How I got kids to take up reading in a home with no print in sight.
I looked forward to visiting my students in their homes. Whether visiting 5th graders or special needs students, I usually made at least two visits to each child's home during a school year.
Interacting with my students on their home turfs offered new and different insights. Generally, my goals were the same: I'd share classroom news and get to put names with some faces I rarely saw during parent-conference week. I'd also spend a few minutes extolling the virtues of reading aloud every day. But, home visits with students one year posed a glaring reality. One day, I'd visited five students and had not seen a single book, magazine, or newspaper. This meant I was wasting folks' time with all my talk about reading aloud. Reading of any kind would not be happening in those homes. Many of my children's families could scarcely afford food and clothing. Yet, I was marching in there with the expectation, the exhortation, that they should be reading to their kids every day. In truth, I realized how little I had done to facilitate reading aloud at home. Later that day, another troubling thought came to mind as I looked around our classroom. Volumes of books lined the shelves. Books covered the table and reading corners. I'd done a great job of providing books for my kids. Every one of those books, however, lived in our classroom. My students went home to print-bare environments. Hmmm. What if I re-tooled my home visits? What if I made them into family-literacy-training visits. If family members wouldn't/couldn't come to school, what if school went to their homes? Preparations for that first family-literacy-training visit went like all my previous visits. I always called ahead. But this time, I told Suzanna’s mother that I would be bringing a special book to share. Over the next few days, I carefully studied Suzanna’s interests as I also perused our classroom library. I then chose a book that I felt sure Suzanna would like, a book I was equally sure she had never opened. I also copied the current month’s page from a calendar. I was ready. On the appointed day, I set off, armed with a bag containing one special book, one calendar page, one marker, and lots of enthusiasm and ideas. I hoped to leave that bag with Suzanna and her family. Suzanna made the introductions before leading a skillfully-narrated tour of her room. I then invited Suzanna, her younger sister, and their mother to join me on their couch. I said that we were all going on a trip. I pulled out the book and showed its cover. I asked, “Where do you think we’re going?” “To the zoo!” both girls exclaimed. I asked how on earth they knew that. The girls proceeded to “read” the cover’s art, putting that picture into words and sentences. So far. So good. I opened the book, and carefully modeled some read-aloud techniques I hoped Suzanna’s mother would use later with her girls. “That’s a good question,” I said when Suzanna’s sister asked what a zoo animal was eating. “What do you think?” I asked. When Suzanna said the zoo keeper looked worried and why she thought so, I said, “Gosh, I felt worried when my dog got out the other day. When have you felt worried about something?” “So what do you think might happen next?” I asked before turning a page. As always happens with a good book, the minutes passed too quickly. I glanced at my watch and announced that I was due soon at another student's home. “But we’re not done!” all three voices chimed in disappointment. I seized the opportunity. “You know,” I said, “good readers sometimes take several days to read a whole book.” I then asked Suzanna if she might like to keep the book so they could finish it later. Hoping this family would revisit the book often that week, I said, “Good readers like to reread books they especially like!” Producing the calendar page and marker, I asked Suzanna if she could help find and circle that day’s date along with the date one week hence. “Suzanna, could you bring this book back to school next week on this day?” She nodded, so I went on, “Suzanna, maybe you’ll want to tell the whole class about your special book on that day. Think about it. You can let me know later if you’d like to do that.” I left that first family literacy home visit filled with questions. Had I sown any seeds there? Would that book-sharing prompt more reading and interacting with print in Suzanna’s home? Would Suzanna and her family ask to adopt another lonely book from our classroom? The next morning, Suzanna provided answers to my questions: “My mom read to us last night! We all giggled on the last page! We’re gonna read my book again tonight!” Home visits now took on a new look and purpose. I always left a child’s home empty-handed. And nearly every book came back on time. Most were eagerly shared in class, and children's sharing caused rippling effects––other students asked to take those books home. Aware that some of my children’s parents did not read well or were not fluent in English, I took great care in choosing each book. Sometimes, I took a book the child had already read; this prompted shared reading with my student proudly leading the way. This shared reading also meant the parent got to witness their child’s success with print. At other times, I'd take along a printless book to ensure that all family members could be successful in giving words and sentences to those pictures. Whether a book was new or familiar to the child, each became a catalyst for family involvement in literacy activities. And a worn look by year’s end gave proof that a book had lived a full life beyond the walls of our classroom. © 2006 Babs Bell Hajdusiewicz
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