Saturday, June 27, 2015

#FamilesRead: How I'm Encouraging Students' Families to Read

Reading is a crucial part of a child's education. Children's ideas about language and communication, as well as ideas about character-building and coping with life's obstacles, are strengthened through reading. The National PTA is encouraging reading with their Family Reading Experience initiative this summer, and I wanted to link up with their site to share what I'm doing to encourage my students' families to read.

Infographic from PTA Reading Challenge on family reading experiences
Over my spring break, I read one of my (now) all-time favorite books, The One and Only Ivan.  Its story was captivating, and the author brought a true story to a new level of life by personifying the gorilla Ivan.  The chapters were short, but the ideas were strong.  I knew it was a book that I could incorporate into my language instruction with my English learners.  

The book was such an emotional read that I'd have to read several pages...and then take a break because I'd become so overwhelmed by sadness, anger, frustration, resentment.  There were so many things that I needed to talk through with this book that I wanted everyone around me to read it too.  I kept studying about how relatively easy the language of the book was for a struggling or early reader.  (Sometimes the transition to a chapter book can be quite intimidating because the text density of chapter books is so much greater than that of picture books.)  The story was captivating, the content was perfect to spur conversation, and the text was empowering.  Then...it hit me!  And I knew it would change everything.

You see, I also teach English classes for my students' parents.  To truly make an impact in their language acquisition, I know that it means supporting the entire family...not to make English their only language.  (I would never want to do that!  I'm a strong supporter of multilingualism and multiculturalism.)  But I know how important a deep understanding of English is to be academically successful in U.S. schools.  My students' parents want to be involved in homework, but many times they don't know where to begin because the vocabulary, syntax, or semantics make the language of homework very difficult.  A few weeks before spring break one of my students had asked me about maybe starting a book club with her classmates this summer, and she wanted me to do it with them.  All these ideas began to swirl around in my mind and soon they took on a life all their own!  I knew what we needed to do...I was going to teach my next series of classes as a parent-child book club, and I was certain that The One and Only Ivan would be our secret to success!


So far, we've completed five weeks of class.  We are taking our time moving through the book to talk about new vocabulary, clarify ambiguous structures, study new grammar constructions, and discuss the most meaningful plot and character developments. 



My students are demonstrating their own language learning by helping their parents learn English too.  I'm using instructional strategies common in U.S. schools to help my students' parents better understand approaches they may not have seen in their own education experience.  Perhaps most importantly, the families are reading the same book together and negotiating their own meanings...learning and growing together.  We are connecting with one another over this life-changing book, and we've only just begun to dig deep.  In fact, after the first week of class, I had so many more parents and students join that I've had to place two more orders of books!  





Just this last week we were practicing answering yes/no questions with "because + my opinion/reason" and several of my students' parents wrote notes to me (completely in English!).  They said that they love English class because we have so much fun and that they are learning so many new things.  I am so proud of their notes and their English, and I could tell from their messages just how much this opportunity meant to them.  


Perhaps one of the most meaningful notes to me though was when I knew I had "approval" of my student who originally asked me to do a book club.  By putting our heads together to come up with this new idea, she knew it would bring her family together by reading the same book and spending time together learning English and letting the students share their expertise with the parents.  


I can't wait to spend the rest of the summer reading this book with my students and their families.  I hope that I'm changing their lives as much as they're changing mine.  I'm so proud of all they're accomplishing together.  I always tell my students that in my classroom, we are one big family.  That's why I'm so proud to share with you what my "family" is accomplishing because we're taking the time to read together!  When families read together, they can do anything together

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