Have you ever seen or heard these statements?
“They learn to read at school.”
“The teacher is responsible for teaching reading.”
Well, I disagree. For children to excel in all of the literacy skills, it takes a village. Literacy skills include awareness of sounds of language, awareness of print, the relationship between letters and sounds, decoding, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. Educators and parents must work together to make sure that children are getting the tools necessary to be successful readers. Literacy skills are not just “school skills,” they are life skills.
So, how do we, as educators, get the parents on board to help? We educate them, while we educate their children. There is nothing wrong with hosting monthly parent workshops on literacy topics. Discuss what is being done to enhance literacy in the classroom and what can be done to enhance literacy at home. Don’t do too much at one workshop. We don’t want our parents to feel overwhelmed and stop attending the workshops. Take baby steps.
I’ve found that some of the best ways to get parents to buy-in to the parent workshops are: (1) explicitly say that their child needs their help to reach their full literacy potential, (2) explain the importance of practicing these literacy skills in the home, (3) ask their opinions, (4) ask for their availability, (5) have another classroom or gym open where their children can be entertained and supervised, and (6) have food. You may ask, “why food?” Many parents will be attending these workshops after a long day of work. They come straight from work and it’s nice if they can get something to eat at the workshop. A full meal is not necessary, but something that will give them a boost to be able to sit through your workshop for about one hour. Potlucks are an excellent idea.
In summary, students need multiple opportunities to practice literacy skills. Classroom practice is not enough. We need our students working on these skills with their parents at home. This can be successful if we let the parents know of the need, ask for their help, and educate them on what activities they can be doing at home with their child.
Dr. Janaya Shaw is an Assistant Professor in the Curriculum and Instruction Department of Western Illinois University. Her research interests include literacy development, performance assessment, trends in middle level education, and technology.