Implementing an At-Home Reading Program
Extending literacy experiences to the home increases student fluency and confidence in reading. There are many successful ways to encourage and provide interesting at-home reading and writing activities. Please share ideas that have been successful for your students and families by commenting on this entry. Here are a few collected ideas:
1. Make or buy read-along audio tapes/CDs for books that can be checked-out. This is especially helpful for families struggling with time and language. If you have a class website, make the recordings available online as well as a list of sites (like Starfall) that have online books. Remember, not all families have equal access to technology. See if your site will buy inexpensive personal cassette/CD players that can be made available for check-out. For younger students, use favorites that have been read aloud in class and books with patterned language. For older students, recordings can be made by chapter. This can scaffold reading/comprehension for struggling students. Enlist students to help make recordings as an in-class fluency activity. Highlight these books in class and out them in a location with easy-access. Publicizing the books will make the program more popular as well as introduce students to new genres.
2. Include Task cards that prompt discussion or writing activities that can be done with the take-home books. Have the letter translated into appropriate languages for the students and families in your class.
3. Have a check-out procedure. Find one that works for you. Enlist the help of the librarian and create this resource for the entire school. For personal classroom use, create a chart that the kids can manage independently. Have children model how to select a book and check-out/in. Start with only a few children until the procedure becomes rote. Then gradually add more participants.
Parents' First Homework: Letter and Baby Picture
In the beginning of the year, to initiate contact and start the year positively, I send a letter home entitled, Parents First Homework.
In the letter, I state the importance of parent-teacher communication. I ask them to write a letter in response, telling me (the teacher) about their child: What are your child's strengths, interests, passions? What goals do you have for your child this year? What are your expectations? What is the best way to contact you? What has worked for your child? What hasn't worked?
In essence, I am asking for input and validating their role as parent educator. I am involving them in the process of education right away. I have always received a letter from every parent. Some letters are pages of typewritten notes, others are handwritten. All of them are positive and filled with high hopes.
I use the information on the first day of school, making sure that I have books available that match student interests.
I also ask for a small, framed picture (or baby picture) of the child to display in the classroom all year. When the students arrive, these are already placed around the classroom, welcoming them and telling them they are already valued members of the classroom community.
Modification (for older students): Have a "Guess Who?" wall with their baby pictures displayed on the first day. Use this to inspire the first writing assignment, clues that will help students get to know one another and figure out "whose who".
Multiple Perspectives on Education
North American education is often supportive of an emergent literacy learning model that believes in children constructing their own meaning through interactions with peers, the teacher, and the environment (exploration).
However, this is not the only model of learning. Anderson and Gunderson (1997) state "different cultural groups have different ways of teaching and learning and different view of what it means to teach and learn."
Here are some key differences:
- approximation and invention are encouraged (ex. invented spelling)
- developmental stages of learning (reading, writing, fine motor control, social skills...)
- teachers are facilitators of learning; direct teaching can be downplayed
- much student talk
OTHER LEARNING MODELS (namely the TRANSMISSION model)
- accuracy and precision are emphasized from the beginning
- teachers should impart information, students should retain it (less student talk)
- frequent assessment
- emphasis on memorization
The purpose of pointing out the differences in learning models is not to decide which is better, but to realize that there are different models. Differences in experience lead to different expectations. Thus, parental expectations can differ from those held by the teacher and/or the school.
What is true of parents and teachers, who might believe in different models of instruction, is that they both seek "what is best" for the children.
Capitalizing on this shared interest, teachers can:
- "honor and respect parents' beliefs while at the same time help them understand the reasons behind "our" literacy programs (Anderson & Gunderson, 1997).
- inform parents frequently of the nature and expectations of curriculum (when appropriate reference research/researchers)
- use portfolios of student work to evidence teaching and learning
- invite parents into the classroom so they can see a broader view of learning
- encourage parents to support their children at home in ways that are familiar to them
- provide a range of learning activities
This list is definitely not exhaustive and it's not meant to be...There really are no simple answers. I think the value is in the questions that arise and the discussions that follow.
For more information, see Literacy Learning Outside the Classroom, The Reading Teacher, 50, 514-516, March 1997.
Book Recommendations Using Scholastic Book Orders
I attached a sample of a cover letter I attached to Scholastic book orders I sent home. The cover letter can be used as a way to teach parents how to look for "Just-Right" books for their children. I start the letter with a reading/writing tip, usually one we have been focusing on in the classroom. Then I choose 8-10 books per flyer to recommend, including descriptions about the genres, comprehension tips...
Cultural Pluralism: Getting to Know Families and Inviting Them Into the Classroom
In order to provide culturally relevant instruction, a teacher needs to become aware of their students' cultural habits, morals, and traditions. I believe the best way to do this is to use primary resources, by inviting the families of students into the classroom or by going to where the parents are...visiting students at home or in their community.
Much research has indicated the benefit to student academic achievement when parents are involved in their education. ( Decker and White-Clark ,1999; Eccles and Harold,1993; Clark, 1983; Comer, 1984, 1986, 1989; Epstein, 1984, 1989, 1991; Parsons, 1982; Wigfield, et al., 1997). Schools and teachers play a critical role in encouraging parents to become involved in education. Teachers have to make a special effort to become aware of and include families that feel marginalized. Students become more successful when school experiences are relevant to their lives and encouraged at home through collaborative interactions with parents, teachers, and students.
You can make lessons more relevant by integrating the language, cultural, and familial experience that children bring from home into the classroom (Hiebert & Raphael, 1998; Laklik, Dellinger, & Druggish, 2003; Strickland, Galda, & Cullinan, 2004). Knowing that they are represented and respected within the classroom, students will increase their sense of safety and self-esteem followed by increased motivation.
The Electronic Magazine of Multicultural Education (White-Clark, Lappin) lists “nine principles” necessary for effective parent involvement in diverse settings. Educators must:
- believe in the importance of parent involvement;
- embody an ethic of caring;
- disregard “hard-to-reach” stereotypes;
- develop high expectations for all parents;
- conceptualize the role of parents;
- actualize the role of educator;
- be willing to address personal concerns;
- understand the framework of parent involvement programs; and
- be willing to improve parent involvement. (White-Clark & Decker, 1996, p. 31)
They also state, "Parents from multicultural and diverse backgrounds are often reluctant to become involved in school activities; they are often unaware of their legal rights... Parents often struggle to get help for their child, and parents of minority or low-income backgrounds are particularly likely to have difficulty (Harry, 1995; Marion, 1979; Obiakor & Ford, 2002; Ford & Grantham, 2003). In addition, parents of children with special needs often struggle with issues of guilt and self-esteem and face additional responsibilities in terms of time, energy, and finances. Many experience a cycle of grief not unlike dealing with death. In coping with the stress of raising a child with disabilities, many families may experience a sense of social isolation."
As teachers, we can make a difference. Here is a list, by no means exhaustive, of ideas to address cultural relevancy in education:
- Welcome all families into the school, especially those families from diverse backgrounds and families of children with special needs.
- Listen to the families. Invite them to share their stories in the classroom. Ask for input and ideas. Newsletters and conferences are a good start; some families need home-visits. (Ask the family before arriving to make sure they are comfortable with this.)
- Make sure your curriculum represents your students and their families
- Use community resources, including the families of your students. Partner with community resources.Recommend community resources to the families and help link them. (ex. Project Read, other library, city, and national services) It is often, not enough, to just share the resource. Some families will need you to play a more active role, helping them access and get in touch with a representative from the resource.
- Plan home activities that are easily incorporated into family routine: ex. reading recipes, measuring, and cooking while helping to prepare family meals.
- Use multicultural books (see tab in this website)
- Recommend books to families and teach them how to select high quality literature. Emphasize motivation, even if that includes the children selecting books in series that you might not deem "high quality."
- Avoid assumptions: recognize barriers to parent involvement and address them. "Barriers to parent involvement often come about due to language differences, employment burdens, cultural differences, confusion about what to do, lack of schools’ support for diversity, and negative attitudes by school personnel toward families with diverse backgrounds and needs." (White-Clark, Lappin).
- "Have high expectations for all families and take a leadership role in organizing, evaluating, and reflectively building their family involvement practices (Epstein, 1991) by embracing an ethic of caring."