Friday, February 11, 2011

Unlocking the Keys to Reading with Your Child

Taping "Literature Links" at Allen E.S. in Medford, NJ
My wife Lauren and I make an effort to read with our children each night before bed. Most of the parents I know do the same because it's no secret that reading proficiency is fundamental to success in life. However, it wasn't until I started working on a segment for Classroom Close-up, NJ entitled "Literature Links" that I realized I could be helping my children get a lot more out of our reading time.

The story is about a parent book club at Milton H. Allen Elementary School run by teacher, Amy King. In the club, parents learned how to encourage comprehension strategies with their children using techniques from the book 7 Keys to Comprehension: How to Help Your Kids Read It and Get It! by Susan Zimmerman.

The foundation of the book is that it's comprehension, not the simple ability to decode words, that defines reading proficiency. This may seem like an obvious statement, but in reviewing the book prior to taping the story, I realized I was often guilty of not ensuring that my kids were fully comprehending what they were reading or what was being read to them. I'm now making an extra effort to try and use the 7 Keys to make sure my children are getting the most out of our reading time.

The easiest technique I picked up was simply to start asking more questions during our reading to help them comprehend.

  • Do you know what that word means?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • Does that remind you of anything that's happened to you?
  • What do you think that looks like?

Like I said, it seems obvious, but I realized that sometimes it's too easy to just plow through a story with my child like a chore, rather than taking a little extra time to teach. Another insight I picked up while covering this story was that when a child demonstrates early reading proficiency, parents sometimes tend to back off of using comprehension strategies. Because children can decode words with little effort, we let them start reading on their own more and more, without making sure they understand what they're reading. I see this happen with my own daughter. She can read a paragraph to me, pronouncing every word correctly, even if she's not sure what it really means. Or she can read a story, but not have the background knowledge to really synthesize what she's reading. For example, she's reading The Boxcar Children, but has little or no knowledge of the Great Depression.

The tag-line for Classroom Close-up, NJ is, "Great Things are Happening in New Jersey's Public Schools" and while the show does indeed showcase the great things happening in our schools, it also hopes to inspire and teach by showing examples of programs that make a difference. I think "Literature Links" is going to be one of those stories. It definitely taught me a thing or two.

The Classroom Close-up, NJ episode with the Literature Links story will air Monday at 7 pm and on Saturday at 9 am on April 25, 30 and May 23, 28 on NJN.