Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tips for Getting Your Kids Ready to Go Back to School- Developing your reader's self-perception

The new school year is looming. Is your child prepared? Have you stocked up on the 25 cent crayons and 5 cent glue bottles? Do you have the coveted Iron Man backpack? Have the buses been doing practice runs through your neighborhood? Have you been doing practice runs for school?  Is your child ready for a successful school year? Does your child believe that he will be successful this year?
Preparing your child physically and mentally for a new school year is pretty easy. Most children are excited to pick out all of the required supplies. Throw in a few math flash cards the night before and they'll be back where they left off last year.  But what about preparing your child emotionally for a new school year? Is that an important preparation?
For the last several years, studies have shown that students who have a positive perception of themselves as a reader, will read more often and for longer periods of time. Students have also supported the idea that students who have a poor perception of their reading abilities will either avoid reading altogether or read with little involvement. Helping your child feel confident as a reader is important.
In Choice Words Peter Johnston explains the differences between readers who have a good sense of agency (a belief that if they act strategically they can accomplish their goals) and those who do not have a good sense of agency.
Children who doubt their competence set low goals and choose easy tasks... when they face difficultites, they become confused, lose concentration...In the long run they disengage, decrease effort, generate fewer ideas, and become passive and discouraged. Children with strong belief in their own agency work harder, focus their attention better, are more interested in their studies, and are less likely to give up when they encounter difficulty...

Here are some tips for getting your reader geared up for a great year:
  • Be choosy with the words you use when instructing your child in reading. During my reading recovery training, we found we were often saying to children, "Good readers (insert reading strategy here)...." After a lot of discussion and study, we started to wonder how that phrase might affect the child's perception of themselves as a reader. It's really a simple equation. (Good readers + reading strategy) - I'm not using that strategy = I'm not a good reader.  We decided to just say, "Readers..." (Example: "Readers check the pictures for help.")-- this idea came from reading Peter Johnson's book "Choice Words"
  • Don't camp out in the "baby" books. When your child begins to read, they may start with beginning phonics readers or early very repetitive text such as "I can jump. I can run. I can walk." These are GREAT ways to teach early reading concepts-- but try to move your child quickly through these books. If your child is still reading early phonics readers in second grade, reevaluate. The message we are sending these kids is that they aren't real readers. Mom and Dad don't read books with repetitive texts or patterns, so let your child move quickly to the real reading. (That doesn't mean skip these early books. They are essential.) 
  • On the flip side, DO provide your child with books that are easy for him to read. Allow him to read them over and over and over and over. This repetitive reading allows your child to pull together all the aspects of reading and build fluency.
  • Don't interrupt your child's reading. Allow him to read to you and just enjoy hearing him read. This will also help him develop fluency. After he reads, you might want to go back and work on one thing.  You don't have to point out every mistake in the book.
  • Teach your child to problem solve. This empowers them as readers. (Here is a good way to know if you've empowered them-- Do they look at you first when they encounter a problem in reading or do they try something on their own first?-- I know about this from watching videos of my former students. Sometimes it looked like they had whiplash because they were turning their heads toward me so many times. Those children were not empowered as readers).
I hope you can send your kid back to school this year with an IronMan backpack full of the best 10 cent supplies AND a belief that he can succeed as a student and a reader!

The Reading Teacher; March 1995
Choice Words by Peter Johnson
I wrote this blog post while participating in the TwitterMoms blogging program to be eligible to get a HarperCollins book set. For more information on how you can participate, click here.


  1. Hi, Jackie!
    What advice do you have for teaching sight words. Whitten struggled with this last year in Kindergarten. Thanks! Jennifer Ford

  2. Great article! This is especially timely advice for me, since Anna starts kindergarten in just a few weeks. The countdown begins!

  3. Great advice. MacGyver is a late bloomer when it comes to reading. Here is the beauty of me getting to be his reading teacher: He has no idea that he is a late bloomer. He is proud of all his reading and is always ready to read! He loves books and looks forward to the day when he can read independently.

    My wish is for all children to love books and love reading.