I'm looking forward to the new school year. While I love teaching, I think that I love playing librarian even more. I love watching my students grow into little bookworms. Reading is a contagious habit. Over the summer, however, "not reading" is also a contagious habit.
Even our most avid readers may begin to fall behind on reading over the summer. If your child hasn't touched a book in months, it can be hard to get them back into the habit of reading. Start the school year off right by finding your child the perfect "first day of school" book -- one that they can't put down that also promotes reading growth!
When students take our placement test, I'm able to pinpoint almost exactly what they SHOULD be reading. I'm also able to tell what they ARE reading. These two criteria don't always match and it can be detrimental to student reading growth. So, what SHOULD your child be reading? Well, the answer is both simple and complicated.
Students should be reading at, or slightly above, their ability level. If a student is consistently reading books below their ability level then their reading comprehension skills aren't going to grow. For our advanced readers, it's important to find a balance. It's OK to read easier books, but we should also present students with books that are appropriate to their reading abilities.
Parents often ask me why their child must qualify in both math and reading to take a math class with us. Reading is a very important aspect to math. Think about it. Math requires vocabulary. Math has word problems. Without word problems, calculations are obsolete. Who cares what "4 x 5" equals if you don't know what you can use it for? The more obvious reason -- textbooks!! Yes, our students read their math textbooks -- and they love them!! Science, history, engineering, computer science --- they all require the ability to read.
So, here are a few easy steps to finding your child the 'right book.'
1. Find out what they CAN read.
The easiest way to find out what your child can read is to have their reading comprehension skills assessed. Our placement test provides us with an RIT score which can be converted to Lexile, A-Z reading scales, and more. I can even pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses by strand -- vocabulary acquisition, literature, and informational text. If this isn't an option, you may be able to find a center near you that offers some sort of reading assessment.
Alternatively, you can talk to your child about what they are reading! Do they know what is happening in the book from start to finish? Can they identify the problem or conflict? Can they compare this text to other texts they've read? Can they explain to you why they liked, or did not like, the book? Do they have a favorite character? Why do they like this character? You don't have to read the book to talk to them about these things! If your child is repeatedly responding to these questions with comments such as "I don't remember," "I don't know," "just because," etc then it is likely that they either (1) did not actually read the book or (2) did not understand the book. In this case, it is probable that the book is too hard. However, I will note that some students will pretend to read books when they find them boring because they are too easy. So, this method requires a bit of insight into your particular child or some experience in reading instruction.
If, however, the child can answer most of these questions, it may be time to explore something a bit more challenging. Is your child reading a chapter book per day? It might be time to step them up to something a bit more challenging. Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan (currently under $7 on Amazon!) is a GREAT place to start. The book might look 'big and intimidating' but it's not! Let them open the book and flip through a few pages. Point out that there really aren't that many more words per page! I bet they can read it in 1 - 2 weeks if they read 20 minutes per day! [Side note: This book is particularly great because it appeals to a younger audience. PLUS, there is a picture book companion! Are they still intimidated by the page count? Let them read the picture book first!]
2. Find out what they LIKE
If your child is already an avid reader, this step is pretty easy. Websites such as Amazon and Good Reads can be a great source to help you find books similar to your child's favorite book. You can also take the opportunity to expand their horizons. If your child LOVES Percy Jackson, you might want to consider picking out some books on Greek Mythology. If your child loves Harry Potter, you might want to consider books on witchcraft, wizardry, or historical events such as The Salem Witch Trials. For children that love science fiction, you might want to try out some books on space or technology. You can also check out my recommended reading lists by clicking here.
If your child isn't an avid reader, or their reading habits have started to wane, this task can seem a bit more daunting. However, it's not really that much more complicated. Pick out books based on the TV shows that they watch, the video games that they play, or even their favorite hobbies. Does your child love LEGOs? There are books about LEGOs! If your child is always asking you hundreds of questions, you might want to check out some kids encyclopedias or fact books.
3. Pick a book or two for yourself!
Now, why would I tell you to find a book to read in a blog post about children's reading? Well, the answer is simple. If your child sees you reading then they'll want to read too!
4. Purchase or borrow some books based on your results from Step 2!
Then, set aside a set time each day to read. It doesn't have to take over your entire evening. Twenty minutes per day goes a long way! It helps to have a comfy reading spot. Orb chairs, giant teddy bears, and bean bags all make great reading spots. Start to track your reading with a star chart. If you're using a Kindle, the Kindle for Kids edition allows you to track how many pages you read per day, week, month, etc. You get medals for reaching certain milestones. It's a lot of fun! I'm not a huge fan of 'digital reading' but, if it helps a reluctant reader find joy in reading then I'll take it!
The Results: All of my students in grades 4+ are fully literate. These students are reading at a higher level than the average 11th/12th grade student. Students who actively participated in the reading program surpassed the predicted growth metric by an average of 6.7 points. Students who did not actively participate in the reading program fell 1.2 points shy of the predicted growth metric. To put this into perspective, students average about 5 points of growth per year on this assessment.
When I woke up this morning, my thoughts were focused on the day's events. It's a Saturday. This is one of my busiest days of the week. Students are attending classes. I'm teaching classes. Moreover, today we have an Open House. I didn't foresee starting my Language Arts class with a discussion regarding pronouns. My fourth grade language arts class understands pronouns. They know that he is a singular masculine pronoun. She is a singular feminine pronoun. It is a pronoun typically used to refer to a thing, although, "it" can also refer to a person. "It" can be used to identify a gender neutral person.
Perhaps I’ve just reached ‘that age’ where I look at new age technology and slang with disdain. Perhaps, however, this new “Millennial Language” is a true detriment to one of the most evolved, efficient and productive languages across the globe – The English Language. A 2010 study did indeed determine that English is the most efficient language, encoding more information per syllable than any other language. We, as humans, possess a unique ability called reflexivity – the ability to use language to reflect upon language and its use. This ability is what allowed the English language to become such a complex and productive language.
Yet, this Millennial Language which consists of “Emoji Speak,” creative acronyms, slang and abbreviations is a movement towards a less evolved, less efficient, and less productive language. We are reverting to the times of the Ancient Egyptians; we are communicating with arbitrary symbols and less specific utterances.