Literacy Night helps parents teach
February 1, 2008
Despite being held on Tuesday night, during round two of this week’s storms, McPolin Elementary School parents braved the snow in order to attend the school’s annual Literacy Night, an event where they learn how to teach their children reading skills.
"I think parents need to be fully aware of how they can help their children at home," said Joanne Dickens, an ELL instructional assistant and presenter at the event.
"We’re trying to get parent involvement all the time. Some of them don’t have a clue how to help their children learn to read or decode words, and it’s very important for them to take the opportunity to be a part of helping their children succeed."
In previous years, reading specialist Melissa Bott said Literacy Night was only for Title I students who needed help with reading, "but due to requests, we decided to invited all parents this year."
The event was set up in two sections, one for English Language Learner (ELL) parents and one for English-speaking parents. Each side had three stations: "comprehension and writing," "phonics and Words Their Way spelling," and "guided reading and fluency."
Noemi Santana Duram, parent of second-grader Ulises and fifth-grader Delfino, said she came to Literacy Night to help her children "read the sounds."
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Her kids have attended McPolin since kindergarten, and now, because of Literacy Night, she said she has learned how to work on tapping out sounds, cutting sounds up and sorting them according to their endings, and connecting words with pictures in a book.
She said she plans on spending more time reading with her children. "I’m going to be sitting side-by-side with them to read not be cooking or doing other things," she said.
Presenter and ELL teacher Mona Lesar suggests parents and their children read each book two or three times to increase fluency. In McPolin’s take-home reading program, two books, which are sorted according to a child’s reading abilities, are available for students to take home.
However, a key component to the program is that children actually take those books out of their backpacks when they get home, which sometimes doesn’t happen. According to Lesar. second-grader Ashley Juarez Venegas was doing just that until her mother, Minerva Venegas, found out.
"Now I’m advising my daughter every morning not to forget the books inside her folder and to get more tomorrow," Venegas said. Lesar added that Ashley’s reading skills have improved immensely since Venegas became involved.
Lesar said she uses Ashley’s success as an example for her other students. "I tell the kids, ‘look, she may be the tiniest girl in the group, but look how powerful she is with her words," she said.
Lesar added this is just one of many instances where the messages parents send to their children about the importance of reading make a big difference in their readiness to learn.
"Ashley is totally turned on to reading now that she knows her mom is engaged reading with her," Lesar said. "Parents are their children’s first teachers, and if you can get them to support what you’re doing in schools, then they will succeed."
Dickens said she has seen the same pattern as Lesar. "A teacher can send home homework, and the kids may know they should do it, but are they comfortable doing it?" she said. "If parents help at home, kids will become more excited."
Principal Bob Edmiston said giving parents a better idea about what they can do to help support their children at home is just one of the reasons McPolin hosts events like Literacy Night. He added it also helps families feel welcome and connected to the school. "It builds community," he said.
Edmiston has worked with at-risk readers as well, and he said he is amazed by how much they progress. He used second-grader Yareli Villa as an example.
"When she first came to school, she had limited English-speaking skills and limited English-reading skills," he said. "And now, she is reading to me early literacy books, and reading with a big smile on her face. That’s the best part. Seeing the smiles on these kids’ faces because they know they’ve worked hard."
In order for children to improve and succeed that much, Dickens said the No. 1 thing parents can do is read with their children. "If they can start in kindergarten and read with their children every night, what a difference that will make," she said. "I encourage 20 minutes of reading every day. You can read to them. They can read to you, and by you reading to them, they can hear how you read, and they’re hearing the fluency."
Janet Lignugaris/Kraft, an ELL teacher, said it doesn’t matter what they choose to read, as long as they’re reading, and they’re stimulated by it. "Let them read whatever they want, no matter what genre it is," she said. "Get as many books like that for your child as you can."
Lignugaris/Kraft presented on how parents can use basic techniques like examining a book cover, flipping through the pictures and asking questions about what their kids think is going to happen to help build interest and aid in comprehension.
"Spending quality time with their children in a learning situation," she said, "is very precious and important for the child’s future." She added that she was impressed with the turnout considering the bad weather, especially with how many Hispanic families attended. "They want to learn how to help their children."
Lesar was also pleased with the turnout. "The fact that these parents are here to help their children tells you a lot about their goals," she said. "They’re very concerned about their children’s education.’
She said there tends to be misperception among Latino parents that they are incapable of helping their children, but she hopes, through events like Literacy Night, to discourage that kind of thinking.
She continued that reading together not only improves their children’s literacy, but their own literacy as well. "My mother told me she learned more English by reading to me when I was young," Lesar said. "It’s a buy-in for them because they get to learn too." The books sent home with students have simple text with repeated patterns, which make them great for learning, she added.
Edmiston said "My goal has always been to be a model school, so that other schools can come here to ask ‘how did you do that?’ Right now our short-term goal is to evaluate what we’ve been doing and be thoughtful with what’s working and to build on this strategy or that success for future growth."
Edmiston added that one of their biggest challenges as a school is to meet the needs of all students in a population that’s changing to include more and more ELL children.
Edmiston is not alone in the shift he is experiencing. ELL students account for more than 10 percent of the student population in the United States, and programs are popping up across the country in an attempt to decrease isolation and increase parent engagement.
"Our goal is to combine instructional practices to meet the needs of all students … from those with socio-economic and language barriers to those who come from an English-speaking family that are much more fluent," he said. "And we’re going to have to work really hard at it."