Loss in literacy has been increasing from the 1980s until the present for both adults and children. American education relied on books and texts for education; unfortunately, with the advent of media and audiobooks, reading for extended periods of time has nearly disappeared. Therefore, these weeks without school are optimal for a renaissance of reading. Even adults today find they read fewer chapter books and far more short articles or stories online; our lives are too busy or too fast to focus on extended periods of reading. However, when parents have long hours at home with their children, communal reading is an extraordinarily good use of time.
One of our English teachers practiced a very simple way of encouraging reading: At the beginning of her class, she assigned Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) for 15 minutes. Students choose their own book or newspaper for this exercise. Comic books, graphic novels, magazines, and short articles are equally as engrossing to readers as novels and nonfiction. Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) is another form of sustained reading, with one caveat: Even the adults must stop what they are doing to read as well. These periods of quiet time in the household can become a daily practice. For this to be successful, though, you need both silence and space. By creating a “reader’s nook” for each person in your house that is well-lighted, comfortable, and quiet, everyone can retreat for SSR or DEAR.
A third critical type of reading is showing great results for improving kids’ literacy both in schools and at home. Called Reciprocal Reading, it is defined by two or three readers reading aloud from the same article or chapter book. After printing two or three copies of such an article from your computer, or using various devices to view a single text, start by taking turns reading aloud.
Pause frequently, or after each paragraph, to answer one or two of these four questions:
Does anyone have a question about what we just read?
Can anyone clarify what the writer is saying?
Can you summarize what the writer is saying?
Can anyone predict what might happen next?
The educational research on Reciprocal Reading shows it increases speed, accuracy, and comprehension. For kids who struggle to read, it is a motivational method.
Allow your children to choose some of the books. Rereading “Make Way for Ducklings” has a whole new relevance for adults. Revisit the classics, such as “The Wind in the Willows,” as a family; I guarantee it will prompt great dinnertime discussions.
Peg Regan is the former principal of MVRHS, continues to teach at Cape Cod Community College, and created the Master Teacher Institute.