Thursday, 22 August 2019 14:13

Here's How Parents Can Support Schools in Building Stronger Readers

There are a few names for what parents and teachers fear will happen to their students over the long stretch of summer. The summer slide, brain drain, and learning loss are just a few the terms referring to the tendency of students to lose ground academically over long school breaks.

But not on Allyn Kau’s watch. This year, the Alta View Elementary parent decided to tackle the summer slide head on and see what she could do to keep the Road Runners reading through the lazy days of June, July and August.

She volunteered to create a program, using the Partners in Dyad Reading method encouraged by the Utah State Board of Education, then worked with Alta View Principal Scott Jameson to develop a weekly opportunity for students to come to school and practice their reading all summer long. The result was a highly-organized community effort to keep students moving forward—not backward—so they could resume school this week without missing a beat.Cau

“We’re always told to read 15-20 minutes a day, but with a little change, you can make a big difference,” Kau said. “I saw students struggling in math and reading and I was just hoping to find a way to help them catch up, or at least not drop.”

Kau learned about Dyad Reading at a presentation at the state PTA convention. While there, she made connections with the Utah State Board of Education (USBE), United Way, Utah State Fair and the Reading Network Group, who each gave her donations, such as notebooks, resources and Spanish and English flyers on how to participate in Dyad Reading. Her initial inroads led to connections with the Salt Lake County library system, which agreed to support the program.

Next, Alta View’s librarians, teachers and reading interventionists were willing to volunteer their time for two hours once a week to help read with the students and allow the children to check out a book from the school library. Principal Jameson used school-based funds to pay for the electricity needed to open the school for the program, and fund the teachers and employees. Librarians from the Salt Lake County system also volunteered at the reading session, as well as other members of the community.

“The program had two purposes, to read with the kids and to train parents in how to be better at reading with their kids,” Jameson said. “This is an example of a way that we can come together and work really well to find the best thing for the kids, and it became a much better program than it would have been if we were working separately.”

Dyad Reading pairs adults and students together as they sit side-by-side and simultaneously read out loud books that are two grade levels higher than the student’s reading group. If the child doesn’t know a word, the adult repeats it, and then the entire sentence, then continues on. According to the USBE, the method can improve reading fluency and comprehension by 1.9 grade levels.

“I think if we teach the parents to do it and get them on board, it’s a win-win situation,” said Tami Malan, a second-grade dual-immersion teacher at Alta View who also wanted to find a way to give students access to the school library during the summer. Students can lose three or four months of reading levels during the summer when they don’t read, Malan said. She’s already thinking about how to improve the program next year—but she says it couldn’t have been done without Cau’s initiative. 

Kau regularly volunteers at the school, belongs to the PTA, and occasionally works as a substitute in the classroom. The reading program was a monumental effort, she says, but in the end, even if only one student benefitted, it was worth it. 

“I say, just do something. Start somewhere. Talk to somebody,” Kau said. “There are always people who are willing to help. You don’t have to know everything, you just have to get the ball rolling and other people will fill in with their strengths and expertise.”

The USBE has an online guide for parents who are interested in trying Dyad reading with their children at home. Here are some highlights:

What is Dyad Reading?

Reading with your children is one of the most important things you can do to help them excel at school. We access the world of knowledge through reading, and, as the saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” The Dyad reading method is one way of reading with your child that has been proven to deliver measurable gains. It’s simple, and involves sitting side-by-side with your child, and reading aloud together as you scan the words with your finger. Discuss your child’s instructional level with your teacher. Use grade-level texts for first-graders. For students in grades 2-6, use materials that are about two grade levels above their current reading level.

•  Share one book.
•  Sit side by side.
•  Use one smooth finger.
•  Read with two voices.
•  Keep eyes on words.
•  Problem-solve to break words into manageable chunks.
•  Don’t go too fast or too slow.
•  Write down words you don’t know and look up their definitions.
•  Discuss the characters and plot.
•  Summarize main ideas.
•  Have fun!
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