Whole Story
Somewhere between the middle child or second cousin of HMH’s Collections curricular resources is their FYI website, a curated collection of current event articles aligned with the topics and content students explore as they move through units of study in SVVSD’s secondary English classes. The content is pulled from CNN to Science Daily, from the White House to The Columbus Dispatch.
Teachers helping students learn content and skills from any discipline would be hard-pressed to go poking around FYI and not find something relevant to their classrooms. And while timely content is already a plus for secondary schools, it’s the help in improving reading skills teachers outside English classrooms might find most helpful.
FYI’s “Reading Tips” tab includes a sidebar with help in navigating “Key Ideas and Details”, Craft and Structure”, “Integration of Knowledge and Ideas”, and “Research” – each with its own subsections.
A science teacher hoping to help students access the latest climate change study from Nature could draft some quick questions for investigation and point students to the relevant pages for tips on making sure their answers hit the mark.
History teachers helping their students understand political systems in post-colonial countries around the world could help students draft a list of questions they’re curious about and then help them review the relevant reading tips to help make sure their answers are top-notch.
Algebra teachers looking to help students pull out the most pressing details from a complicated word problem might ask students to take 10 minutes to find a reading strategy that could best help them unlock a barrier to understanding.
How are you helping students access materials to unpack non-fiction texts? Leave some examples in the comments.
In the car, at the dinner table or in any other family space, take turns talking about what you’ve been reading – books, magazines, newspapers, content for work. If it’s your turn to share, talk about whether you like or dislike what you’re reading and explain why. Once sharers have finished, ask follow-up questions and make comments that offer connections between what they’ve read and other texts.
The Whole Story
It’s easy to think of reading and writing with your child as the only components of helping them become better readers and writers. While these are both tremendously powerful tools for helping them develop key skills and identities, they aren’t the only tools. By making time to talk about what you and your child are reading, and modeling what it sounds like for engaged readers to express their ideas, you’re adding another layer to family literacy.
When thinking about where these conversations might be helpful, consider one of the historically-dreaded conversations between families and their school-going students:
Family: How was school?
F: What did you do?
(Family member makes frustrated face.)
The goal with family reading conversations is to avoid the headache above, get to know what your child is doing in school, and help them learn to talk about their learning in productive ways.
- Model. Expecting your child to know how to talk about their thoughts and feelings about a text they’re reading without having any model to base it off of is dooming the conversation from the start. Consider the following steps:
- State a specific fact or opinion about something/anything you’ve read.
- Follow up with some piece of evidence or a memorable quotation from the reading to illustrate your point.
- Ask what your child thinks about the idea or opinion.
- Ask a specific question. Your child’s day likely includes no fewer than lessons on 5 separate subjects, all of them asking for retention of new material. Asking, “What did you do/learn about?” can very well bring back a flood of ideas that might be overwhelming to attempt to recount all at once. Thus, “Nothing.” Asking, “What is something you read today?” and then following up with, “What did you think about it?” or “Who was a character you liked/hated?” gives a more pointed line of thinking and can help your child organize their thinking for expression.
- Share. If you read a news article that’s particularly interesting, share it with your child. If they have a text they’ve read they enjoyed, ask to borrow it. By showing interest and treating reading as peer activity, you’re inviting your child to be part of a community of readers.
If you’re worried your child will have trouble remembering what they’ve read, send a quick note to their teacher asking questions like, “What are you reading in class right now?” “What’s it about?” “Who are some main characters or what are some big ideas we could talk about at home?” These details can jump start conversation and show your child you’re willing to invest time in their learning too.
Take time, no matter the grade level of your child to read aloud or have them read aloud to you. This can be in the car, waiting in line, before bed, or anywhere a book will travel. Read alouds help build your student’s ability to pronounce new words and models the habits of a good reader. Pausing every once in a while to ask what they thought of what they heard or asking for a summary can strengthen the experience.
The Whole Story:
This one may seem simple at the face of it. Reading aloud to children is a frequent occurrence in many homes right before bedtime. Unfortunately, the bulk of parents cease the tradition before their children have finished developing as readers. Reading aloud to your child need not be relegated to the hour immediately before bed, either.
Here are some quick, easy ideas on how and when to bring read alouds into broader family time.
- Keep a book with you at all times. Whether waiting in line, at a restaurant for a meal, or in a doctor’s waiting room, take those extra minutes to fit in some family reading time (instead of texting time).
- Use time in the car as a chance for your child to show off their reading skills. For older students who may be able to read aloud, switch the roles of a read aloud and ask them to read to you while you drive. If your child can’t read on their own yet, check your local or school library for an audio copy of whatever book your reading and have your child follow along.
- Similar to the above, use moments at home when you might be busy – preparing a meal, loading the washing machine, etc. – to ask your child to read aloud to you to pass the time and get in some practice.
- Pull in other family members. Read alouds can be about helping your students learn to read, by including other family members as readers or other listeners, you can help your child see good models of listening and engaging in conversations about reading as well.
Making the Most of Read Alouds:
- Question. This can either be to ask questions to check to see if your child is comprehending, find out what they think/feel about events in a book, or ask them what questions they have about what’s happening.
- Model. Especially for readers in elementary and middle school, you can be a great model of reading by thinking aloud as you read or are being read to. Thoughts like, “That’s a difficult word, let me try saying it one piece at a time,” or “That character is similar to another character in the last book we read,” help your child to hear how readers experience texts.
- Take turns. Whether it’s selecting the next book, reading the next paragraph or deciding when to pause to talk about what you’ve read, take turns with your child so that they can own the reading process as well. If you’re going to model as suggested above, this is a great way to help your child get practice thinking, speaking, and acting like the reader you want them to be.
- Balance your reading diet. While books of all types are important for your child to investigate, think about many different types of materials to include. If you find an interesting story in a newspaper or online, practice reading aloud with that. Let your child see the variety of reading opportunities available to them.
Writing summaries has been shown to improve memory, comprehension and reading in general. Writing letters, postcards, emails with your child can be a great way to help them write with a real audience in mind while also practicing their summarization skills.
The Whole Story:
Few experiences hold the same joy as going to the mailbox to find a letter, note, or postcard waiting for you. From a literacy standpoint, few practices bring the same kind of comprehension and retention as writing summaries. With these two ideas in mind, this week’s family literacy recommendation is to sit with your child and write letters on a regular basis.
By asking your child to write a letter to a friend or family member about their day, their week, or an important event in their life, you’re asking them to practice the skill of summarizing – a skill research has repeatedly show to aid in comprehension and memory.
- Brainstorm with your child a list of possible letter recipients. These could be friends or family (near or far). As you’re brainstorming, think about prioritizing those recipients who are most likely to reply to your child’s letter. Part of the fun of sending mail is the prospect of receiving mail in return.
- Build a tradition of letter writing into family trips and events. If you head to the park to play, discuss the trip with your child on the way home and write a letter together describing the trip to friends or family. Keep up the same thing for major school events, family vacations, etc.
- Write to your child if you’re traveling for work or even having a good day, writing a letter to your child can help to model the practice and shows them you were thinking of them.
- Make it hyper-local. Set up your own inside mailbox in your home. Make a habit of writing letters to other immediate family members. Ask your child if they’ll design family stamps, decorate family envelopes. Especially in busy households, an in-house mailbox can be a way to keep people connected.
- Go electronic. While handwritten letters are enjoyable, typing emails to friends and family can be a way for your child to communicate with many recipients in a short period of time. For younger writers, ask who they’d like to email and then help them to find the appropriate keys or offer to type for them as they dictate. As you type, put down their thoughts verbatim and then read what they’ve said back to your child, asking them if there are things they notice and would like to change.
- For those working with older students, researcher Robert Marzano has this helpful article about approaching the task of summary writing.
- The Real Life at Home blog has this thoughtful post about the importance of summarizing and how parents of younger readers and writers can build the practice into family routines.
- For more research on the importance and approach of summarizing, see this article from Valerie Anderson and Suzanne Hidi.
This post is part of a series to support SVVS families as they help their children grow as readers, writers, listeners, and speakers.
Establishing a word wall in your home using your child’s school vocabulary words and others can be an easy way to help support their growth as readers and writers.
As you’ve visited your child’s classroom, you’ve probably noticed a wall or a section of a wall covered in large words, maybe hand-written and pasted on pieces of construction paper. These are word walls, and they’ve become a foundational practice for teachers working to help students get as many opportunities to interact with language as possible. All of this aligns with the National Council of Teachers of English’s 1997 Resolution on the Importance of a Print-Rich Classroom Environment.
Building a home word wall can be a helpful way to support your child’s reading and learning. Here are some simple steps, along with some suggested activities for making it useful:
- Start collecting words from the vocabulary your child’s classes at school. This could be suggested vocabulary sent home in newsletters by teachers or by collecting the bolded or unfamiliar words encountered in school reading. Add to these words by keeping an eye out for interesting and new vocabulary you encounter during family reading or out in the world.
- Select a space in your home where you can post and keep your collected words. This could be a blank wall, the refrigerator door, or any other shared space. While it may make sense to put the word wall in your child’s bedroom, choosing a shared space sends a signal that reading and writing are family activities.
- Either handwrite or type and print your words to be posted to your word wall. Be careful to make sure your words can be read from afar, so you don’t need to move too close before you have a conversation about what they mean.
- Talk about and use the words on your wall in regular conversation or using some of the applications recommended below.
Application (E=Elementary, M=Middle, H=High, A=All)
- Visiting Word. After you have worked on a word wall for a substantial period of time, add a “visiting” word. This encourages your child to do a review of the word wall as they hunt for the new word. Present the visiting word as the new word for the day. (E, M)
- Word Pictures. Divide the family into teams. Each team select one of the words from the word wall and illustrate it on a piece of paper. The opposing team gets a point for a correct guess and illustrates another word. (A)
- Categories. Work as a family to create categories and group the words from the word wall to fit those categories. Set the number of words that are allowed in a “miscellaneous” category and create a maximum and minimum number of categories that can be used. This activity could be done individually first; then share and compare your categories. Each family member can share their groups of words with the family who guess the principle behind the sorting. (M, H, A)
- Word of the Day. Choose a “Word of the Day.” Have everyone in the family use the “Word of the Day” meaningfully throughout their days. When you are back together in the car, at the dinner table, before bed, take turns talking about where you used your word throughout your days. (A)
- Unfolding Five Words in a Story. Family members are given a word wall word every two-minutes for ten minutes (five words in total) to incorporate into a story they are writing on a topic of their choice. When a new word is given, everyone works that word into their story immediately. Encourage everyone to write continuously and quickly during the ten minutes. Family members share their stories. For new writers in the family, consider paring them with more mature writers. (A)
- The applications above were modified from Word Walls: A Support for Literacy in Secondary School Classrooms by Jennifer Cronsberry. You can find many more throughout her article and modify them to fit your home use.
- This Reading Mama has this post of her favorite Word Wall Activities.
- The New Jersey Department of Education has this to say about building a home word wall.