If you have a student in Cedar in Kindergarten, 1st Grade, or 2nd Grade, then you are familiar with this instruction on their take-home sheets: “Read at home with your student.” But what exactly does that mean? What should reading at home with your student look like?
The Secret Sauce
Let’s start with an encouraging statistic: No matter how you teach your child to read, statistically you can expect that he will learn to read. But this does not make all reading instruction equal. At Cedar, we employ direct phonics instruction that is both synthetic and systematic.
- Direct means that teachers actively teach children how to read.
- Synthetic means that we break words apart into phonemes, rather than having children memorize sight words or “whole words” (the “natural” approach to reading, which often naturally exacerbates reading disabilities).
- Systematic means that we teach the rules of language in a sequence.
We think that direct, synthetic, and systematic reading instruction is the best way to teach children how to read.
But here’s the secret: You, parents, are the secret sauce to your kids’ reading ability. Kids with language input from their parents always fare better than kids without. Reading aloud, singing, hearing poetry, being read to, being listened to, and being talked to are all ways that children learn language from their parents. As they learn to read at school, your students need your participation in their literacy journey.
What is Reading, Anyway?
If you think about it, reading is a magical process. Eyes see black-and-white shapes (phonograms) that symbolize sounds (phonemes) made up of different letters and combinations of letters. The brain breaks apart words into those phonemes (decoding) and puts them back together (recoding). When the brain goes through this process quickly, accurately, and with correct pronunciation, we call that reading fluency.
This decoding and recoding process is separate from reading comprehension. Early readers might be able to read fluently with zero clue what you’re talking about when you follow up with comprehension questions. In addition to reading fluency, true comprehension requires two additional components: vocabulary (knowledge of words) and prior knowledge (knowledge of the world).
Whew! That’s a lot of work that your 5-year-old is doing as he stares at the sentence, “The dog runs.” No wonder he is taking so long.
Reading Out Loud vs. Reading Silently
For all of these reasons, kids in K-2 need to read aloud. At Cedar, we do not force our students in K-2 to read silently. Pushing kids to read silently too soon can spike their speed, but nosedive their accuracy and pronunciation.
Sometimes you might need to tell your child, for pragmatic reasons, “Please read quietly while the baby is napping.” Watch them try to do this! More often than not, they’ll move their mouths while they read as they subvocalize what they’re reading. Why do they do this? Their minds are going through that constant translation process: translating strings of phonograms into strings of phonemes, breaking those phonemes apart, and then putting those phonemes back together into a word which the brain recognizes through knowledge of words and of the world.
Reading silently is like mental math; it skips the conscious step of breaking visual symbols into oral sounds, and instead proceeds through all of those operations with phonograms alone. That’s a lot for a little brain to do. Reading aloud focuses more attention to each word, which is why children trained on audiobooks and deprived of phonics instruction are so deficient at reading aloud. Silent reading, like mental math, requires the brain to cut corners. When reading silently, you scan for verbs and nouns, skipping over and inferring words like prepositions and articles. If you read “the dog” as “that dog,” though inaccurate, you still comprehend the meaning. Children naturally start to read silently in this way around 3rd Grade.
If your child is in that K-2 range, allow and encourage her to read aloud.
Stops & Starts
Remember when your child started to sleep through the night, when you potty-trained your child, or when you taught him how to ride a bike? It probably was not a smooth, constantly-improving process. You probably experienced some setbacks. Reading is the same way! You will not see steady, constant progression from Kindergarten to 3rd Grade. Different children will experience difficulties in different areas, whether that’s speed, accuracy, or pronunciation; whether they lack decoding and recoding ability, vocabulary knowledge, or prior knowledge about the world. You will see stops and starts.
Just remember that you are the secret sauce.
Tips for Reading with Your Student
1. Read to your student.
If your child has a particular interest in a subject but there are no texts appropriate to his ability, read to him! He will develop that word knowledge and world knowledge, and realize that books contain interesting things.
2. Ask your student to read to you.
When your student gets stuck on a word, encourage her to “sound it out” using the phonics rules and special sounds she is learning in phonics class. Any of our phonics teachers would be happy to give you a crash course in K-2 phonics to assist your reading at home. Do not just give her the word. Practice rereading words and sentences where you’ve had to sound out many of the words. If the sentence reads, “The dog is blue,” and your student reads, “The d-o-g is bl-ue,” encourage her to go back and reread “The dog is blue” without sounding out in order to make sense of the text.
3. Back-and-Forth Reading.
Here’s a tip from our Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Ackerman! Tell your reader, “I read one sentence, you read one sentence,” or “I start reading, I’ll stop periodically, but you should be tracking along and know where I stopped!” This makes reading more interactive for the non-enthusiastic reader.
4. Let her turn the pages.
This is a great fine motor skill, and includes her in the reading process even if you’re the one doing the reading.
5. Don’t give up.
Whether your child can already read a 400-page book by himself or you feel as though he’ll never get to a 4-page book, the value that you put on reading will matter to your child. Children tend to lose heart in what they are doing if no one cares about it. Remember: reading is hard work! Even when the brain fluently follows all of the steps of reading, it is an amazing and complicated process. Rejoice with your child when he makes progress, even if it is small progress, and never forget that you are the secret sauce.