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Parents learn to fine-tune students’ reading selections

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DUNSTABLE — The parents of Swallow Union Elementary School students learned how to support their children in becoming life-long learners at a special Reading Information Night held last week.

Attended by over 50 people, the April 3 program was the final project for coursework taken by three Swallow Union teachers — Jen Dinneen, Nancy Murphy and Jayne Girouard. Many of their colleagues helped make the night possible by manning booths and discussing books with parents, while Principal Myerson entertained children upstairs with books and popcorn.

The purpose of reading, the teachers explained, is to construct and comprehend the meaning of a piece of text. All readers, regardless of level, should be reading for meaning and making connections between the text and themselves and the world around them. This meaning is what grabs the kids and pulls them into the book. By working with small groups and making reading more student-centered, Dinneen said, the teachers can ensure that each child has an active interest in his or her journey to reading fluency.

It is important to build on the background knowledge that children have, because this will be what enables them to relate to the text and make sense of what they’re reading. Often children’s reading fluency may exceed their maturity, and books should be selected for their developmental age as a reader rather than their ability. “Even a fluent third-grader who can read Harry Potter has only been around seven or eight years,” said Kathleen McCarthy, the K-8 English Language Arts Curriculum Coordinator.

Readers can be divided into three categories — emergent readers, early readers, and fluent readers. Emergent readers are beginning to recognize letters and words and becoming familiar with the conventions of books and stories. Their books should have good illustrations that correlate with the text, large print, a conversational tone, and be about familiar things such as family and school.

Early readers are already capable of decoding the words, so they are able to focus on meaning and use it to correct their errors and make guesses at words they don’t know. Their books can have more text and fewer pictures.

Fluent readers are able to manage longer, complicated books, and are interested in a variety of genres. They can engage in discussions about writing style and other literary choices, and form their own questions and conclusions. Their books will be challenging in both structure and vocabulary.

While choosing the right reading level is important, often the biggest challenge is finding books that really connect with a child. “Fiction is more entertaining sometimes, but non-fiction is more interesting,” said John Trainor, a third-grade teacher. “It opens up the world to them.” He often prints out lists for children based on Amazon searches for their subjects of interest. While focusing on a child’s personal interests can motivate a child to read more, the teachers emphasized, broadening those interests and increasing their background knowledge has the biggest impact on their reading success.

In that regard, exposure to books is the crucial element for children. Parents should read aloud to their children, even if the children are fluent readers, and should visit the library regularly and help their children select books from different genres. It’s perfectly fine for children to read books that are easy for them, as well as books that are just right and challenging. As long as a child has some knowledge of what a book is about, if he makes a mistake or gets stuck parents can guide him in figuring it out himself based on the meaning or pictures. “It’s the same thing we do as readers,” Murphy said, “but we don’t think about it because we’ve been doing it for so long.”

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