Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do- Book Review

A few weeks ago I posted about reading resources for parents and mentioned Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do by Daniel T. Willingham. I purchased the e-book version because I was too excited to wait for Amazon to deliver a paper copy, which was a blessing because I read it on my phone and Kindle over the last few weeks. It took me much longer to read than I anticipated because I couldn’t stop highlighting and writing notes.

Since I started teaching I’ve been on a quest to find a book to help parents (and teachers) address reading concerns and I believe I have finally found it! This book is truly one of a kind. Willingham’s writing voice is superb. He speaks to the reader as a fellow parent/educator with a calm demeanor. He never makes the reader feel incompetent nor does he command or belittle the reader.

One of my favorite ideas from this book is to start now. The introduction states this and it is repeated many times throughout the text. I love that Willingham doesn’t make parents or teachers feel that it’s too late. Many feel that by the time a child is in middle school it’s too late to improve reading skills and motivation, but Willingham constantly denies this with realistic, supportive ideas for adults.

The book starts off with a great explanation of general reading information including: the role of sound, the role of knowledge in comprehension, and motivation. As an educator, I loved his clear explanations of phonics and the role of sounds in reading. I was one of the those children who struggled with phonics, which resulted in my reading struggles and repeating kindergarten. I think if my parents had read the excerpt below during my struggle period it would have helped them understand.

“If reading is a code between written symbols and speech sounds, it’s going to be hard to learn the code if you can’t hear those sounds. Lots of research indicates that this reasonable supposition is right. Children who have trouble learning to read often have difficulty hearing individual speech sounds. At the other end of the spectrum, children who more or less teach themselves to read turn out to hear them easily. This relationship between the ability to hear speech sounds and reading is not unique to learning to read English— you see it across languages. So we have our first clue about how we can help kids become good readers: help them with this auditory challenge.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (pp. 12-13). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

Part one of the text examines reading in birth-preschool age children. My interests the last few months have been on this age group because of my daughter and the two classes I’m teaching, Mommy & Me Literacy and Children & Literacy. The author’s main points in this section are to create a love of reading and to prepare children for decoding. He gives great ideas/suggestions for parents, educators, and child care providers. One of my favorites he mentioned was using word games to help students with speech sounds.

“Here are some examples of word games that help children to hear individual speech sounds: Some children’s songs and rhymes center on word play, for example, The Name Game (“ Dan, Dan, bo-Ban, banana-fana fo-Fan, fee fi-mo-Man. Dan!”) and Apples and Bananas (“ I like to eat, eat, eat, eeples and baneenees”). Classic nursery rhymes use much of this sort of word play. So do Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and other children’s authors. Sing songs they know, replacing the initial letter of each word with the letter of your choice, for example, “Mary had a little lamb” becomes “Bary bad a bittle bamb.” Find excuses for alliteration: “Great golly! Gobs of grapes!” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 33). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

Before a child can read, he or she must be able to recognize letters, which Willingham discusses. One of the easiest ways parents can help children with letter recognition is what Willingham calls “letters in the wild”. Caregivers should interact with children daily with letters they see on billboards, logos, etc. “If you prompt interest in letters in these daily interactions, it’s that much more likely your child will show interest in letters during read-alouds.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 36). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

Part two of the book addresses kindergarten-second grade. I really liked how Willingham starts off this section by discussing the different reading programs used in schools, phonics vs. whole-word, and balanced literacy. Each school district uses a different approach, so it’s important for parents to be aware of the program their school uses. It’s also important to keep in mind that each student learns differently. “Programs vary, and kids’ experiences within a program vary.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 83). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

The author also addresses the hot topic of technology: “With all the power we attribute to technology, that seems like a pretty wimpy effect. But the modest impact is actually typical for educational technology interventions, no matter what the subject: math, science, or history. More disturbing is a point made by researcher John Hattie: when you try anything new in the classroom, you see, on average, this sort of modest boost to student learning. Why? It’s not clear. (My guess is that the excitement of trying something new makes teachers enthusiastic, and that excitement rubs off on students.) The conclusion I’m emphasizing is that educational technology interventions in general (and those targeting reading in particular) have been less successful than we would have expected.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 85). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

Willingham does go on to mention that technology apps and videos vary in quality and how they are embedded. On the flip side, he also does a great job of mentioning how technology can provide individual feedback and other positive ideas (I really appreciate how he can be so calm when discussing hot topic things).

I love that he follows up the discussion of technology with techniques and ideas parents can use at home with their kids. He includes ideas such as: reading with your child, choosing the right book, providing feedback and dealing with reading frustration. Reading is a challenging skill that takes lots of time to develop, so it’s only natural for children to get frustrated with reading while being at home with a parent. The author includes some great ideas for parents on dealing with this frustration.

“I can offer four suggestions if you find yourself frustrated. First, the habit of not talking much is not only good for your child (so she hears mostly her own voice, reading) but also good for maintaining your composure when you’re frustrated. Second, when you do speak, you can usually find an intonation other than frustration that carries your message in a positive way. When my youngest would look to me for help on the same word three times in sixty seconds, my inclination was to shout, “You KNOW this one.” I trained myself to say, “You know this one,” with the intonation of, “You sly dog.” I probably should have said nothing, but at least I used a positive tone. Third, remind yourself that the whole session is only five or ten minutes. Fourth, if you find that you just can’t keep it together, quit. Ask your child to read with you later. Grinding through the process gives a little practice in decoding, but it carries too high a cost in motivation.”(Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 90). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

The final part is third grade and beyond. Since I’ve taught middle school language arts for five years, I was really curious about his thoughts on motivating struggling readers at this stage. Fluency is discussed in great detail in this part of the book, and it’s fascinating how Willingham connects fluency to spelling.  “It would be nice to get kids to fluency faster, especially given that national tests indicate only about half of kids have reached desired levels of fluency by fourth grade. Is there a way to hurry the process along? Three techniques can help. First, explicit spelling instruction seems to improve fluency. Although the spelling knowledge you use to read is not identical to the knowledge you use when you’re thinking about how to spell a word, there is some overlap. So that’s a reason to include spelling instruction in schools, even though we all use word processors with spell-checkers.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 137). Wiley. Kindle Edition.). I have worked in environments where administration feels that students don’t need to spend time on spelling after a certain grade, but it is evident that spelling does translate to an increase in fluency.

The next big concept Willingham tackles is reading comprehension. This is the number one struggle I see with struggling readers in middle and high school. The author addressing the importance to reading comprehension strategies which include ideas like activating prior knowledge, listening actively, summarizing, visualizing, etc.

However, it is important to note, as the author does, that texts become increasingly more challenging the older a child gets. By third grade students are starting to read more nonfiction texts (articles, textbooks) and they are expected to understand the material and then interact with it in some aspect. In addition to that, some schools have made the transition to digital literacy. Instead of simply stating a positive or negative stance, the author breaks down and examines the different components which include general tech savviness and the ability to evaluate information. He then follows up his thoughts with information about the digital revolution.

“One change wrought by the digital revolution is that kids are actually reading much more than they used to, even though reading is commonly thought to be in decline.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 156). Wiley. Kindle Edition.). If you think about what students today are doing, this makes total sense. Kids are constantly reading tweets, captions on Instagram, blogs posts, etc. They may not be reading novels, but they are constantly reading.

Overall, I am in love with this book. The ideas and suggestions are explained in a clear, concise manner that is extremely user friendly for those not familiar with the education or reading world. It is the perfect book for any parent because it addresses all stages of reading. It is the perfect book for an educator to use to provide parents with guidance.

Reading Aloud Resources for Parents

I’m teaching a Mommy & Me Literacy class in a few weeks and I’ve been doing some research to figure out how I want to structure my class. Normally I would just Google some key words and have information at my fingertips in seconds. However, now that the weather is finally nice, I’ve been going to our local library and I decided to check out some of the books in the parenting section. Our library is very old fashioned (you can check out the Bobbsey Twins), but they do have a wide variety of children’s and parenting books.

To help me navigate the Parent’s Corner, I asked the children’s librarian for some guidance. She is the typical old school librarian, and was more than thrilled to assist me in my search. We chatted about the changes in reading with children today and she made a very good point. It’s not the children that have changed, it’s the parents. Kids still act like they always have (running around, touching everything in sight, etc.) but parents respond and interact differently with their children. She also said that you can tell the parents that read to their children and make literacy a part of their life because those kids go straight for the bookshelves on their visits to the library. Those kids that go straight for the computer are typically ones whose parents are on their phones during the library visit, and use more technology at home.

Since my Mommy & Me Literacy class is about helping moms incorporating literacy into their daily routine, I found the librarian’s comment to be very interesting. Over the years as a teacher I’ve seen different parenting styles, and now as a parent I tend to watch how other parents handle situations, and I would have to agree with the librarian.  Each parent and family has their own way of parenting, and as a new mom I respect that more each day.

I got to thinking, it’s human nature for us to avoid things we aren’t familiar with or good at. In this case some parents are not comfortable with reading to their children which is why they turn to technology. We know why it’s important to read aloud to kids (see previous post), but it can be challenging to find even just five minutes on some days to check email, let alone research reading aloud strategies. Which is what brings me to this post today. I’m going to share some resources that I have been using lately to hopefully help another parent. This post is for parents and early education teachers. 

Podcasts

With the nice weather we’re starting to have I’ve been taking Molly to the park more often. I’ve discovered I enjoy our park time more if I’m listening to something while I walk a few loops around the park, so I’ve started listening to podcasts.

Read-Aloud Revival

This podcast is truly a gem. I struggled finding a good one that focused on literacy, but it was worth the digging. It focuses on motivating your family to read and proviRaising Kids Who Readdes fantastic read aloud suggestions, tips for parents, and just great ideas. They also have a great website that is super user-friendly. The podcast I listened to today was from April 4, 2016 on Raising Kids Who read, which was an interview by author Dr. Daniel
Willingham. One of the best parts of this interview was how they discussed realistic ways to help kids of all ages read more at home. This included how to monitor screen time and leaving books in certain places in the house. Dr. Willingham discussed his book, Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do, which I plan on purchasing and reviewing in the next few weeks.

Reading Rockets

For those of you unfamiliar with Reading Rockets, it’s a fantastic website for parents and educators about reading. I’ve actually used it for multiple graduate school assignments and in my own classroom. Even though there are no recent podcasts, the existing ones are great. They have a few different podcast series for parents and children including: Meet the Author, Watch and Learn, and Meet the Experts. Meet the Author includes interviews of popular children’s book authors, Watch and Learn has videos for teaching reading, and Meet the Experts are interviews of various experts on specific reading topics (spelling, reading today).

Videos

Our children live in an exciting time of technology because there is so much out there that kids and parents can watch.

One Youtube Channel, Children’s Books Read Aloud, actually has adults reading aloud popular children’s books. This is great for parents to watch and listen to get ideas about how to read aloud. It’s also perfect for those days when you don’t have time to read to the kids, but they can watch a video of the book with someone reading to them.

I also came across a quick Ted Talk, Why we should all be reading aloud to children, and I LOVE the way Rebecca Bellingham reads aloud. Even as an adult, you feel captivated by her voice, especially when she uses the different voices. This is great a video just hear how effective a great read aloud can be.

The last video I want to share with you is one done by Pre-K teacher Breeyn Mack, and it’s called Strategies for Reading Aloud to Young Children. There are so many positive things about this video, but the biggest is how she interacts with the text while she’s reading. She demonstrates how to think aloud, read at a good pace, use appropriate voice volume, and more, providing parents and educators with a great demonstration on how to read aloud to little ones. I would love for Molly to have a teacher like her in the future.

Being a teacher first allowed me to become comfortable with reading aloud. I made it a priority to read to my students over the last few years because I saw how invested they became in the stories. If I didn’t have a teaching background I would feel reading is important, but I probably wouldn’t be doing it enough and not as effectively as I would want. If you or someone you know feels this way, these are some great resources for parents and educators to help feel more comfortable and confident in reading aloud.