We often think of spring as a time of renewal. Trees are budding, animals come out of hibernation, and people shed a few layers of clothing to step outside for some extra daylight. Rather than in spring, autumn is the time when parents, teachers, and students have the opportunity to make a fresh start. The new school year is upon us. We can get energized and organized. We can map it out and decide how best to navigate it. September holds a lot of promise. Thus, this article will be dedicated to sharing ways in which parents and teachers can successfully begin their 2010-2011 partnership. Student success will likely follow!
Readers need the chance to explore texts based on topics of interest. Often, these are connected to real-life experiences (a day visiting an aquarium sparks an interest in reading about sharks). I know that many families engage in summer literacy activities and foster good reading habits when school is not in session. Don’t let this fade during the school year! Readers of all ages should have the chance to browse the library and bookstore shelves often. Parents have said, “My child works hard in school and his homework responsibilities are overwhelming. The last thing I want to do is bring more books into the house. He will be completely turned off to reading!” I have found that, usually, the opposite is true. When kids select their own reading materials, they are motivated. They take ownership of it. When they broaden their knowledge of sharks, they feel empowered. They can bring new vocabulary to the conversation. They have an area of expertise for writing. Continue to encourage reading for pleasure and model it whenever you can. Not just books! Try magazines, brochures, instruction manuals, recipes, and the like. Authentic reading for information is important and can excite even the most reluctant reader.
Schedule a conference with your child’s teacher as soon as possible. This may be done by e-mail or phone if a face-to-face meeting is not possible. Consider asking questions like: How can I help at home? What kinds of reading materials will be provided this year? How/when do you group students for reading? How will reading progress be assessed?
Be your child’s advocate by staying involved and being informed. Work with your child, his teacher(s), and other parents.
Start the year by assessing students’ strengths and needs in literacy. If you have experience administering an informal reading inventory, do so for each child. If not, your literacy coach or reading specialist can help. Once you have the pertinent information about your readers, you can begin to gather appropriate reading materials and make plans for various grouping designs. Be flexible about grouping and expect to assess progress at least once a month.
Examine carefully students’ cumulative records and develop plans for differentiation of instruction. Re-familiarize yourself with the state standards and keep them in mind when you do so. Revisit those plans frequently and make changes when necessary.
Take advantage of tag sales (even your local library has these from time to time), donations, discount stores, and bonus points offered by book companies to increase the number of titles available on your classroom bookshelves. Be sure to include nonfiction selections, too.
When possible, share short-term and long-term plans with parents and students. Post due dates in advance. Weekly reading goals, as opposed to nightly ones, are usually welcomed by families. In this way, learners can meet all requirements with minimum stress and practice managing their time responsibly.
Collaborate. Exchange ideas. Reflect on your efforts in literacy instruction in previous years. What worked? What didn’t? Renew your membership to a professional organization. Find a mentor or become one. Try at least one new thing with your students this year—be creative. Be a leader!
On a final note, let’s do what we can to bring joy to each reading experience. Its importance cannot be overestimated.
Karen Russo, Ed. D. is an Assistant Professor in the Child Study Department of St. Joseph’s College in New York. There, she teaches both undergraduate and graduate level courses related to elementary education and literacy instruction. Before joining the college faculty, she was an Assistant Principal of a New York City elementary school, a literacy specialist, teacher mentor, and staff developer. Dr. Russo has presented at local, national and international conferences and has published articles on differentiating instruction, enhancing motivation of struggling readers and writers, and effective professional development for teachers. She is an Editor for Insights on Learning Disabilities: From Prevailing Theories to Validated Practices and has served as a Guest Editor for Reading Writing Quarterly.