Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Parents Need to Be Doing More Reading at Home with Their Striving Teens….or Do They?

When children are little and are first developing communication, it seems fairly intuitive that speech is the building block of communication for our little ones. It is through speech that children learn to understand their world and communicate with others--each speech interaction becoming in some way a learning experience (That is a dog! Look at the tree! Is this Yellow? Yes, I’ll read you this story again! Can you say b-b-b-ball?).

The link between oral language and the written word is just simply irrefutable when we think back to how our own children developed first speech and then reading abilities. However, if we need some research to support this language connection, the National Reading Panel (NPR) commissioned a report, to evaluate the evidence and to come up with recommendations on the most effective ways to teach reading. The panel came up with five components that are central to teaching reading.  

Page 1 Parent Talk Handout
Rights reserved. If you would like to use this poster, contact me (and we will give permission!)

The first two of the 5 essential components of reading, as identified by the NPR, deal directly with speechy-type areas:  phonemic awareness and phonics instruction. The first being an awareness of the smallest units of speech sounds and the latter being the connection of those speech sounds (phonemes) to letters.

Arguably, two other components in the NPR’s framework are also highly speechy. Fluency, which is the ability of a reader to read with appropriate speed, accuracy and expression. And vocabulary, which can be learned incidentally through listening to others speak.

For those of you who are interested, the last component of the NPR’s reading model is comprehension, which is defined as “complex cognitive processes that readers use to understand what they have read.”

Clearly speech and reading are connected. One of the best descriptions I  have heard about the relationship between speech and reading is much less scientific, but fairly compelling: text is just talk set down in squiggles. Adults seem to naturally intuit this as they play and interact with toddlers first learning the language and first learning to read. Many solid literacy practices are somewhat second nature for caregivers. This clarity starts to wane, however,  as our children become teens.

Fast forward to the teenage years in the classroom.

We have a student who is a struggling, striving, reluctant or resistant reader. The teachers are doing everything they can think of to support the reader in school, but recognize more has to be done to get this student’s reading abilities caught up. So they start to send home reading for the parents to do at home with the student, and/or maybe they are frustrated that the parents are not doing more reading at home with their child. I think many of can imagine how this turns out in many cases. Let’s stop this scenario here.

What if, instead, we took a look back to:
  • The formative literacy practices that helped children  learn language;
  • The science behind how to teach reading (NPR’s recommendations);
  • Our own intuition about the connection between talk and written language;
  • And our belief that teens are still developing language (they are not done learning yet!)

Thinking about these things, what if folks who worked with teen striving readers asked parents to go back to some of those early language and literacy development activities that parents were familiar with, felt confident in, and were less anxiety-inducing than reading with a teen who hates to read (these practices should receive a  bit of a “teen upgrade”, of course).  

What if we asked caregivers to shore up the reading efforts and language development activities of the school by working in the oral language domain? What if caregivers did more of the one-on-one TALK with students (The one-on-one talk which is so difficult to find time for during the school day) and left the FORMAL READING INSTRUCTION and PRACTICE to schools? How would this scenario play out? I’m not sure, but I would love to find out.

Page 2 Parent Talk Handout
Rights reserved. If you would like to use this poster, contact me (and we will give permission!)

Here at EIPS my colleague Stephanie Dodyk and I have been working on a one-pager (double sided) TALK handout for caregivers of teens to assist them to support language development through speechy talk stuff. Here is a link to that document for those of you who might be interested in giving this a try. I would love to hear how it goes or if you have any suggestions for improvement. For all you non-EIPS folks out there, I have the document link permission to our school domain only. If you would like a me to share a copy, please send a request with a note and I will share it with you!

Yours in (Oral) Literacy,

Janice and Stephanie

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