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Practice makes reading fun

Q: My third-grade son struggles with reading. His teacher isn’t concerned. She says he needs more practice and suggests we read with him. I’m worried. His sister read well in second grade. Does he need a tutoring program?

A: The teacher’s suggestion is a good one. Educators have an adage: Children learn to read by reading. It takes practice to put new skills together to become a reader. It’s hard to get enough daily practice in school.

“Each child’s reading develops in different ways and according to different time frames, as you have observed with your son and daughter,” says Victoria Risko, professor emerita of language, literacy and culture at Vanderbilt University.

Given the comments from your son’s teacher, tutoring doesn’t seem warranted. “Extensive reading seems to be the most appropriate way to support your son’s progress,” notes Risko. “When it comes to developing fluency and comprehension, reading to and with our children is one of the most important gifts we can give them.”

She explains how this works: “The more students read, the more confident and fluent they become. With confidence comes interest and increased attention to reading for understanding.”

Understanding brings pleasure, and more reading. Think of it as a virtuous circle.

Drawing on the work of University of Tennessee education professor Richard Allington, a leading reading researcher, Risko recommends a steady diet of daily reading, engaging children in reading books that are interesting to them and not too challenging.

Make a plan to read together at home for 10 to 15 minutes each day at least three to four times a week, suggests Risko: “It might come before dinner or as a quiet activity before bedtime. It could occur during homework time, while your son is researching on the Internet, or when reading directions to play a game or follow a recipe.

“Reading at home can involve a variety of activities that occur on different days. On some days, read to your son, modeling your expressions and explaining what you are thinking. For example, you may draw attention to an author’s choice of words by saying, ‘I love the words this author uses because they make me laugh.'”

Ask your son to choose a favorite text to read to you. It can be a couple of paragraphs, or a longer text read over several days. Risko says research shows kids are more engaged and read more when they choose their reading.

“As your son reads,” she says, “ask him to pause at times and explain what is happening, how he feels about the characters, or to generate questions about the content. Make these discussions informal and focus on reading for understanding.”

Relate these discussions to other life experiences. “For example,” Risko says, “while visiting the park, ask your son to recall what you read about squirrels. His learning continues to develop as you encounter new experiences and make connections to books you have shared.”

Continue to check in with the teacher. “Your observations provide helpful insights for supporting your son’s continuing reading development,” says Risko.

Do you have a question about your child’s education? Email it to Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.