The building literacy team gathered around the table as the year came to a close, ready to look at the progress of their students during the school year. I’m geeky enough to just love these meetings, and lucky enough to be able to attend them across our district. I love hearing teachers talk about what they’ve learned about readers and the new steps taken in their reading journeys. There’s something about listening to the conversation around the change of readers across the year. These are team meetings, and everyone is all in for planning to do what’s best for the children in their building.
During this particular meeting each support teacher discussed the progress of the students they had served. They started at kindergarten and worked their way up through the grade levels. As I listened, there seemed to be a pattern to the conversation. Each teacher started with the students who had made the most growth, and shared the changes witnessed in these readers. They shared not only the growth in reading data, but also stories of new strategies, new books, and new steps taken. Then their conversation would turn to students they thought still needed support and those for whom they were most concerned. As the conversation moved around the table, one of the reading teachers said in exasperation about a student, “She doesn’t read at home.” The other teachers emphatically nodded in agreement.
This wasn’t the first time I had heard this comment in a literacy team meeting. It occurred to me that there was a definite pattern across building conversations; reading support teachers were concerned about the amount of reading students were doing at home. I share their concern, but it made me wonder: If students aren’t reading at home, what questions should we be asking? If students aren’t reading at home, what should we be doing?
I’ll admit to a little bias on this topic. Perhaps it is the number of years I have been teaching, but although I think reading at home matters, I also know it isn’t an easy thing to change. A variety of factors can determine whether students read at home, and some of them, especially for our youngest readers, are out of student control. When I taught Reading Recovery, I learned that the only thing I could really control was the time the student sat beside me. There were students who read every night at home and students who did not.
As teachers, our hope is that students will read at home to practice the skills and strategies they are learning. It is home reading that gives readers another opportunity to read familiar books, spend time with books independently, and discover their reading interests. Sometimes that means reading familiar books that allow readers to grow in confidence, understanding, fluency, and word knowledge. Sometimes it means reading new books that are at an easy or independent level to allow students to practice integrating the strategies they are learning. Sometimes it means taking home books they love so they can continue to find their way in a world of readers.
Home reading can have a big effect on student growth, but it isn’t the only thing that matters—and it isn’t always something we can control. We have students in school for a large part of their day. Often we see students more than their parents do during the week, so what can we do when students aren’t reading at home?
Talk with the parent: This is always the first step in this challenge. Sometimes understanding the reason students are unable to complete reading at home is helpful. Are parents aware of the expectations for home reading and the benefits? I’ve found that sometimes talking with parents to clarify expectations can be helpful. Sometimes in situations where a student is receiving reading support, parents can be confused about the difference between the expectations of the classroom and intervention.
Build time for familiar reading into small-group opportunities: Whether in guided reading or during reading support lessons, add a few minutes of familiar reading to the lesson. Often, getting students in the habit of reading familiar books while everyone is getting settled is a simple change that can be beneficial for a variety of reasons.
Make time for independent reading in the classroom: If a child isn’t reading at home, we want to make sure they have the time to read in the classroom. Students receiving intervention can often lose time to read independently because of time spent in focused instruction. Helping to find time and set up routines for independent reading can help students make the most of this opportunity.
- Take advantage of transitions or downtime: Those five minutes coming in from lunch can make the perfect time to read. What about the first ten minutes of the day as everyone settles into their morning? The day is full of pockets of time that might provide the perfect opportunity for a bit of reading.
Consider a peer reader: Depending upon the situation, classmates, older reading buddies, or younger readers can help provide opportunities for students to read.
Case Study: Nathan
Sometimes supporting students who don’t take the time to read at home can require some creativity on our part. Such was the case with Nathan, a student I supported in reading intervention. He was entering his second year of reading support, and I was concerned about his slow gains. As we started working together in the fall of his second-grade year, I noticed he wasn’t reading at home as much as he had in first grade. We’d had problems in his first year as the texts became challenging. He wanted to read easier books and often asked to take the same book home repeatedly for days. When year two started with some of these challenges, I knew I had to be proactive.
When I called his mom, she expressed frustration with Nathan’s reading at home. He argued about doing it, and it was difficult for her to get him to read the books that were coming home that had grown in complexity. We decided the best thing would be to send easier books home and keep him in the habit of reading. There didn’t seem to be any reason to make every night a struggle for her.
Then we went to fifth grade to find a peer to read with Nathan each morning as kids staggered in at the start of the day. We chose a peer we thought could use the confidence of working with a younger student, and that we thought would connect with Nathan in interest. We trained the buddy to follow a particular reading routine and note how it went. Nathan loved the attention of a buddy and would read books that were a better match for him as a reader. The additional time reading each day made a big difference in his progress and his confidence. Thinking outside the box had helped Nathan, his mom, and me. Win. Win. Win.
When students aren’t reading at home, we have to get crafty. Finding ways to provide these opportunities during the school day is a must, because we can control only the time students are with us each day.