Post-Covid: Supporting Our Youngest Readers – Part 3

Years ago, I was trained as a Reading Recovery teacher. Reading Recovery is a program created by Marie Clay (a researcher from New Zealand known for her work in educational literacy) to provide support for first graders who required intense intervention. There were three Reading specialists at our school who completed the six-credit training course which enabled us to work with these children. After extensive testing, we choose the lowest students and each of us met with three students, every day, for thirty minutes. During the school year, we were able to work with two rounds of students. The first round lasted twenty weeks and the second round went from the end of January (after we again completed testing) to the end of the school year.

Working as a Reading Recovery teacher was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I crafted each lesson to meet the specific needs of the individual student, followed the recommended parts of the lesson plan which included reading familiar texts, taking a running record on the previous day’s text, engaging the child in appropriate word work, reading a new book that was just a tad more challenging than the previous one, and guiding the student through the writing component. By the end of a round, most students met the benchmark and were on par with their peers. It was an amazing program that worked!

This brief explanation of how Reading Recovery works is meant to point out the benefits of reading with a child in a purposeful way that moves them forward. Obviously, for a teacher to spend thirty minutes per day with just one student must reap significant benefits or a district would never adopt this program.

The take away for you, as a parent of a young, struggling reader, is that devoting time, most days, to reading with your child, can make a huge difference. There is just one caveat…it is crucial that you learn and implement a few techniques and refrain from habits that can deter progress. Please know, I’m not suggesting that you need to spend thirty minutes a day, follow a lesson plan or include word work and writing. All I’m suggesting is that regular time to read together several times a week, coupled with some tried and true strategies, can greatly impact your child’s reading progress and confidence. Here are a few important techniques that I highly recommend…

  • Choose Appropriate Books – This can be tricky. Ask your child’s teacher to recommend books that your child can easily read or books that are slightly harder, so he is challenged enough, but not frustrated. Also, consider your child’s interests and offer a mixture of fiction and nonfictional books.
  • Seat for Success – This type of reading is different than reading to your child, where you can cuddle together in a comfortable place. Since you are guiding his reading, you want to be sure he is sitting upright at a table to your left side. We read with our bodies as well as our minds. Remind him to put one hand on the book to steady it, and use the other to point to the words (if that is still appropriate) or simply point when he is stuck on a word. Youngsters of this age often have difficulty controlling movement and tend to jiggle around. If his body is not still, it will impede the ability to both read words and comprehend text. A fun way to remind your child of the importance of staying still, is to ask him to stand up, jump up and down, and try to read the text in front of him. Naturally, it’s almost impossible, but this humorous experiment will drive home the point.
  • Preview the Book – Check out the cover and make predictions. You may also want to “take a picture walk” through the book. These previewing strategies get your child thinking about the text and anticipating what will occur within the pages. It’s like tilling the soil, enabling his mind to become fertile ground for thinking and comprehending.
  • Pictures Prompt Thinking – Occasionally, a child would tell me that their parent covers the picture when they trying to help them read. No doubt, these folks had good intentions, but the picture on each page of a lower level text serves a vital purpose. Help your child to habitually glance at the picture prior to reading the text on the page. This supports thinking and provides clues that will lead to success. If a child is stuck on a word, and the picture offers a clue, redirect him to the picture, than back to the unknown word. Most of the time, he will get it.
  • Say a little more…” – If your child is stuck on a word, prompt him to make the first sound and if that doesn’t work, ask him to say a little more. This will help him to look through the word, blend the letters and hopefully use meaning.
  • Give a “three second told”. – If your child is stuck on a word, and the process described above isn’t working, count to three and then tell him the word and move on. This is very important. Stopping too long will cause a breakdown in meaning. The goal is always comprehension. You can return to the word when you finish the text, to help your child take another look and reread that sentence.
  • Create an enjoyable experience – Consider the time you spend reading together as providing a supportive experience for your child. These techniques will encourage good reading habits and enable you to make the most of your time together, but are not meant to put you in the role of teacher. Enjoy the book, stop to talk or clear up confusion, ask about his favorite part at the end, and simply use the opportunity not only to enhance his reading, but to enhance your relationship.

It’s naturally to have lots of questions about how to support an early reader, especially if he struggles. Your questions and comments are welcome. In Part 4 of this series, I’ll discuss the three important cueing systems that enable children to make optimal progress. Check in next Thursday to learn about them.

About Rita K.

Educator and Certified Reading specialist
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