For many years I’ve said that our biggest untapped resource for really improving student literacy is to engage families in reading. I’ve tried many different strategies throughout the years with mixed results. Recently, though, I dug into the research and found the start to some answers that i believe may be helpful.
Summary of Strategies
- Home Reading Survey
- Book in a Bag
- Reading Aloud
- Language Strategies
- Collaborative Assignments
Home Reading Survey
Home reading surveys help you find out where families are currently at with reading at home. Research shows that the way to engage families in reading at home is by making what you teach them fit as closely to what they already do. I’ll say that again: if you want families to do something at home, they will be more likely to do it if it’s close to something that they already do.
So if you want parents to read with their kids every day, they are more likely to do it if they already read a few times per week versus if they never read at home.
If we want to enhance our families’ home reading culture, we need to meet them where they currently are.
Families from different language backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, and education experiences will all have different home reading cultures. A home reading survey is the way to
Important Information To Get From a Reading Survey:
- Do they themselves read for pleasure?
- Do they visit the library?
- How often do they read at home?
- Does their child enjoy reading?
- What do they do while reading? Ask questions? Read straight through?
Get my home reading survey FREE by signing up below.
Book in a Bag
Ok, so now you know where parents are with reading at home from your home reading survey. Now you need to ensure that all of your students have books to read at home.
From your parent survey, you probably saw that not all parents take their kids to the library, so you need to find ways to have your kids take books home.
I have always done “Book in a Bag.” As a first grade teacher and now in fourth grade. You can set your own expectations with parents and students what they are to do with the books you send home. The idea, though, is that your kids always have a book to read at home. EVERY. NIGHT.
These can be books from your school library, classroom library, or even ones printed off that the kids can keep. You can’t expect your families to read with their kids, though, if you don’t provide them with books to read.
We teachers in our quest to engage families in reading need to be skilled marketers selling the product of improved reading. To do that we need to remove barriers or lower them. Sending home books, removes the barrier of not having time to go to the library or buy books.
Tips For Book in a Bag
- provide a large plastic bag (milk, juice, rain, and snow all get into backpacks)
- make it a simple system – even first graders can independently choose books to take home when properly trained
- have families sign a form saying that they will pay for lost books if they come from your classroom library
- provide an incentive for reading at home (stickers and candy go a LONG way for a low price tag)
The amount of research showing the benefits of reading aloud to a child is STAGGERING. I don’t mean just reading aloud to children until they themselves can read. I mean reading aloud even to high schoolers.
Did you know that silent reading was “discovered” around 400 years ago? Before the 16th century, the few people that could read all read aloud. They believed that reading silently made the words stick in your head and drive you mad. If you haven’t read Don Quixote, the reason that he went mad was because he stayed awake at night reading… SILENTLY! *GASP*
This isn’t the 16th century, though. Get your parents reading aloud to their kids. EVEN 3rd-6th grade students AND BEYOND.
You know when many students start getting turned off to reading? 3rd-5th grade. You know when most families stop reading aloud to their kids and reading becomes silent? 2nd-4th grade. Coincidence? Maybe, but I doubt it.
Tell your parents that they should keep reading aloud to their kids. For my fourth grade students I tell them that they can either read themselves or let their parents read aloud to them.
The next way to engage families to get them reading is by introducing 3 main language strategies that they can use while reading with their kids. These strategies are designed to expand the vocabulary and language of kids. If a kid can’t say a word, they can’t read and understand it. Research shows that making reading into a dialogue, talking about reading, improves students’ reading comprehension.
The Language Strategies shown to be most effective are:
Commenting is simply talking about the story as you read pointing out different aspects of the text, events, and illustrations. For early readers this can be something as simple as “That is a really big, red dog!” to “Wow, Martin was really brave to stand up to Badrang in that chapter!”
This is likely the easiest strategy to teach parents.
This is another easier strategy to teach families. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” This is is to create a dialogue, right? Focus on open-ended questions that require kids to think about the story.
Kill two birds with one stone and ask parents to focus on “Wh-” questions. Provide questions and concepts that you’re focusing on in class and have them ask similar questions at home.
You probably do these and just don’t realize it. Recasting means taking a child’s comment, repeating it and then expanding on it.
For example, a child comments “Look at the big, red dog!” Recasting that would be then responding “Yes, look at the big, red dog. It’s enormous and it’s trying to get inside the tiny house.”
Recasting affirms the child’s comment and then expands on their idea. It makes them feel validated, and also introduces them to an expanded idea.
This strategy is the most difficult to teach to parents and for parents to keep as part of their practice, but you may be able to see how it can impact student speech by expanding their vocabulary and increasing how long their sentences are.
This last one is ADVANCED. I’ve only been able to get one highly-motivated family to do this one, but it is definitely worth trying.
What communicates to children that reading is important and worthwhile? Other people showing them that it is important. You’re a teacher, you show them all the time how important it is. They need that same model at home.
Assignments that require the parents and students to complete it together forces the conversation about their reading. You may be thinking, Josh, isn’t this easier to do than the language strategies?
If you think kids hate written homework, parents are even worse and parents who are teachers are the absolute worst.
When to Teach These
Ok, you know the 5 strategies to engage families in reading. Now when do you teach these to parents? Our time is limited!
Good times to teach these strategies to families:
- Curriculum nights – do a read aloud with families showing them strategies you want them to use
- Parent-Teacher Conferences – what a beneficial way to use 1-on-1 time with families
- Home communication – great for suggesting questioning
- Videos – make a video showing a strategy
Remember, if you are going to engage families in reading, you need to meet them where they are at. If you have families that don’t read hardly at all, focus on providing them with suggestions and ways to make reading a daily activity. If they already read every night, focus on the language strategies.
The way you find out where families are, though, is with that home reading survey. You can get my home reading survey that is both printable and in Google Forms FREE by signing up below.
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