Dr. Kristi James
Take a minute to imagine a fully engaged early childhood classroom. Kids are engaged in text, creating visual representations, and expressing their ideas. Some students are working in groups and others working individually. All students are engaged. They explore books of various genres, not only in the library or during reading times, but also related to science, math, and social studies instruction. Students interact with audiobooks, e-reads, and e-novels, and exercise student choice to select recreational reading options. Materials in the classroom are adapted not only to help students with challenges interact with text, but also to serve as a motivator for reading. Students author books and engage in Writer’s Workshop, as well as writing in student journals and notebooks. In this environment, teachers and students work together to uncover answers to questions. Resources are used, and contextual evidence is sited. The classroom has signs, posters, word walls and the labels have both words and pictures. Language is connected. This sounds wonderful, right?
My personal connection
From my earliest memories, I remember my mother engaging me through reading, speaking, and playing. That may sound like typical parental behavior or just what parents should do for little ones to help them develop into curious individuals who become thirsty to learn, but it is not always the easiest of tasks. What I did not know was that my mother studied human growth and development, and she believed that a multi-sensory household was important. The research tells us that language acquisition and literacy experiences begin at birth. Students who begin school lacking previous experiences with skills such as print awareness, alphabetic principle, and phonemic awareness need supplementary instruction to ensure they do not fall behind. Coupled with a literacy-rich environment, an emphasis on speaking, reading, and writing has been proven to change the trajectory and the level of academic success students can experience. Because reading is a fundamental skill that defines the academic successes and failure of students, literacy-rich environments can be life changing, and the earliest immersion can uncover delays or disabilities. Once students reach fourth grade, most of the information they need is given to them in textual format where the focus changes from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Therefore, students who struggle with reading class may have difficulty reading across the curriculum and employing the skills necessary for generalization of content.
How we can help bridge the reading gap
In today’s world, there are several reasons why students may not have literacy-rich environments outside of the classroom; so how can we help? Family and classroom connections can be the bridge to infusing print-rich materials in the home, but if that connection is not there just yet, here are a few tips that may help.
- Model Reading During parent and teacher conferences, share tips and tools for modeled and independent reading.
- Encourage enrollment in reading programs There are several community programs that give incentives for reading books, and public libraries often provide read-aloud and other programs throughout the school year. During the summer, the activity schedule is posted and shared with schools…share that information with your parents.
- Make Books Accessible As rewards, give students books to take home. When books are available, children become curious and will read or want to be read to.
- Listen to Audiobooks Model what you want to see. Share listening tips and tricks with parents.
- Make It a Game Discuss reading daily and give students the opportunity to share their reading experiences.
- Use Incentives Track reading and reward the class for the number of words read.
Most important, share the joys of reading with students in your everyday interactions—it’s bound to have a lifelong positive effect.
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Looking for ways to engage readers of all abilities this fall? Get in the game and register for our Word UP Challenge. It’s a win-win that could earn your school great prizes and will get students reading through our motivating Reading Counts! program.