Finding the freedom to read to the fullest
by Matt Wagoner
Elkin Elementary School teacher
Over last few months, Mrs. Wells and I have given sixth grade students at Elkin Elementary School the opportunity to read with first grade students during a reading buddy program on Friday mornings each week.
Half of the students from my class would venture to Mrs. Wells’ classroom and half of Mrs. Wells’ class would trek to my room. After the initial meeting, both of us knew the program would be a hit with both sets of students. As the next Thursday rolled around both classes were asking questions like, “Are we going to read with the first graders again?” and “Are our reading buddies coming this week?”
They did get to read with their reading buddies again that week and for several weeks following. Both sets of students learned many lessons during that time. One lesson in particular became paramount: when young readers watch older readers, they learn that reading is both important and fun.
Over the years, many things have changed in education. How we assess student’s learning, what we assess in student’s learning, whom we assess, when we assess, what we teach, how we teach, and the list goes on.
However, one constant has remained. For students to become better readers, here’s the secret: they must read!
Now, before you criticize that statement as simple, plain, and obvious, think about what it unpacks. Did you love to read as a child?
What did you love to do if it wasn’t reading? Why didn’t you love to read? What would it have taken to get you to read more often? These are just a small sampling of the questions teacher and parents alike are wrestling with daily. Many years of research have gone by and many findings have been both helpful and not so helpful.
What the majority agrees on is that children need assistance in finding a genre they crave to read, and then they need the freedom to read to their fullest. When children read what they want to read they will not only read more often but also will experience more growth when their favorite genre is paired with a good book within their reading ability.
The easiest way to find that is to let him try a few books he likes. Use a “three strikes” rule. Missing three words on a page means the book is too difficult for him to enjoy on his own. Ask him a couple of questions about what he read so you know he understands and can talk about the book. Get the book and let him loose to read and talk with you about what he’s reading. Then reading will become more fun because you’re doing it together. His “fun reading” will become practice in learning how to become a better reader overall.
Here are some suggestions I have found over the years that have helped many parents.
First, let your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, stepchildren, and any child that looks up to you, see you reading and enjoying what you read. Second, talk with children about what you’re reading and about what they’re reading. Open up the flow of dialogue so they know they can tell you about what they love and hate in the texts they encounter. Thirdly, set aside time to read with them and to them. Take turns reading some books that have text a little too difficult for them but not so difficult as to make the frustrated.
You can help them as they wrestle with unfamiliar words and can model how to read them. Read to children anytime during the day or at bedtime each day. Start a habit of doing this with them daily and it will serve both as a teachable moment and as a relationship builder between the two of you.
Finally, develop a strong relationship between you, your child, and your child’s teacher. When your child sees that you and their teacher both value reading as important and that both of you hold him or her accountable as a student, great things can happen. Reading will become a topic of conversation as well as a skill to master.
I challenge all of us to take these steps to heart. As families continue to disintegrate, and children continue to feel more and more isolated from their peers, and as society continues to challenge any and all standards, don’t miss out on an opportunity to build a strong family that can withstand today’s stresses. Why not let that building project start around a good book? Why not begin today?
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