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Practice Makes Perfect, Especially in Reading

by Kathryn Starke
 | Jul 16, 2013
Children naturally want to learn to read, just like they want to learn to ride a bike or tie their shoes. It is our job as educators to engage and instruct them in the most effective manner.

Most successful young readers have support both at home and at school. As educators, we should emphasize the importance of establishing good reading habits with our parents from the get-go.

p: Clearwater PLS via photopin cc
We want to relay this message and the value of family literacy throughout our school communities. This communication should take place every single year, initiated by the teacher. This is especially important throughout elementary school, when we are building the foundations of reading.

It’s also important not to assume that all parents know how to work with their children at home. Instead, try to encourage parents to complete a variety of exercises at home and to simply foster a love of reading in their homes.

Here are some of the kinds of things that you can do to easily bridge the link between school and home instruction.

Teachers across the country use reading logs and calendars to encourage daily/nightly reading. Research shows that children who read at least twenty minutes a night most often perform on or above grade level in language arts. Author Rosemary Wells (Max and Ruby series) created her Read to Your Bunny program and book based on this research—and the idea that this type of reading nurtures the "growth of the [child’s] mind and spirit." Those twenty minutes, she says, are the most valuable gift you can ever give your child.

As an urban elementary school literacy specialist, I work with struggling readers from kindergarten to fifth grade. In order to get them to understand the benefits of reading nightly, I simply say “practice makes perfect.” Just like in basketball, piano, and swimming, you have to practice on a regular basis to improve your skills. These reading skills include accuracy, speed, vocabulary, decoding, and comprehension. I also remind my students that reading practice can take place anywhere, from riding in the car to swinging in your backyard.

My students are never punished, nor do they receive consequences, if they do not complete their nightly log or neglect to get a parent signature on the calendar. Instead, each student is rewarded with praise when they show me the number of pages or the title they read the night before. Depending on the student's age, this can include reading to an adult or having an adult read to them.

Parents will ask, “How exactly can we practice reading with our children?” Your answer should include the following techniques:

Echo reading is an engaging format, in which the parent reads a sentence or paragraph first. Then, the child echoes what he or she heard in that piece of text. The goal is for the adult reader to model excellent expression and fantastic phrasing for the child to hear and imitate. Repetitive text is an easy format to use and is often found in nursery rhymes and childhood songs like "Down by the Bay" or "Old MacDonald." You can take favorite children's books by Dr. Seuss or Eric Carle and turn them into an echo reading experience. In fact, Eric Carle's book BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR is a form of repetitive text.

Choral reading is another way for parents to practice with their children at home; this is a less intimidating approach for young readers as well as struggling readers. In this technique, the adult and child read simultaneously, which means the child can listen and follow along when they reach an unfamiliar word and not feel discouraged.

Speed reading is when children read and reread a passage to increase the number of words per minute they can read aloud. Because some children are competitive by nature, I often give each child a goal and create a bar graph or line graph for us to chart his or her own growth and progress. This is a wonderful monitoring tool for teachers to utilize in the classroom, but it can also be practiced in the home. Children can set a goal with their parent and then track their progress toward that goal in their daily reading.

You’ll also want to encourage parents to model reading. If children see Mom reading the newspaper and Dad reading a book, they’re more apt to want to do the same. Taking your children to the public library and turning play dates into book clubs of all ages are literacy memories that will lead to lifelong readers.

Of course, we know how important it is for parents to read aloud to children; parents are a child's very first teacher. We want to remind them that by simply reading a story aloud, they are exposing their children to new vocabulary while modeling oral language. They are showing a young child how expression and tone in their voice can effectively deliver reactions and understanding of the text to the reader. It's fine to read aloud the same story over and over again as many children may request to hear the same book; children love repetition. It's also good to increase the level of difficulty of text you read aloud as your children grow older and become readers themselves.

Teachers know that sharing what they’re reading can inspire students to do the same. This holds true for parents as well. Ask them to make an effort to talk to their children about what they’re reading—what the book made them think about, if they liked or disliked it, and their favorite part.

Remind your parents to always remember to allow your child to silently read when they ask to, as this increases reading skills. It also helps young readers feel in control since they can choose what they want to read, where they want to read, and how long they want to read. Silent reading increases literal and inferential comprehension, which is the ultimate goal of reading. Look for ways to illustrate this to your parents, and show them how important a part they play in the process.

It’s a good idea to reinforce with parents that reading is a developmental process, which differs from one child to the next. It’s not fair to compare a child to his or her siblings or friends, as learning to read varies across the board. Instead, observe the child's strengths and weaknesses in reading within your classroom and share them with your parents. Provide them with suggestions to focus on both factors at home.

Finally, consider creating a sacred time for reading on a daily basis in your classroom—and invite your parents to do the same in their homes. As Rosemary Wells says, "Read to your child often, and your child will read to you."

Above all, remember this: practice makes perfect!

Kathryn Starke is an urban literacy specialist, children's author, and the founder/CEO of Creative Minds Publications. Visit to learn more about her global educational company.

© 2013 Kathryn Starke. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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