Questions you should be asking about your child’s literacy progress
March is the month for report cards, marking the completion of the first half of the school year. Teachers sum up progress for each student in a personalised report card, while parents hope anxiously to hear that their children are on grade level. Literacy reporting progress is especially important as the ability to read and write supports all other subjects. Slow or inadequate progress in literacy has negative affects on other subject areas. It is particularly important for parents of children who have just begun school to know what to anticipate in reading and writing development.
This is the time to use the parent-teacher conferences to ask specific questions about literacy progress and to be guided on additional support at home. Parents should be able to read and understand the reporting on literacy progress in the context of what good readers do and teachers should be very articulate in explaining literacy behaviours that highlight specific growth over time and instructional goals for further teaching.
As both teacher and parent anticipate the yearly report card conference, what are the questions parents can ask about early literacy progress and how can teachers prepare to explain the progress in ways that will help parents support the class work while at the same time ensuring structures are in place in the home to sustain good literacy progress?
Children coming to school in the early years, at around age five, have learned a lot about literacy. They come to school with their home language and cultural attitude towards literacy. If the home is one where reading and writing is highly valued and demonstrated through lots of shared reading, writing and talking, children make an easier transition into the language and routines of school. Unfortunately, for many children, literacy may not be the priority for many reasons; however, they do not have to be disadvantaged in what they learn on the path to literacy proficiency. So what can a parent expect at report card and parent teacher conferences?
What can a parent ask of teachers that will clearly help them understand how the teacher has evaluated children's progress in literacy?
During a parent teacher conference, the first area to be shared with parents is the kind of reading programme being used in the class. Expectations of what children will be learning for the year should be clearly outlined. For example in the early years, children in well-balanced literacy classrooms will be exposed to daily read-alouds and shared reading activities (and writing). These approaches allow children to grow in their understanding of literacy language, develop good listening and questioning skills and help them begin to incorporate specifics of writing like a reader.
Equally important, the instructional strategy of guided reading should also occur daily. It is during this time that the teacher models specific reading strategies, chooses books of appropriate level and listens to children read in small groups. This is a highly supported activity that allows the teacher to track progress of how the reader is developing.
Word study is an intricate part of the instruction and when taught systematically and applied in continuous text, allows the beginning reader to use the developing knowledge of phonics in the actual reading and writing of messages.
When discussing progress with a parent, a teacher should not only focus on the reading level of the student but the reading behaviours developing. For example, a teacher can clearly talk about the child being able to match voice to print in a left to right direction while reading. A child should be able to slow the reading down and sample some of the letters and sounds if difficulty is encountered.
The teacher should be able to share evidence of what the student is mostly attending to while reading and what is being taught to extend the learning. For example, if the teacher notices the student only uses the first letter at point of difficulty, she should explain that her teaching would focus on helping the student efficiently use more of the letters in the word. The conversation should not be about what the child cannot do but about clear teaching goals that will increase proficiency of the reading task.
Parents may want to ask for a list of books read for the first half of the year. This gives clear evidence that reading is highly valued and a part of the every day teaching. If the parent has noticed the reading books coming home are a challenge, the conference is the time to ask for easier books. A beginning reader does not get better at reading if the books are difficult. The size of the reading groups and how often they change is also key information to ascertain how students are growing in literacy proficiency.
Progress in literacy in the early years is directly related to the amount of reading and writing done in the class by an expert teacher.
Teachers should share writing samples that indicate progress over time in writing and the instructional goals for increasing the writing proficiency. Is the student learning how to write more complex sentences and applying a good sound analysis when writing new words? Are letter formations becoming more fluent and legible?
The conference should end with the parent feeling that the instruction is focused on the development of a reader and writer. Learning how to become a proficient reader and writer in the early years is developmental and can take up to three years. Instruction should focus on this development. A parent would need to know that literacy instruction is being directly handled by the teacher, never left to volunteers or peer tutors. The early years are critical, and success is directly related to the quality of the teaching in the class and the support of the home.
As March is reporting time and a parent-teacher conference is a part of the process, both parent and teacher can use the opportunity to highlight the successes of the developing literacy learner.