Rita Moore, School of Education
Chatting it Up at Home: An Easy Way to Affirm Children as Readers
As a mother of three, I know that parents often wonder how they can help their children learn to read. When I became a reading teacher, I was determined to build bridges between home literacy and school literacy. It's simpler than you may think, and you don't need special materials or scripted instructions.
The best way to support children's literacy is to read with them and discuss the material together in "reading conversations." In the classroom, we sometimes describe them as informally "retelling" or "summarizing." These reading conversations are a proven way to aid comprehension and vocabulary development, and they are also a great way to spend quality time with your child.
Unlike the classroom teacher, parents and children have many years of shared experiences upon which to build a personal dialogue about the material. Parents can start the dialogue by discussing the writer's intent and each reader's interpretation of the material. Young readers can develop valuable analytical skills by connecting their experiences with the words they read on the page.
I also encourage parents to ask their children to talk about what they read at school. This can be accomplished in just a few minutes and has an immediate impact. It allows parents to assume an active, empowered role in the reading process. In a safe, non-threatening way, parents can model the same reading comprehension skills that are being taught in the classroom.
Parents also can take advantage of parent-teacher conferences to ask for detailed information about how children make mistakes as they read and how they relate one reading experience to another.
One of my colleagues, a literacy coach and long-time classroom teacher, shared this advice: "When children struggle with a word, they often substitute another word, skip the unfamiliar word or make up a place-holder word. It's similar to what writers do with first drafts." Once parents understand and recognize these miscues, they can look for them when reading with their children at home.
In parent conferences, my colleague also shares her students' classroom reading conversations, where groups of students discuss their miscues and explore their interpretations of the material.
When parents understand how much children learn from discussing their reading, including their miscues, reading conversations can become a natural part of home culture. One parent recently said, "When we want to discuss a word, we put it on the fridge first and talk about it before looking it up in the dictionary. Together, we predict meanings and compare to words we already know; it has changed attitudes toward reading at our house."
In my 20 years of teaching literacy, I have found that reading conversations at home are one of the most powerful ways parents can help their children become confident, effective readers. I strongly encourage you to take a few minutes in the car, at meal time or whenever you find the opportunity. Share your thinking about miscues and your child's retellings. It's a fun way to teach critical thinking skills, and it sends the message that reading is important.
Rita A. Moore is an author and the Interim Dean of Willamette University's School of Education, which offers a Masters of Arts in Teaching and a Masters of Education degree in Salem. This fall, the M.Ed. program will also be available at Willamette University's Portland Center.