LCES, researchers offer parents ways to help children

Stephanie Myers-News-Herald

Local educators are applying the motto "practice makes perfect" to help third-graders excel in reading.

Lenoir City Elementary School partnered with University of Tennessee researchers this semester to promote family literacy in the household. The after-school program is part of UT associate professor Clara Lee Brown's proposal that family literacy across languages and cultures makes a positive difference in academics.

"Reading is critical. That's one of those important academic skills that you need," said Brown, who works in UT's Department of Theory and Practice in Teacher Education.

The program is geared toward helping families of different language backgrounds. Five students who are native speakers of English and five students who are learning English as a second language attend the class bimonthly.

LCES Principal Don Maloney said students should read daily since it has become integrated across subjects.

"There is more and more reading that is going to be required in math. We already require a lot of it in science and social studies and language arts," Maloney said. "If you're (reading) one night a week you might want to increase to three. We are just trying to build that process outside of the school day because the research shows when you do more of it you get better at it."

The program culminates at the end of May. This week's session was the eighth in a series of 10 classes. Students and parents build reading strategies at each literacy night.

"One session they talked about how do you do a picture walk and how do you do inferences about what the story is based on what you see in the pictures. They do a lot of different strategies," Maloney said to describe the 90-minute workshop. "Then they do some reading together, the parents and the kids."
With a picture walk, parents and students flip through a book without reading a word. Inferences are made based on the images.

Nola Thomas said she has seen dramatic improvements in her daughter's reading and grades since implementing picture walks in daily reading activities.

Changing the third-grader's mindset from reading as a chore to a fun activity made all the difference, Thomas said.

"I had gotten to the point that I didn't know what to do with her. I knew that she needed to learn how to read. I knew she was struggling and I talked to her teachers, but I so emphasized you've got to read this that I didn't realize how to make it fun," Thomas said.

Her daughter didn't like to read before joining the class "because she was just reading word for word, so she wasn't getting the meaning of the story, so it wasn't any fun. They've taught us how to go through and get to the meaning of the story," Thomas said.

"Now she'll bring me a book and say, 'Let's read'," Thomas said. "I think it's very important because reading was her biggest problem."

"That's such a huge mindset change in, 'I want to read' instead of 'I have to.' When you want to, the enthusiasm ..." Maloney piped in.

"That and her grades went way, way up," Thomas said. Even subjects like math have seen improvements. "She was making like 50s to now her grades are like 80s."

Jarrod Ryan said he has taken home a lot of strategies since the class began in January.

"I have learned a lot of things, like a totally different way of getting a child introduced to a new book and how to do the picture walk and all these other stuff and ask questions to make their vocabulary grow. It's just great," Ryan said.

It's the first time the school and UT have partnered for such a project, though the two institutions regularly work together on other research.

At Tuesday's class at the elementary school library, Brown and parents started the evening by pouring through a children's book to search for context clues. Brown said exposing parents to such strategies, including guided finger reading, helps students better understand the story and makes reading more lively.

UT graduate student Jennifer Graham, who is working on the project with Brown, agreed.

"The big thing about school is trying to get parents more involved because it is a community effort. We say we want the parents to be involved, but a lot of times they don't know how to be involved," she said. "This is showing them more things they can do to deepen their kids learning, so I think it's very important."

Graham said she believes the program also drums up excitement for reading.

"That's one of the biggest things teachers run into is kids who are not motivated to read. ... When you incorporate other activities beside just reading it gets kids more excited. We've seen that in this study," Graham said.