Ask the Literacy Teacher|
by Leigh Hall
Getting Parents Involved
Meeting Diverse Needs
Please submit your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Literacy Teacher,
I have taught 1st grade for six years and in my short time of teaching things are getting worse! I teach in Texas where students in grades 3-12 are expected to pass state tests to pass to the next grade. My frustration is in the parents and dealing with beginning readers. What does one do when there is absolutely no reinforcement of reading skills outside of school? I have explained to parents the importance of my students being able to read on a first grade level by May or they will be retained, but still I get no response.
To help these students, I tutor everyday after school for 45 minutes -- they attend tutoring during school for 45 minutes -- and I work with each child in a small group daily for 25 minutes (one-on-one) and still they make no progress. The body of children I work with is Hispanic, low socioeconomic children whose parents are on welfare and seem uninterested. I'm at my wits end to make these students successful, but I feel I'm getting no where. At this point in the year, I have seven children who are so far behind there's little hope for catching up. What can I do????? I've even considered leaving this profession because it's harder and harder every year. I use phonics programs, early literacy, whole language, and write to read programs with little results. The stress is baring down.
As a former Texas teacher I understand what you are talking about! Your letter raises many issues, three of which I would like to deal with here: parent involvement, poverty and success.
The problem that you described around parent involvement is a common one that many teachers feel frustrated about. What solutions are out there? While there are no definitive answers, I do have some suggestions that could get you thinking about parent involvement in a new and different way. Consider these questions:
- What is your cultural background and what are your expectations? Many teachers are white, female and middle-class. They tend to expect families that are not white and/or middle-class to respond in the same manner that they would. Determine what your expectations for parents and families are. Try to articulate why you hold these expectations and where they come from. Think about how your own cultural background and experiences with school as a child might play a part in these ideas.
- What is the background of the families that you serve? You already know that they are Hispanic. Do you know if English is spoken in the home? If the families do not speak English then it would not be realistic to expect them to work with their children on English only activities. In thinking about this question further, it would be helpful to know the makeup of the family (how many children in the home…how many adults…etc…) and the schedules that they keep. Do they work at night and sleep during the day? Once you have a solid understanding of these families then you can begin to consider strategies for getting them involved in school. This, of course, is only a beginning.
The second issue that you raised deals with poverty. You claim that most of your students come from homes of low socio-economic background whose parents are on welfare and seem uninterested. First, the term, "low socio-economic background," is just that -- a term. It is a way to sort and classify people. I encourage you to talk to the families whose children you serve. If you learn about what their lives were like in Mexico you may find that they are not poor people. Poverty, according to Ruby Payne (2001) is relative. Usually these families have a great deal more living at what we consider to be below the line of poverty than if they were still living in Mexico. The idea that they, "seem uninterested," is just that -- an idea. Your attempts to connect with parents may have failed but that does not mean that these parents do not care about their children's education. I urge you to return to the two questions I stated earlier and begin to consider other routes that you can try to get parents involved.
Finally you are worried about students who are not being successful. How do you define success? We tend to live in a society that expects all students to be functioning at the same level in the same place at the same time. Yet I am sure you know that this is just not possible. Kids learn at their own pace. If your students are in the process of learning English then you know that this only adds to the amount of time it will take them to become proficient in reading and writing. Perhaps then success could be seen by how much they can do at the end of the year as opposed to the beginning or even a month ago. With all the hard work you do tutoring it sounds like they must have made some progress! Keep documentation that shows how they progress and the successes that they have made. Not only will this make you feel better, it can serve as a way to communicate to parents and administrators what your students have accomplished!
The Literacy Teacher
Dear Literacy Teacher,
I am interning in a 3rd grade classroom where the reading levels vary from 1st-6th grade. As I am beginning lead teaching, I am having trouble meeting the needs of my diverse students. I am using book clubs right now and that seems to be working well. I was wondering if you had any other ideas that you could share with me.
Book Club seems like a reasonable place to begin. It has the capability to allow children to read and discuss book with other on their reading level. It also gives them the opportunity to participate in conversations about books with all their classmates regardless of ability. Using Book Club can get tricky depending on the needs of your students. For example, you stated that some of your students read on a first grade level. What exactly does that mean? Are they capable of decoding and do they have primarily comprehension problems? Or are they struggling to decode and comprehend text you would expect a first grader to read?
For students who seem to be functioning severely below grade level I would recommend a few things. First I would analyze each child's strengths and weaknesses in reading. This will help you to prepare lessons that are tailored to their needs. While I believe that there are times when whole class instruction is appropriate, I am a big fan of guided reading and small group instruction that is matched with the needs of the students. These are things you might wish to consider. Since you are an intern I would also recommend you speak with your CT, cooperating teacher, (though I bet you have already heard this advice) about what should be done. You should also be aware that with your lowest readers there is a possibility that they may have an undiagnosed learning disability. This is not something to be taken lightly. If you think it could be a possibility you need to thoroughly discuss the matter with the CT and let the CT handle it. Watch and learn from them.
With your more advanced and on level readers I would advise similar things. They too can benefit from small group instruction and guided reading lessons that are appropriate for their abilities. Their needs would be different from a student who struggles to decode or comprehend text, but these small group lessons could push them farther along in their reading just the same.
If you believe that Book Club is working I would continue to use it. Make sure though that you can explain how the students are developing as readers and how they have progressed throughout the year. This will help you in communicating with students, parents, and administrators. It will also help you become more aware of your students' needs and the directions you need to take with them.
The Literacy Teacher
Past Gazette Articles by Leigh Hall