> Home and School Collaboration
> Parents and Teachers Communicating
> Talking with Children about Their Strengths and Weaknesses
Home and School Collaboration
Living with or teaching a child with reading problems can be an emotionally charged experience. Frustration and confusion about what to do can complicate the conversation between parents and teachers. Respect for each other and open communication can reduce tension and enable parents and teachers to benefit from each other's expertise and knowledge of the child from different perspectives. Working as partners, parents, teachers, and the children themselves can inform one another on how best to address the child's needs.
Parents and Teachers Communicating
When you suspect your child is struggling with reading, schedule a parent-teacher meeting to share information about your child. The following "talking points" can help structure the discussion.
- Share observations of your child's profile of reading skills and discuss where the breakdown is occurring. What are the worries or concerns? Have you observed difficulties with decoding, comprehension, or retention? Do difficulties in attention, language processing, or memory seem to affect your child's reading abilities?
- Identify and discuss the child's strengths and interests. How can they be used to enhance his or her interest or skills in reading? For example, can a child who loves pandas or dinosaurs read about that topic for a book report? Parents or teachers can find books, magazines, or Web sites about the child's interests.
- Clarify the instructional program. What reading program or text does the class use? Discuss how that approach is working for your child. Examine and evaluate accommodations and interventions, such as extra time or individualized instruction.
- Acknowledge emotional reactions to the situation. Discuss with each other how children who experience frustration or failure as a result of reading difficulties at school may become so fearful or anxious that they give up. Some children may then turn their energy to acting out. Share strategies that have worked in the classroom and at home to help your child cope.
- Discuss appropriate next steps. Establish a plan for ongoing discussion and problem solving. How can you best advocate for the child?
When a problem with reading has been specified:
- Learn more about the reading process from the school, reading organizations, print resources, and Web sites. See the Resources section of this site to get started.
- Seek assistance from experienced parents and ask for referrals through professional organizations and support groups.
- Request that the school's special education teacher or learning specialist observe your child and consult with you on strategies to use both in the classroom and at home.
- Investigate the availability of professional help, such as pediatricians, reading specialists, speech-language pathologists, and others.
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Talking with Children about Their Strengths and Weaknesses
Moments of frustration as well as exhilaration are common for children with reading difficulties and for the adults who work with them. Some children give up and see themselves as failures. Others may exhibit behavior problems that relate to their reading difficulties.
To help children learn to clarify and specify their differences, All Kinds of Minds uses a process called demystification. Through open discussion with supportive adults, children understand that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. This process creates a shared sense of optimism that the child and adult are working toward a common goal and that learning problems can be successfully managed. The following suggestions can help as parents, teachers, and learning specialists work together to demystify children's difficulties with reading.
- Eliminate any stigma. Empathy can reduce your child’s frustration and anxiety about her reading difficulties. Emphasize that no one is to blame and that you know she often needs to work harder than others to read successfully. Explain that everyone, including more skilled readers, have differences in the way they learn. Reassure your child that you will help her find ways that work for her. Share a story about how you handled a learning difficulty or an embarrassing mistake in which your reading weaknesses were the culprit.
- Discuss strengths and interests. Help your child find his strengths. Use concrete examples but avoid false praise. To a child who describes a movie well, you might say, "I like the way you can remember the details that show how funny the movie was." Identify books, videos, Web sites, or places in the community that can help your child build on his strengths and interests.
- Discuss areas of weakness. Use plain language to explain what aspect of reading is difficult for your child. For example, you might say, "You may have difficulty understanding what you read because your attention drifts during reading, which causes you to miss details and lose your place."
- Emphasize optimism. Help your child realize that he can improve - he can work on his weaknesses and make his strengths stronger. Point out future possibilities for success given his current strengths. Help your child build a sense of control over his learning by encouraging him to be accountable for his own progress. A child who struggles with comprehension and learns to use Post-it® Notes to record important information from a reading selection can become responsible over time for remembering to use this strategy.
- Identify an ally. Help your child locate a mentor - a favorite teacher, a tutor, an older child, or a neighbor - who is available to work with and support her. Explain to your child that she can help herself by sharing with others how she learns best. Older children can explain the strategies that work for them, while younger ones may need adult support. Encourage your child to bean active partner with her allies.
- Protect from humiliation. Help your child strengthen self-esteem and maintain pride by protecting him from public humiliation, especially in relation to his learning differences. Always avoid criticizing your child in public and protect him from embarrassment in front of siblings and classmates. For example, don't ask a child who has decoding problems to read aloud unfamiliar material.
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- Decide which strategies to try by observing your child and identifying the ways in which he or she learns best.
- Limit yourself to 1-3 strategies to try first.
- It may take several attempts to see positive results from one strategy. Don't give up too soon.
- If the first few strategies you try do not improve the child's skills, try others.
- Most of these strategies can be adapted for use with different age groups.
- Build awareness of word sounds. Play rhyming games, such as having your child finish sentences by filling in a rhyming word. For example, say, "I like to run. It's so much ____." For a variation on this game, say a word and have your child say one that rhymes with it.
- Play listening games for letter-sound correspondence. Say a sentence and have your child clap when she hears a word that starts or ends with a particular consonant ( p ), or consonant blend ( st ).
- Reinforce sight words. Use flashcards to reinforce commonly used words like “the,” “and,” “to,” and “is.”
- Encourage multiple word attack strategies. For example, when presented with a nonsense word such as “vorse,” your child can attempt to sound it out sequentially, but he also needs to look to see if there are any little words in it that he is sure of (“or”) and any familiar chunks that are from known words (“-orse” from “horse”).
- Involve several pathways. Read aloud together so your child can see and hear the words being read. Use books on tape that allow your child to read as she listens. Sing a song that uses words with the sounds that your child is working on. Read the words to songs she likes.
- Preview text and highlight five or six “difficult” words. When your child gets to the highlighted word, teach him specific strategies for how to decode, define, and relate the word to the story. (Consider buying erasable highlighting tape).
- Write using word families. Encourage your child to write stories or poems using words in word families, such as op (mop, hop, stop, pop), that she is working on. Your child might underline or highlight the repetitive pattern. Ask her to read her stories or poems aloud to you or read them to each other.
- Teach rules. Some children benefit from learning rules about decoding (e.g., when there are two vowels together in a word, the first vowel often says its name and the second one is silent). Once your child has learned the rule for a vowel combination, remind him to follow it when he encounters that vowel combination in his reading.
- Play word games. Word games and puzzles are fun and also build vocabulary and word understanding. Try crossword puzzles, word bingo, Scrabble®, or Boggle®.
- Read aloud every day. Read and encourage your child to read directions, labels, and signs in the classroom, at home, in the car, and at stores or shops. Have your child take turns reading aloud with a friend, parent, or sibling. Discuss what you are reading.
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- Build on your child’s knowledge. Select reading topics that enhance subject matter previously covered in school or that reflect your child's interests. Encourage her to develop expertise in a subject and to read different types of texts about that subject, such as articles, books, and online materials.
- Draw inferences and make predictions about text. Ask your child to stop frequently and think about what will happen next. Also, ask him other questions that will require him to make educated guesses.
- Engage several pathways. Use pictures and diagrams to explain concepts; use stories on tape or tell stories; and encourage your child to interpret stories through drawings, models, or other constructions. Teach your child to "make movies in his head" as she reads, visualizing the setting and events. Stop after a few paragraphs or pages and ask her to describe his "movie."
- Help your child access grade-level text books. Show him how to preview the text by looking at charts, pictures, dark headings, and captions before he begins to read.
- Focus on important information. Before your child begins reading challenging material, offer an outline of the key ideas or help her make diagrams or charts that capture key concepts as she reads.
- Use the “KWL” strategy. To help your child comprehend how language works and to reflect upon his own degree of understanding, teach him how to think through: What I Know, What I Want to Learn, What I Learned.
- Select a strategy. Before your child begins reading, have her write down the reading comprehension strategy she plans to use. She might choose guiding questions, highlighting or underlining significant details, writing comments in the margin, or summarizing after each paragraph.
- Learn a new word every day. Subscribe to a website (e.g., www.dictionary.com) to receive a new word every day that includes a definition, pronunciation, and the word being used in a sentence. Encourage your child to learn and use the new word throughout the day.
- Help your child locate main ideas and important details. Suggest that he think about the "5 Ws" as he reads: Who? What? When? Where? Why? Post these questions on a wall or have your child write them on a sheet of paper he keeps nearby or uses as a bookmark.
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- Use rereading for remembering. Teach your child how to highlight or underline as she reads; then encourage her to reread what she has underlined. Have your child separate reading a passage for meaning from rereading the same passage for remembering.
- Model the processes you use to remember. Describe a picture you create in your mind to help you understand and remember what you read, or show your child how you remember what you read by making connections between the text and what you already know about the topic.
- Suggest techniques for remembering. Use memory aids, called mnemonics, to help your child remind himself of information. One example is H.O.M.E.S., in which each letter represents one of the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. Other memory aids might include creating cartoons; using mental imagery; or constructing sentences with the first letter from each concept, such as Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally for the order of mathematics operations: parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction.
- Summarize and review. Have your child recap short passages or chapters, possibly recording key ideas on Post-it® Notes or reading his summaries into a tape recorder. Continue a story over several days so your child can summarize what happened each day and recall this information before the next reading.
- Build reading self-awareness. Increase your child’s awareness of reading strategies she already uses. For example, does she visualize (form pictures in his mind while she reads) or subvocalize (whisper important information under her breath)? Encourage her to build on her own preferred strategies.
- Connect yesterday's reading to today's. Continue a story over several days. Have your child make predictions about what he thinks will happen; then compare those predictions to what actually happens in the story.
- Use self-questioning strategies. Have your child develop a list of questions to answer after reading. These questions and answers can become the basis of parent-child discussions. Have your child make a Think Aloud Bookmark. On the bookmark, have her write questions to ask herself after each section. She can personalize it with decorations.
- Connect reading to what your child knows. Have your child discuss what he already knows about a topic before reading. Then have him list the things he would like to learn about the topic, and make predictions about whether the assigned reading will include these things or not.
- Read in stages. Break lengthy passages into short segments. Ask your child to summarize each section as soon as she finishes reading it, or have her write a brief summary for herself at the end of each section.
- Use strategies to recall important information. For instance, ask your child to make up lyrics to a favorite turn or a rap, using the information he needs to remember.
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- Model reading as enjoyable. Let your child see family members enjoying reading. You might informally discuss what you are reading. Have DEAR time several times a week where everyone "Drops Everything And Reads" for 20 minutes.
- Certain times should be set aside each day for high motivational reading. Magazine subscriptions and visits to the library can facilitate this process.
- Help your child get started. Read the first part of a story or passage to or with your child. Siblings and classmates can also participate by taking turns reading paragraphs or short sections.
- Draw attention to omissions and substitution of words. Your child might benefit from making a tape-recording of her own reading. Then, she should play the tape back and listen to herself reading while she follows the text closely. She should grade her own reading by marking up the text to make it a transcript of the tape.
- Develop techniques for self-monitoring. Show your child how to test himself by creating a list of questions to determine if he has understood and retained what he read. If he is unable to answer a question, show him how to find the correct answer in the passage or how to figure it out from what the passage said.
- Provide a clear ruler to help your child keep his place while reading. If he skips a line, help him to notice that what he is reading does not make sense.
- Focus attention by using reading organizers. Mapping techniques and organizers such as a story outline help children become familiar with the structure of stories and keep track of story elements as they read. Make this a hands-on activity by using markers to identify each story element.
Sample Story Outline:
- Set goals and record progress. Have your child set a short-term goal, such as completing all homework for the week. Record, and share with your child, the daily progress toward the goal. Graphic recording, such as plotting their own line graphs, may be particularly reinforcing for some children.
- Jot down significant information on sticky notes. Then if your child has trouble deciding what is important, help her reposition her notes appropriately.
- Teach and model the use of information in textbooks. Coach your child by providing him with a structure before reading the chapter: first read the questions at the end of the chapter; then look for important information in the pictures; read the captions; look for key terms, concepts, or people that are probably written in bold or italicized text or already underlined.
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