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READING FOR PARENTS IN MIDDLE SCHOOL

Module by: Toni Childress, Sandra Hedrick. E-mail the authors

Summary: In the elementary years, parents are usually involved with their students’ education; volunteering at school, keeping up with homework, and communicating with teachers. When students get to the middle school level, parents seem to pull back more, especially after the sixth grade year, generally being more involved when it comes to sports and/or discipline issues rather than what is taking place in the classroom.

PROJECT RATIONALE

In the elementary years, parents are usually involved with their students’ education; volunteering at school, keeping up with homework, and communicating with teachers. When students get to the middle school level, parents seem to pull back more, especially after the sixth grade year, generally being more involved when it comes to sports and/or discipline issues rather than what is taking place in the classroom. Homework is seen as a student responsibility, and parents leave its completion up to the child. At this level, when parents seem to be more comfortable withdrawing some direct support from their students, it is actually a time when they need it most. With the pressures of adolescent changes, increasingly difficult workloads, and more personal decision-making, this part of their lives could be a time when students need the support of their parents or guardians more than ever. The purpose of our project is to draw more parent and community involvement in specifically the literacy growth of our student population.

Our division focus these last few years has been on literacy and numeracy in our school. With the high stakes testing and No Child Left Behind, it is even more crucial that we provide our students with appropriate intervention steps to promote literacy and numeracy. One of our school goals for the 2006-2007 school year was for every child to be reading on grade level by the end of the school year measured by various assessments to include Developmental Reading Assessment, Gates-McGinnitie Reading Test, and Standard of Learning RLR test. Another school goal was to increase our math SOL scores and to have all of our students on grade level with math by the end of the year.

According to Southern Regional Education Board, researcher David Denton reports that students who are caught early and given intense instruction in literacy, improve in other subjects as well as improve their chance at graduating high school (Denton, 2000). One initiative Peasley Middle School created for the 2006-2007 was a 6th grade intervention program. Students were chosen based on several factors, including 5th grade SOL scores between 380-420, reading two grades below grade level as measured by the Gates-McGinnitie Test and Developmental Reading Assessment. Our goal at the beginning of the year was to have fewer than 22 total students in this program with one teacher. This one teacher would give intense reading and writing instruction to half the students in the first period of the morning every day and give the other half intense reading instruction second period of the morning every day. The teacher responsible for this program has extensive knowledge in teaching reading comprehension. Our school reading specialist also worked with this group of students as a collaborative teacher and/or as a resource for the teacher.

One of the frustrations he encountered was with homework. Parents wanted to help their student and were very supportive of the program and the teacher; however, homework was still being returned incomplete or incorrect. At parent conferences, parents often stated that they were often confused or unable to help their child due to lack of knowledge of the strategy. Parents were not stating that they could not read or follow directions, but the strategies that the teachers used were different than what they were familiar with; therefore, parents were unable to support teachers by using the same language and strategies.

As a way to help educate parents on practices to help their child at home, we decided that we could hold mini workshops once a month and feature specific strategies versus broad information. Usually, at parent night events, the same suggestions are given over and over again, such as to find a quiet place to study, to set up a consistent time, etc. Parents can follow these suggestions and still be of little help in guiding their students’ progress. As one of our ways to publicize and draw participation, we plan to have the dates on a calendar with the workshop titles for the entire year printed so that parents can plan for these workshops and know ahead of time. Student agendas will have these workshops included in the school year calendar dates, and reminders will be sent home with the students and vocalized at PTA meetings.

At the beginning of the school year, for example, it is important to help parents understand the overall concept of the program and the importance of parental support throughout the year. Broadly speaking, parents are unfamiliar with test information, specifically, how to interpret scores and put the scores into meaningful specifics about their child’ strengths and weaknesses. At Peasley Middle School, upcoming 6th grade students will enter our school having had DRA, DSA, and SOL tests. Most parents are familiar with SOL tests, but we feel it is also important that the specific strands are explained as they relate to their child and their child’s scores. The DRA is an assessment tool which breaks down reading comprehension and vocabulary skills. The DSA is a spelling inventory assessment. Research shows that students’ spelling is directly related to ability to read and reading comprehension. Thus, when a student learns how to spell at an age appropriate level, the student’s mastery of reading and reading comprehension will increase (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 2000). Parents will, hopefully, come to Peasley knowing some of the jargon associated with these assessments, since our feeder elementary teachers use the same tests.

We also have a reading improvement plan that is specific to every child in the intervention program. The reading improvement plans are used to assist the teacher, student, and parent in assisting with diagnosing, monitoring, assessing, and teaching to a child’s strengths and weaknesses. It is a plan that is fluid and goals should change as the student grows, similar to students which have Individualized Education Plans for special education. It is important at this point that parents know what a reading improvement plan is and what their role is in creating and supporting the goals of the plan.

PROJECT ORGANIZATION

The first part of October, we plan to have our reading specialist and intervention teacher conduct a workshop on how to help parents read at home with their child. Most parents at this age want to help their child succeed but, unfortunately, much of what we do in the classroom has changed and is difficult for some parents to work with their children in the same manner as teachers do at school. Homework should be designed to enhance what has already been learned in the classroom. Reading for this group of students been a struggle for them throughout elementary school and our ultimate goal is to make it more pleasant and to create lifelong readers. The October workshop will give parents specific strategies to use when helping their child read. For example, we want our parents to know how to help their child decode unfamiliar words, self correct when reading aloud, how to have students clarify a paragraph for meaning, and how to help produce a lifelong love of reading. Our two teachers will give guidelines and examples of a read aloud or a book talk session they do in class. Parents will be provided with a “toolkit” of sorts to take home with them, including specific strategies and how to use them with their child.

November is going to focus on math and strategies to help parents teach and reinforce at home on how to solve multi-step problems, word problems, and basic math facts. From analyzing test results, it is apparent students, for the most part, do not have difficulty in remembering or calculating basic facts; however, students do have difficulty with how to take apart and approach word problems. In many ways, this difficulty is not a mathematically isolated concern, but rests on difficulties with basic literacy. For many parents, math and reading are taught so differently that it is often intimidating when their child brings home homework that is unfamiliar. Parents need assistance in learning the vocabulary which is associated with math concepts in order to help their students. By teaching parents basic strategies and an overview on how to help their child at home, parents become our biggest asset as we work together to create positive relationships.

Because December is an extremely busy month and is shortened, we felt that we could organize a community workshop where we invite businesses and representatives from local businesses to come in and talk with parents and students. This is a work in progress and could change as we see our needs change, but based on our students from this past year, they would benefit from having some time to hear about career opportunities as they relate to literacy and math. Many students do not make the connection with what they are learning in school as something that will help them make it in the real world. We would like to invite a variety of workers, ranging from engineers and teachers to cashiers at fast food restaurants and Wal-Mart. We would like to include not only career-oriented positions, but also hourly wage positions, as these types of jobs are where so many of our students see themselves headed after school. Students need to be aware that it is not only the post-college careers which use basic skills taught in school. Again, many students’ parents work in these jobs as well, so this is another opportunity to bring them closer to being comfortable working with their student.

January is the month we would like our reading specialist, intervention teacher, and perhaps a Language Arts teacher conduct two workshops, one on Word Study and writing. The writing workshop should focus on 8th grade parents, in particular due to the SOL given in early March. According to the National Commission on Writing, writing “requires students to stretch their minds, sharpen their analytical capabilities, and make valuable and accurate distinctions” (Schmoker, 2006). There are many different ways to teach writing and it is important that parents understand what the guiding philosophies are at Peasley Middle School with regards to writing. Across the grade levels and curriculum, we use the Six Traits of writing. These are six basic guidelines to writing any type of paper. This workshop will help parents support the writing process at home, especially with the reluctant readers and writers (Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 2007). Word Study, according to Word Their Way, is a reading, spelling, and writing strategy used to help students group patterns to reveal consistencies of written words together by using games and manipulatives. Thus, students are able to recognize, spell, and understand specific words (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 2000). Because these manipulatives can be used at home to reinforce the day’s assignments, parents should be familiar with the concept behind Word Study as well as how to help their student at home.

March and April are months headed into the SOL testing season, which already has after-school sessions planned for remediation and tutoring, so additional scheduled activities should be kept to a minimum to avoid lack of participation due to busy schedules. As testing is a major concern during this time, it is a perfect opportunity to work test taking strategies into the parent sessions. Students may know the content well, but without the ability to tease out what the questions are asking, they will still do poorly on the test. Parents during these sessions will also be given a basic understanding of what these tests are and what their child’s performance on these tests means for their academic future. Also during these workshops, teachers and students from the high school can come to speak with parents of current eighth grade students as to what to expect at the high school level and how parents can stay involved and help with the next level of schooling. These collaborations will be helpful in creating workshops for the next year directed at the parents of rising ninth graders.

May and June are months already packed with testing, outside sports, and wrapping up the school year. These months should be spent collecting feedback from parents as to the productivity of these workshops. Changes and adjustments should be made to the following year’s program as to these suggestions and needs voiced by the parents. After the first year, there will be a starting point for building on the next year’s workshops when these parents and their students move on to the next higher grade level.

Works Cited

Bear, D. R., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2000). Words their way: Word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education.

Denton, D. R. (2000, January). Teaching all children to read. Southern Regional Education Board , p. 5.

Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. (2007). NWREL. Retrieved June 21, 2007, from Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory: http://www.nwrel.org/index.php

Schmoker, M. (2006). Results now: How we can achieve unprecedented improvements in teaching and learning. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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