Sunday, 26 January 2020

Reading Strategies: What Parents Might Focus on During Home Reading with Earliest Readers

 "(Don't) let anxiety about how well a child is reading at school get in the way of encouraging them to enjoy it. Read together as a family. Model reading as a fun activity. Give books as gifts, or make trips to the library a regular part of the family routine. Make books the easy choice of entertainment, and reading a special treat all on its own." - Pamela Paul ('How to Raise A Reader')

This is the fourteenth blog entry focused on Home Reading this school year, 
intended to help families successfully support children as they learn to read :)

Thirteen previous blog entries this school year have explored a variety of aspects of home reading - everything from building oral language to alphabet recognition to encouraging fluency development. These are key areas of reading that can be encouraged at home with children, without undo effort or resources. The benefits of home reading have been thoroughly explored - albeit not exhaustively - as well, and a few recommendations for some of my favourite reading books to share with children. This blog entry is going to begin exploring reading strategies parents can encourage children to use at home, in response to parent questions about what to focus on as they are supporting their children reading at home.

Strategies for Earliest Readers
The earliest readers are those children who are Pre-K/Kindergarten aged students, just beginning to look at text with a critical eye, more than just enjoying the pictures as they are being read to by parents or other trusted adults. Children arrive at a stage where they can begin to explore text through a more critical or specific lens at different points in time; a child who is highly attentive to illustrations and understands particular words 'belong' to specific pages in a book (for example, when a child says, "you made a mistake!' when you are re-reading a favourite story, or "you skipped a page!"), is probably ready to begin exploring the pictures more thoroughly, or matching specific words to specific pictures. With earliest readers, try these strategies - gently at first:

 - play 'Detective': point out features in pictures that carry meaning, such as 'swoop marks' indicating a character is running, or a question mark or light bulb above a character's head, that hold additional meaning as children begin to truly investigate what meaning illustrations might hold; as parents engage in this process, children begin to echo these behaviours and will try to find some of their own - this helps children build a sense of 'prediction' associated with stories and to identify characters, setting, action

- 'Who is in this story?": when reading fiction with earliest readers, talk about who is in the story to encourage the children to notice clues about the character embedded in pictures and words - what they look like, are wearing, what they say or repeat, and relationships - this helps earliest readers begin to make connections between text and real life, as well as the story itself, an essential foundational strategy for encouraging reading comprehension

- " Words have meaning" - children need to understand letters and sounds make words to begin using decoding skills for sure, and understanding what a 'word' is as a representation of a thing is an abstract concept that often requires multiple introductions before a child truly realizes that little collection of letters is a 'word' that means 'something' 
- playing matching games with words and pictures, labelling their favourite things in their room or around the house, taking pictures of specific things they are familiar with in their lives and then labeling the pictures are all easy ways to reinforce the 'words represent something' concept 
- one easy way to develop repetitive skill building around 'word means thing' concepts is to create 'reading books' with your child using pictures and one or two word labels on each page; personal reading books are an easy way to build reading knowledge at a personal level

These are foundational reading skills - really pre-reading skills - that prepare children for highly successful, future reading experiences that parents can support through home reading. It is important to remember that foundational skills are essential for all readers and without them, children may struggle to achieve reading success over time. Regardless of age or stage, parents can engage students in these easy home reading strategies to ensure the foundation pieces are sturdily in place.

Lorraine Kinsman
Principal, Eric Harvie School

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Kids Who Read Best at School Also Read at Home

"Do not skip this time. A half hour every week does not begin to help as much as a few minutes each day. The long-term effects of skipping 
nightly reading homework are well established..." 
- Carolyn Wilhelm

This is the thirteenth blog entry focused on Home Reading this school year, 
intended to help families successfully support children as they learn to read :)

In elementary classrooms in particular, teachers usually establish a daily pattern for reading instruction (including phonemic awareness, phonics and vocabulary), reading practice (for fluency development) and reading comprehension, understanding that attending to each of these elements every day in some way perpetuates the growth of children as readers in consistent, incremental ways that eventually lead to confident, competent young readers. While the classroom routines may vary somewhat from day to day, learners are confident in understanding the expectations and knowing their boundaries and expectations related to reading within the context of the classroom. They are happy to see themselves succeeding and confident when they make mistakes to 'give it a go' and try again, knowing there are always ample opportunities available for 'do overs' as the school day progresses. Confidence in the daily-ness of the routine means confidence in steady improvement rather than the seeking of huge major learning milestones for children. 

The same should be true of any and every child's home reading experiences - a routine time and expectations that a child can count on and anticipate with a level of confidence in their own abilities and how that time will be managed.  I am including a link to a home reading video I've used with parents over the past five years from an online educational magazine, Cult of Pedagogy, created by one of my preferred bloggers, Jennifer Gonzales. I encourage you to take a few minutes (5) to watch the video at  This video offers suggestions for setting up routines that will successfully support your child through the home reading experience with confidence and consistent increments of improvement. 

Why should reading happen every day - even if it's just for a few minutes? Because research shows it is the small, repeated practices that have the greatest, long term impact on learning anything - but particular complex thinking tasks like reading.  Maybe it's not possible (and I certainly know it wasn't always possible in my home when the children were younger!) to establish a routine that gets followed every single day, but it is definitely possible to establish a routine children get to know and count on that can be abbreviated as necessary. 

When it was hockey night in our home, or swimming or soccer or music lessons night (it depended on which child was part of the home reading experience at the time!), we had a cache of Highlights or Ranger Rick magazines with poems and short stories applicable to young children we could pull out and read together just for a few minutes before our read-aloud bed time stories (honestly, we rarely ever missed read aloud bed time stories regardless of how late bedtime was because that was how the children loved to fall asleep!). We didn't worry about trying out new words or which strategies we were using on those nights; we just tried reading together for a few minutes to keep the practicing going - even 5 or 10 minutes is all that is required as a supplement to what usually happens 3 - 5 times as a whole home reading experience such as that described in this little video.  

Because the bottom line is simply that children who regularly practice reading at home, and consistently participate in read aloud experiences at home, are statistically far more successful readers and students than learners who do not participate in regular home reading activities. Practice, practice, practice - it is what is required for bike riding, swimming, singing, playing piano or any other activity we engage our children in learning. 

Once, a friend of mine told me she couldn't do home reading with her child because he was a high intensity hockey player who needed to practice every single day to stay on top of his game. I was impressed by his dedication to hockey and told her that; a few months later she was very upset because he had brought home his report card for grade 8 and he had failing grades in two subject areas, and was only marginally successful in all the rest. Homework was not completed, the report card said, with any regularity and he was struggling to read his Science and Social Studies textbooks (this was a few years ago).  Without even thinking, I said I was surprised he could be so dedicated to hockey without putting similar effort into school and she said to me, 'but he feels successful with hockey!"  My response was what I am sure everyone who knows me would expect - said as gently as I could - 'Well, if he put even half as much effort into school and learning as he does hockey, he would probably feel successful there too'. 

'If it matters, put in the time required to make it worthwhile'. My dad used to say this to me and to my siblings when we were younger and complaining about doing something for school, or a chore we didn't appreciate taking on, or even something we loved when it got tough (for me, this was figure skating). I heard him say this so many times over the years, I am sure it is engraved in my brain! It was, however, the most important lesson I learned as a child and carried forward into my adulthood. And it is still extremely good advice. 

Reading matters. Learning to become a successful, competent reader matters - even in this world of digital everything, reading is an absolutely required skill (and even requires reading skills we have not traditionally taught in schools - perhaps a topic for a later blog...) and for children to become truly successful, lifelong learners as adults there needs to be at least some degree of focus placed on practicing reading at home - there are simply not enough hours in a school day to achieve the level of focused reinforcement and practice children need to continuously improve in their approaches to reading. We may not all be able to be great at hockey or soccer or playing piano, but truly every child can become a more proficient and successful reader with consistent focus and practice. And, as parents, I really see it as one of our primary responsibilities to ensure we encourage them to take time each day - as little or as much as possible - to develop their best potential as readers.

I do encourage all parents to watch the short video mentioned in this blog ( ) and try to include at least 10 - 15 minutes every day focused on reading at home with your child. I will end this blog with a final quote from Carolyn Wilhelm, whose words opened this entry, and look forward to seeing every child continue to grow and excel at reading as the school year progresses as a result of consistent home practice :)

"Do not stop reading aloud to your child. It is a mistake to think that now the child can read
 on his or her own, the parent is out of the picture. Reading aloud to children should continue 
through grade four or higher. Why? Adults can read such a great variety of stories 
and expose children to a huge amount of vocabulary that children cannot access on their own. 
Children need to be reminded that reading is interesting."

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School 

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Making the Most of Home Reading: Building Fluency with Young Readers!

" makes sense to have kids reading relatively easy text that allows them to practice their decoding in real reading situations when they are getting started. That may be decodable text, but I'd mix that up with less controlled books too; still easy but manageable (perhaps some words they can't decode yet, but with lots of repetition of these so they can master them anyway)...if decoding is an issue with a text, then fluency practice (oral reading of these difficult texts with feedback and repetition) can enable fluent reading." - Dr. Timothy Shanahan

This is the twelfth blog entry focused on Home Reading this school year, intended 
to help families successfully support children as they learn to read :)

As this series of blog posts all about home reading have unfolded, we have looked at many different ways to support young readers as they embark on the journey of learning to read with support from home reading that will complement the teaching and reading instruction students are receiving in school. When children first learn to read, there is no doubt most of this focus is on learning about letters and sounds, and how these letters and sounds come together to make words that represent real things or ideas. To those of us who are already readers, this sounds like relatively simple work but to small children just beginning to think about patterns and how to make sense of print, it is a daunting task and takes much practice. 

Initially, most of an early reader's effort and attention is focused on combinations of letters as they try to figure out what sounds are coming together to make a word. What those words mean in combination with each other is a whole other task - making meaning - that does not come as easily as both the children and the adults reading with them often wish it would! That's why beginning reading books are controlled with text that is very simple and highly repetitive, reinforcing for children the concept that the letters do their same job over and over again and sounds can (usually) be counted on to stay the same - at least with 'controlled text' books such as early readers interact with in the initial stages of learning to read.  It is through these repeated readings that children gain confidence in their abilities to see and make sense of letters, attach sounds to them and 'join' these sounds together to make words. Controlled text usually limits sentence length, often just three to seven words, so early reading students feel successful as they make sounds into coherent words that go together to state something.  And often - especially with very early readers - the task of making sense of those words is left to the end, requiring at least one re-read before they can really attach a meaning. 

This is the true beauty, I think, of early reading - repetition, repetition, repetition. Reading the same words and sentences over and over again, finding words that are similar, using different voices and intonations, making connections between words on a page in front of us and words we might have seen elsewhere. Finding these patterns, repeating the letter sets that make up words, blending sounds, playing games with words and text. And that is where Home Reading plays such an important role - it is great fun to read with your parent or grandparent and play games with words! 

As children repeat words and text with their parent during Home Reading - sometimes using different voices, sometimes taking turns with tough words - they learn the permanency of letters, text and sounds and how to manage repetitive text. These are skills they carry with them as text increases in complexity and they begin to search for similar structures to those they know already (like words that rhyme, or have similar blends at the beginning of a word, or at the end). Gradually the repetitiveness of the texts they have been working with expand and they realize they are able to decode and make sense of whole new words and sentences that are longer and more complicated. This is called fluency - being able to 'read' words and sentences with flow and intonation. And fluency brings the added bonus of text making greater sense, mostly because now the written word sounds just like the oral reading, conversations and 'heard' text they have already become so familiar with in their brief lifetimes.

As parents, we often are anxious to get the fluency piece going - we want our children to sound like they are becoming good readers! This is a grown up issue, not a child issue - they aren't aware of the importance of fluency in these early stages and taking the time to play with sounds, to repeat words in different voices, to point out consistencies in text, make up words, find rhyming words - these are all essential, daily practices with text that truly benefit early readers in myriad ways.  Fluency is not, in my opinion, something we can all count on to develop as readers - it grows from experiences with texts and then trying out those experiences on less familiar texts to see what 'it sounds like'. However, fluency is something we are all able to work on improving with a little guidance and support - and it is always so rewarding when the choppiest reader 'gets it' and reading suddenly sounds 'smooth'.  

One of my favourite activities with early readers is to ask them to record themselves reading each week, or every other week. At first, even kids who are in awe of their own ability to make sense of letters and sounds recognize they don't sound like adult readers when they read aloud. Yet, each time they record themselves, they can 'see and hear' they have improved just a little as we keep recording and celebrating their successes - and then one day, almost like magic, they are reading smoothly and are so excited by their own success!  

A few years ago, a Kindergarten teacher told me she was working with children in her class when she overheard one of her students reading a book to a classmate independently.  She was a bit surprised since the student had been doing her home reading but not showing much interest in reading at school at all. "When did you learn to read?" she asked the child in amazement. "I'm not sure," this beautiful child responded casually, "but I think it was yesterday!" And that is an excellent example of how practice and repetition at home may lead a child to successful, fluent reading in school. 

Practice and repeat. Easy instructions for learning many things - including becoming a fluent reader! Next week we will examine how improving reading fluency leads to enhanced comprehension of text - the ultimate goal of reading for all of us.

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School