September ... when students, teachers and parents find their way back into reading and writing
September marks the beginning of a new school year. Students, teachers and parents are eager and apprehensive about outcomes for the year. Everyone has a responsibility to support, extend and accelerate the literacy skills of all learners. Getting off to the best start for the teacher means one thing, for parents another. What are some of the proactive and positive things parents and teachers can do so that our learners feel confident they can continue to accelerate and be self-motivated to extend their literacy skills?
Teachers recognise preparation is important. This means spending countless hours preparing the class so that students walk in and feel a sense of order (materials in place) and structure (established routines) for the learning they will do. The initial impression students and parents get from a class sends a message about the value being placed on literacy. A strong literacy teacher will ensure a few basics are in place so all students will find their way back into reading and writing. What are the basics of a literacy-friendly classroom?
Materials are readily available and accessible for students use. There should an array of books displayed (front facing), tables (preferably round) that allow for collaborative conversations and lots of paper and writing materials. Books should reflect a range of genres and sizes. Big books for shared reading and strategy teaching are critical. Sets of levelled books to guide beginning readers and popular literature that inspires and can be used to teach particular writing styles are also included. Rhyming books, picture books, digital books and magazines all provide a choice of reading and teaching support.
The walls should have space to display student work as a priority and obvious signs and labels for work stations and notices. Ideally, a comfortable big chair for read aloud and soft seating allows the replication of home reading in the classroom.
A literacy-friendly classroom values talk, particularly detailed and informative conversations with children about things that interest them and their experiences. Questions should encourage children to talk while reading picture books to deepen understandings.
The literacy-friendly classroom has shared book-reading experiences several times a week. Informal (journal writing) and formal writing (published pieces) is celebrated and indicates change over time in writing development.
Most importantly, a literacy-friendly classroom has teachers who are avid readers, who have received intensive training in literacy and are passionate about further learning. Strong literacy teachers will be articulate about how they teach reading and writing, will share how students will be assessed, and will send regular books and updates about student progress. A strong literacy teacher knows books sent home will be at the appropriate level for student enjoyment.
A literacy-friendly home can almost resemble the class environment. The home is the first teacher of what is valued. Parents can send a child to school ready to increase their literacy experiences by providing a home environment that values literacy through consistent practices. The home should be a place filled with reading and writing materials. Parents are seen to be reading and writing regularly. Libraries can be used to borrow books and at almost no cost. The home sets as a priority reading to children several times a week by an adult filled with detailed and informative conversations. Children in the home are encouraged to speak in clear sentences and language is modelled as a means for clear communication and as a learning tool. Children in the home are a part of reading recipes for cooking and creating shopping lists. They can be involved in budgeting and the use of the computer to research ideas. Parents set limits on television but will use some of their time to make television watching an active experience by incorporating talk into the programming.
The parent who wants to build the home and school literacy connection can find a number of innovative ways to support teachers through volunteering time, skills and resources. One way is to offer to be a reading buddy during the week. This is an opportunity to demonstrate to teachers and students that you value the learning process. Parents can also assist by leading an after school book club at school or in shared homes. This is an excellent way to develop friendships while promoting a love of books. Parents who are IT-savvy can offer to do a class newsletter and Web pages with student contributions and upcoming events. Parents with artistic ability or who know artists can assist with bulletin board displays that highlight children writing and book reviews. No matter how a parent chooses to help build the home and school literacy connection, it strengthens the value placed on literacy.
The new school year provides a renewed opportunity for teachers and parents to work together, to support learners in development of literacy as a natural outcome rather than something done only in the school. It can start from the first day of school and last a lifetime.