We are often asked how we involve parents and carers in our work; for us it’s a very important part of helping children to gain confidence both in how they approach reading and writing and to school life in general. Like the children we teach, all parents are different so it’s important not to jump to any conclusions about a child’s background based on their school performance.
All the parents we meet want the best for their children and can be anxious when told that their child is receiving one-to-one tuition from a charity that works with children who are finding it difficult to keep up in class. We often need to reassure parents that in school nowadays many children are taken out of class for tuition or to work in small groups as schools are keen to prevent children falling behind their classmates. As we work with the younger children at our school (ages 5-7) we point out that it is better to tutor the child early in their school life to prevent them becoming negative about learning.
Last year we worked with Jasmine*, a bouncy, chatty six year old who had difficulty concentrating in class and when working with her Springboard tutor. At one of our regular parents’ meetings her mum asked for our help as she wanted to know how to give her more support at home with reading. Jasmine’s mum went to school in an African country so her experience was very different: parents never met teachers, they received a report once a year showing a child’s marks and rank in the class. Children did not bring home reading books or homework of any kind during primary school.
We invited Jasmine’s mum in to watch a Springboard session. (Her baby sister came too and was very well behaved!) After the session mum said that she had learned some useful things about how to listen to her daughter read. She didn’t realise that when Jasmine got stuck on a word she should wait and ask her to try to say the letter sounds then work out the word by putting them together. She had been immediately telling her the word and asking her to repeat it several times. She said that in her country children are not taught letter sounds just the names and children learn to read by memorising whole words. We gave her a phonics sheet to take home with the letter sounds and picture prompts so that she could help Jasmine.
Another thing that Jasmine’s mum noticed was how much praise we give the children. We pointed out that praise needs to be specific i.e. it is better to tell the child what they have done well rather than just a general “good girl” For example we say “Well done for using your phonics to work out that word” or “It was good when you noticed the word you said didn’t make sense and fixed it yourself ”
Jasmine’s mum said she was surprised that her tutor read a page and then Jasmine read a page. We said that this method helps in several ways when a child is reluctant to read; the adult is giving the child a good model of how to read with fluency and expression and the child is not put off by the length of the book and finds it much less stressful.
Jasmine still finds it difficult to concentrate but her reading level is continuing to improve and she now has a much more positive attitude to reading and loves stories; particularly ones about princesses, ballerinas, fairies and anything pink!