Supporting Young Readers - One Hour A Week

I was talking to a friend and colleague last night. She related this story:

I was at scouts tonight, and I saw the mom of a boy I'd read to last year. Her son now goes to scouts, and she was there talking to the leader. After, she spotted me and came over to tell me how her son was doing with reading. She was really excited. "I've just got to tell you," she said. She told me her son read almost a 100 books over the summer. She said he'd read all the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, and all the 39 Clues books. Then, this fall, he came home from school and told her he didn't need reading resource this year! She was very pleased and went on for about ten minutes. She told me about his progress as a reader since our sessions last year, and said she'd even stopped reading books with him because he was reading ahead, telling her she was too slow.

What was really great about all this was that my daughter was standing right there. When we left she said, "I don't know why, but I feel warm all over." So I confirmed that it was very rewarding and also so simple! All it took was one hour a week, over the school year, building a positive relationship, talking about 'whatever' and being positive about reading. When we read, it was either me reading to him (the book he wanted was Charlie Bone), or shared reading, alternating pages (the Bone series - which was above his level, but he rose to it, I guess by listening). As well, I gave the mom some information: Avoid correcting; be a parent, not a teacher; read to and with and support independent reading by buying books he liked. I also sent mom towards the Summer Reading Club as a summer activity that would be supportive of his reading.

Simple indeed. Now, I'd better point out that my friend has many year's worth of experience successfully supporting families in crisis and designing effective supports for early childhood learning. She also is an accomplished whole-language adult literacy facilitator with a Masters in Adult Ed., and a certified Reality Therapy (/Choice Theory) counselor - which means she's highly trained in not telling people what to do.

But even so, what she did wasn't complicated. I could do it. So could you.

We'd just need to dedicate the time, keep positive, stop correcting and criticizing, and read... read to, read with.

It's worth keeping the simplicity in mind, because there's some gibberish foolishness pretty complex ideas floating around out there. Here's a snapshot of the thinking of Doug Downey et al. Nice enough people, I'm sure, but a little, um....

The title of this particular report is Are “Failing” Schools Really Failing? Using Seasonal Comparisons To Evaluate School Effectiveness, and the thesis in this and other of his writings is that "families play a dominant role in explaining variations in children’s achievement," that "the amount learned in a year is still not entirely under schools’ control" because "even during the academic year, children spend most of their time outside of the school environment," and that to really assess the effectiveness of schools, more testing and research are needed, maybe during the summer months.

Sometimes, when I read stuff like the silliness above, I feel a little lost, a little helpless, a little hopeless. I feel a little like this guy here:

But then I talk to somebody who actually does the work, like my friend, and I feel better.

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