For the Love of Reading
Creative Ways Parents & Educators can Team up for Reading
There’s Power in Educators and Parents Working Together
By Laura Robb
Fourth grader Jasmine’s first words as she walked into my office were, “I hate reading.” During the rest of our thirty minutes together we talked about her passion for dancing and her love of riding her bike after school. “I could play outside and dance for hours,” she told me. And by the end of our third time together, I discovered that even though Jasmine focused wholeheartedly on play and dancing, she could concentrate on reading a self-selected book for about ten-minutes and about twelve-minutes when I read aloud to her.
I also learned that her parents had stopped reading to Jasmine in second grade when a teacher told them that she should do the reading now. After explaining why it was important for both parents to read aloud to Jasmine, her mom and dad agreed to share the responsibility. They started with picture books, then read Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan and the Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. I recommended the parents not question Jasmine’s recall and avoid putting her on the spot. I suggested they share a personal response such as, “I hope father likes Sarah when she comes.” Soon, Jasmine was offering a comment, and that was enough to let us know she was listening, remembering the story, and enjoying it.
The turn-around read aloud for Jasmine was Charlotte’s Web by E.B. Lewis. When I gave the book to her mom, Jasmine insisted she would “hate it” because it was long. I suggested that she listen to the first four chapters and then decide, for there’s no point in asking a child to listen to a book that she doesn’t want to hear. However, the story captured her imagination, and her parents reported that evening read alouds were now 30-minutes because Jasmine wanted to hear more. “I love that book,” Jasmine told me, “and I never want it to end.”
“It won’t end,” I said. ‘The characters are in your heart and mind and you can visit parts of the story any time. You can also read the book because you know so much about it. Two weeks later, Jasmine brought Charlotte’s Web to me and asked, “Can we read it together and talk about it like we do others [books]?
“Of course,” I replied, smiling inwardly; and we began.
What Can We Learn From This Literacy Snapshot?
The first takeaway is important: be patient and don’t force children to read a text when you see great resistance. Start with the child’s interests and conversations will eventually turn to reading. Bring the parents into the discussion as they know their child and can help you explore possible ways to offer support.
In Jasmine’s case building her interest in stories and reading was my primary goal, and reading aloud was an excellent pathway. In fact, teachers, parents, and school leaders can and should read aloud to students, because daily read aloud develop:
Listening capacity, the ability to focus on the read aloud for 15 or more minutes.
Students’ knowledge of different genres and how each one works.
A desire to read a beloved book the parent or teacher read to them.
The ability to understand literary language.
Empathy and compassion for beloved characters and people.
A desire to hear more of the story and increase listening capacity.
The background knowledge and vocabulary that students need to read, enjoy, and comprehend diverse texts.
As Jasmine’s parents continued to read aloud every night, I began discussing independent reading with her. At her school, independent reading was homework. “That’s what I hate,” Jasmine tells me. “They give me the book and I don’t like it. So I don’t do it.” Her parents tell me that the independent reading homework they have to sign off on causes many arguments between them and Jasmine. Independent reading should happen at school and children should be able to choose books from their classroom library and school media center. Moreover, asking parents to sign off on their child’s independent reading shows a lack of trust.
The WHY Behind Independent Reading
Research clearly shows that independent reading has multiple benefits to students. Even with skilled teaching, students need to independently read self-selected books at school in order to gain the practice and eventually transfer to reading at home. More than forty years of research by Richard Allington, Stephen Krashen, Donalyn Miller, Stephanie Harvey & Annie Ward, Gravity Goldberg & Renee Houser, and Laura Robb & Evan Robb show that independent reading increases students reading volume and is the key to continual literacy development. During independent reading, students practice and apply the strategies they learn from instructional reading and interactive read alouds. A study by Scholastic reveals that students who read every day at school tend to outscore students on standardized tests who avoid independent reading.
What Educators and Parents Can Do
When educators and parents collaborate and read aloud to children as well as nurture independent reading, children can become lifelong readers who turn to books to learn and for entertainment. Here’ some things that need to happen:
School leaders can offer teachers the research on reading aloud and independent reading and encourage them to make time for both. Moreover, money needs to be allocated annually to individual schools to build and enlarge classroom libraries and the school’s media center.
Parents can consult with the school’s librarian and their child’s teachers to receive recommendations for books to read aloud at home. It’s also helpful when parents read independently, share their enjoyment of diverse reading materials, and provide a positive model for their children.
Both educators and parents can support students’ reading by forging relationships with their community public library. Schools can raise family’s awareness of events at public libraries that adults and children might enjoy, and parents can take their children to the library to check out books and participate in special programs.
By forming a partnership to help children read with pleasure and enjoyment, educators and parents can offer every child the opportunity to become a lifelong reader. The chance of this happening is far greater when both groups work together.