5 Unique Ways to Practice Reading With Your Child

Photo by Mark Zamora on Unsplash

5 Unique Ways to Practice Reading With Your Child

By Paige A. Mitchell

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’ and for young children, learning to read is no exception. Research has shown that children who regularly practice their reading skills, even for as little as 15 minutes a day, can see great improvement.

Unfortunately, getting your child to sit down and focus on reading isn’t always an easy thing to do. But with a little creativity, you can help your child learn to enjoy reading while also improving their skills.

Keep reading to learn five unique ways to practice reading with your child.

1. Create a cool reading area

If your child likes to feel comfortable and relaxed while reading, having a cool distraction-free reading area could help make reading more fun.

This reading area can be a simple section in your living room with pillows and all of your child’s favorite books, or it can be an elaborate reading nook filled with color and unique furniture.

If your child has a special place that’s dedicated to their favorite books, reading may become an activity they look forward to instead of dreading.

2. Take turns reading

Many kids are motivated by the examples set by those around them, especially their parents. One of the best ways to get your child engaged in reading is to practice shared reading.

You can start by reading a paragraph aloud and then asking your child to read the following paragraph. Once your child starts feeling more confident, you can take turns reading longer sections, which might turn into chapters and then full novels.

3. Find books with characters your child can relate to

Getting through a book that you have absolutely no connection to can be tough for anyone. Children (and even adults) are more likely to be interested in stories centered around characters they can relate to.

If your child is a big fan of sports, it may be a good idea to practice reading with books about sports and athletes. Or perhaps they’re animal lovers. Then, choose a story with talking elephants and flying pigs. This can help children sharpen their reading abilities while also helping them learn more about things and people that interest them.

4. Ask for help with household chores

Have a DIY or home improvement project coming up? This could be the perfect opportunity to get some quality time with your reader-in-training.

Encourage your child to sound out words in instruction manuals for installing an appliance or repairing a car. They can read reviews of services and products and help you sort through junk mail. This can be a great way to get your child involved around the house while also allowing them to practice reading.

You might remember this tip from the TV show, Parenthood, when Zeke helps his grandson, Victor, learn to read by rehabbing a retro car together. Victor later goes on to write an award-winning essay on the experience. Hurrah!

Grocery shopping and cooking are other chores kids can help with while practicing reading. Let them write a grocery list before leaving the house and ask them what’s next on the list while you’re at the market. Then, let aspiring young chefs help in the kitchen by reading recipes step by step as you prepare dinner.

5. Read books that were turned into movies

If your child loves movies, reading books that have been made into films can help them stay motivated.

Once your child has finished the book, the whole family can watch the movie together as a reward for finishing another book. You can even discuss some of the differences and similarities between the book and the movie to ensure your child has picked up on important details.

By making reading fun, you can take the frustration out of the learning process. Practicing reading with your child is one of the many steps to helping develop the skills that’ll be necessary to succeed in school and in life.


At What Point Do We Stop Blaming Teachers?

At the beginning of this school year, TNTP released a report called The Opportunity Myth, in which they repeated a golden oldie from the reform agenda’s playlist:  Public schools suck and it’s mostly because public school teachers suck. They didn’t come right out and say that, of course, but it’s hard to interpret the report’s introduction any other way. Judge for yourself:

Far too many students graduate from high school still unprepared for the lives they want to lead. They enroll in college and land in remedial courses, or start jobs and discover they’re missing skills they need. We wanted to understand why.

To do this, we followed nearly 4,000 students in five diverse school systems to learn more about their experiences. What we found was unnerving: classroom after classroom filled with A and B students whose big goals for their lives are slipping further away each day, unbeknownst to them and their families—not because they can’t master challenging material, but because they’re rarely given a real chance to try.

In fact, most students—and especially students of color, those from low-income families, those with mild to moderate disabilities, and English language learners—spent the vast majority of their school days missing out on four crucial resources: grade-appropriate assignments, strong instruction, deep engagement, and teachers with high expectations. Students spent more than 500 hours per school year on assignments that weren’t appropriate for their grade and with instruction that didn’t ask enough of them—the equivalent of six months of wasted class time in each core subject. And middle and high school students reported that their school experiences were engaging less than half the time.

The report is exactly what you’d expect if you’ve been in public education for any length of time, and if you’d like to read why you can safely ignore it, check out Peter Greene’s criticism here and Matt Barnum’s here.

What strikes me is how reformers continue to shamelessly want it both ways.

They have, for the most part, won. They rammed through the standards they wanted. Tenure protections have been decimated in many states. Schools are more “data-driven” than ever. School choice continues to expand. Teachers can now be held accountable for their students’ performance on a standardized test. Reformers have managed to convince 7 out of every 10 Americans that our public schools deserve a C or D rating, even though most believe their children’s own schools are just fine.

School leaders, in their quest to take individual teacher differences out of the equation and standardize lessons just as much as we’ve standardized tests, have adopted Common Core-aligned programs and required strict fidelity to them. They’ve done everything they can to take teacher judgment out of education, going so far as to forbid educators from using anything that hasn’t received prior approval from central office administrators. Some of these programs literally have scripts for teachers to read, and many districts require teachers to follow pacing guides to make sure they cover all the material before the big exam and to ensure continuity across the district. Because I guess that’s important.

The way schools are run today is different than they used to be run, and it isn’t because schools decided they needed to change or parents demanded it; it’s because those changes were forced on them by people with the same ideology as those who write reports criticizing teachers for their weak instruction, below-grade-level assignments, inability to engage students, and low expectations.

It’s the same thing that infuriates me whenever teacher effectiveness is discussed at a district level.

As a teacher who has been told to teach a program as it’s written, how the hell is it my fault if the assignments students get are not challenging enough? I’m not the one who designed the assignments.

If you’re requiring me to read from some stupid script written by publishers who’ve never met my students, then how can you fairly evaluate my instruction? It’s not my instruction.

Should we be surprised that students aren’t engaged during a lesson that’s delivered by a teacher who had no hand in creating it and who sees it as the contrived lump that it is? I’m not a terrible actor, but hand me a lemon and I’m going to have trouble convincing even the most eager-to-learn student that I’m giving them lemonade.

Why would we expect students to be engaged when they’re walked through standard after standard with the goal of preparing them for a test? Last week, my third graders read an article (out of the district-mandated curriculum) on the transcontinental railroad. They were interested and asked lots of questions. I went rogue and showed an unapproved video of how it was built. They had more questions. I could envision us spending the next two weeks learning about westward expansion. We could discuss Manifest Destiny and investigate why certain large western cities are located where they are today. We could read about how the railroad affected the environment and how it upset Native American hunting grounds and led to the taking of their land.

Instead, I had to move on. I had to teach about sequence and cause and effect because I had a test to give on those skills and a new topic (completely unrelated to the American west or even American history) to start on Monday.

I had to do those things because that’s what’s in the standards these reformers so badly wanted and because my district needs data to make decisions and because I can’t be trusted to make decisions about how to best prepare my students for those tests, much less for anything more important than tests.

But TNTP wants to tell me it’s my fault students aren’t engaged?

If I’m doing what I’ve been told to do, then how do you evaluate my effectiveness? Shouldn’t you really evaluate the effectiveness of the curriculum you’ve forced me to use?

This is the educational world the reformers have wrought, and the one they still have the temerity to criticize. They created this mess, and now they’re pointing at it, holding their noses, and telling teachers to do better.


The reformers’ agenda has had a chance to work. If it isn’t — if kids aren’t being given grade-level tasks, if instruction is weak, if students aren’t engaged, if teachers aren’t expecting enough of them — then it’s long past time for the reform crowd to own their failures and stop scapegoating teachers, many of whom are doing nothing more than exactly what they’ve been told to do with the materials they’ve been told to do it with.

If students aren’t able to pursue their goals, it’s not because teachers have failed them. It’s because reformers have.

If you want to blame teachers, then you need to allow them to make some decisions. You need to give them some power. Blaming teachers for the state of education today, when teachers have lost nearly every skirmish with the well-financed reform movement, is straight from the reformer playbook, where all the plays are designed wonderfully, but the damn players don’t know how to run them. If you want teachers to be nothing more than compliant replaceable parts, then you don’t get to blame them when your plans don’t work out.

If you want teachers to be nothing more than compliant replaceable parts, then you don't get to blame them when your plans don't work out. Click To Tweet

The army doesn’t fire soldiers when the general’s plan is a disaster.

NFL teams don’t swap out their entire rosters when the coach’s gameplans result in multiple losing seasons.

And reformers should no longer get to blame teachers when teachers are working under conditions created by those reformers.

Helping Your Students Discover a Career Path

Article contributed by: Cassie Thomas

Teachers and career counselors have a shared responsibility when it comes to pointing students in the right direction. This doesn’t just mean finding a student a job that pays; it means finding them a career that encompasses their passions. 

It’s not entirely true when they say if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life. But even if that was the case, it will still require hard work. As you may have read previously on Teacher Habits, even educators struggle with reaching their full potential in our rather noble profession despite being fully invested in teaching. Our job is to cut that challenge in half for our students by helping them find a viable career path, one that gives their lives and other people’s lives meaning while also being sustainable.

It’s unfair to expect students to know what they want to be doing, 10 years or even five years from now. They’re still in the process of learning about the world and that includes the different career options within their reach. The first step is to help them identify their core values and goals. It doesn’t have to be a complex process as The Balance recommended what is called a ‘work value inventory.’ From a list of values, have your students rank their significance such as independence, compensation, and helping society. The main thing is to encourage students to undergo a process of introspection and use the results as a springboard for exploring career options.

One of your roles as their teacher is to take them through different industries and the opportunities in each. For instance, students who are into helping others regardless of the long hours might be interested in working for the medical community. It’s important that you talk about the realities in different industries, like STEM fields for instance, and how they can break norms based on gender, race, age, and other factors. Invite speakers who are knowledgeable on the subject and allot time for a question and answer session. More importantly, invite speakers who break barriers to inspire those students who are worried that they’re entering fields that are not meant for them.

Even with those values and goals in mind, sometimes it still feels too abstract. Invite experts who are also open to mentorship or shadowing so that they can further develop their interest in specific fields. This will also open up networking opportunities so that if they’re seeking out internships, they can be connected to people who might be able to help. For college students, Forbes notes that it can eventually turn into permanent employment if the company likes the student and if they think that they’re a good fit. Aside from being a competitive advantage when it comes to employment, Niche adds that internships also give students a feel of the industry culture. That way, they can decide if it is the right path for them or at least something that ticks off a few items on their checklist. If the students are still in high school, it will make the choice of degree programs easier later on.

It’s also up to the teachers to walk students through their different options in university. Less-fortunate students think that college is out of the question and that they should get a job right away. However, they have the option of enrolling in online courses to continue their education while maintaining a day job. Maryville University highlighted accessibility, flexibility, and affordability as the main benefits of online degrees. This format might be more suitable for students with the aforementioned constraints. For others, their main worry is where to go and what degree to take up. Again, relevant speakers will be of tremendous help in making those important decisions. As a teacher, your main role is support. Careers are not built in a day and students will need your help in navigating their options for the future.



Average Somethings Are Better Than Wonderful Nothings

Sometimes I put myself in the regrettable situation of needing to once again lose weight. If you’re like me and prefer laziness to whatever the opposite of laziness is, then you have probably done what I have done: googled the best way to burn a bunch of calories. Exercises like sprinting, jumping rope, swimming, boxing, and tennis burn far more calories than a light jog or a bike ride, yet many more people run or ride bikes to lose weight than jump rope or swim laps.

If you’ve ever tried jumping rope for an hour, you already know why. Jumping rope for an hour is really hard. Swimming requires a pool. To box, you need equipment and a gym. To play tennis, you need an opponent. People don’t choose which exercises to do based on how effective they are; they choose based on their personal interests and ease of implementation.

In education, we expect the opposite: we consistently ask teachers to do the equivalent of difficult-to-perform, high-calorie burning exercises and then act surprised when the scale doesn’t change.

Choosing Programs

My district is in the process of deciding which science program to adopt for its K-5 students. I’m currently piloting Amplify Science with my third graders. It’s a good program — NGSS-aligned, phenomena-based, lots of hands-on investigations, a robust literacy component, and just about everything fits in a single plastic tote. It’s also time-consuming, both in prepping for and executing the lessons. This is a problem, and it’s one that can be found in just about every subject area program designed for elementary students. The programs are usually designed by a group of well-meaning content area geeks — high school teachers, college professors, and professionals who work in the field. Their passion is evident in the program, but it’s not a passion shared by most elementary classroom teachers, so there’s a disconnect between the intentions of the program and how it’s implemented. To continue the analogy, it’s like asking people who’ve never exercised all that much to start training for a decathlon.

My wife, a fifth-grade teacher, is without a science program. She’s been using Mystery Science, which she found through word-of-mouth. She likes it, and so do her kids. One of the reasons she likes it is it’s easy to use. Most lessons include a video, taught by the co-creator of the program, Doug Peltz, who was an actual science teacher. It shows. Doug keeps the videos short and interesting and then provides teachers with everything they need for students to investigate further. The program comes with worksheets and simple experiments that usually only require household or inexpensive items. 

Most science people will prefer Amplify to Mystery Science. If scored objectively, Amplify is the better program. It goes into the science in greater depth and it’s better aligned to the standards. Our district is in the process of choosing between two science programs for adoption, and Mystery Science is not even under consideration because of its perceived shortcomings.

If someone were to judge the programs only on their merits, Amplify would win, but when districts make these decisions they usually leave out what may be the most important factor, at least when it comes to elementary classrooms like mine.

The question that should be considered by those deciding between new programs is similar to the one those trying to lose weight consider before starting a new exercise routine:

The smart athlete asks, “Which exercise am I likely to stick with?”

The smart school leader should ask, “Which of these programs are teachers more likely to use?”

The reality is that in most elementary classrooms science in an “I’ll get to it when I can” subject. There are a lot of reasons for this. Some teachers aren’t comfortable teaching science because of their lack of knowledge. Science lessons are often more unstructured, so those who like tightly managed classrooms balk at the potential for noise and chaos that can happen when students start experimenting. Science is often time-consuming. Elementary schools and their teachers are more often judged on the results of reading and math tests; doing science takes time away from those subjects.

Science, like exercise, requires a commitment to do well. For this reason, districts should think about what their teachers are likely to do when making programmatic decisions. They should make it as easy as possible for their teachers to teach the subject.

Not Just Science

But it’s not just science. Or social studies. Or math. The question — what are teachers most likely to use? —  should be at the forefront of most decisions and reform ideas. One of the things that annoys me about the focus on John Hattie’s effect sizes is that school leaders, when they promote his high effect-size strategies, substitute the question they should be asking for a different one:

Which one of these is most effective?

That question assumes that strategies, like programs, are implemented equally by all teachers. They aren’t. According to Hattie’s meta-meta analyses, the jigsaw method has a huge effect size of 1.20. But it should go without saying that the jigsaw method can be done well or done poorly. It should also go without saying that the more complicated the technique is to execute, the less likely it will be done optimally.

District leaders who choose the “better” program or building principals who expect teachers to use the most “effective” teaching strategies make the same mistake I would make if after googling high-calorie burning exercises I decided to take up taekwondo. Sure, taekwondo would help me lose weight, but only if I actually learned how to do it and then stuck with it. Taekwondo is only effective if you do taekwondo.

When given the choice (and leaders must choose; you cannot do everything on Hattie’s list) between having teachers focus on providing students with feedback and developing the collective efficacy of your teaching staff, you should consider ease of implementation and how effective such implementation is likely to be given the time and energy you can commit to it.  Note taking may “only” have an effect size of .50, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to do in a real classroom than managing effective classroom discussions ( .82 effect size).

My suspicion is that my district will make the same mistake most districts make and adopt Amplify Science for what seems on the surface a good reason: it’s a good program and kids will learn more science from it than from its competitors.

But that’s only true if teachers use it.

Because it requires a fair amount of prep, assumes teachers have an hour to devote to science class, and is, frankly, a bit of a hassle, it’s highly likely that elementary teachers, who must also prep for at least three other subjects, will decide to skip it on too many days. And if that’s the case, it won’t matter how much research backs it up, how aligned to the standards it is, or even how much kids love doing it.

Simple beats complicated when teachers will do the simple but not the complicated. Click To Tweet

Any teaching is better than no teaching.

Average somethings are better than wonderful nothings.


Are you a Teacher Habits subscriber? If not, join thousands of teachers just like you and receive new articles in your inbox. Join here.

It’s a Miracle All Kids Don’t Hate School

The other morning one of my students picked up a banana from the bowl of fruit set out for breakfast. From across the room, I heard her say, “I hate school,” which was an odd thing to say for someone about to eat a banana. I cringed. I want students to enjoy being in my room and to have a positive school experience. When students don’t like school, I take it personally.

But the more I thought about it, the more I questioned how much ownership I should take. I didn’t love school, and I chose to work in one. My daughter, who does very well in school, balks at getting up in the morning. If you ask her if she likes school, she’ll shrug. Lots of kids will tell you they don’t like school, even those who seem to like it just fine once they’re there.

Teachers, of course, are supposed to feel bad when students hate school. We’re often blamed for failing to engage them. We’re told we need to make learning more meaningful and fun. If kids don’t like school, it’s probably because we’re not allowing our students to move enough or collaborate enough or create enough or choose enough. We teachers talk too much. We’re boring.

Certainly, there are times when those are valid criticisms. Teachers can help make school more appealing to their students. But they’re fighting a steep uphill battle. Because the truth is that students have two very good reasons to not like school.

They’re Required to Be There

I’m not one of those people who thinks we should abolish compulsory education. On the whole, it does far more good than bad. But let’s be clear: Requiring something never makes that thing enjoyable. I struggle to think of a single thing I am forced to do that I enjoy. As a child, I hated taking baths, going to bed, attending church, and eating many of my mother’s dinners (they were fine, I was just a picky little shit). As an adult, some of the best parts of my life are bathing, sleeping, and eating my mother’s food. The difference was that when I was a child, I was forced to bathe when I didn’t want to, go to bed earlier than I wanted to, and eat things I didn’t want to eat. As an adult, I get to choose. It’s the best thing about being an adult.

In high school, I read a fair amount, mostly Stephen King. Once I got to college I stopped reading. The reason was simple: I was required to. There are books I was assigned in college that I didn’t read but later enjoyed when I made the choice to read them on my own. The difference wasn’t the book; it was the freedom to choose.

As a teacher, I have read a number of professional books, but if my school decides to do a book study and I’m required to read even a single chapter, I’ll put it off as long as possible and then resent it when I do read it.

My former district hosted an ice cream social on the last day of school every year to honor retirees. Almost everybody complained about it. It’s not that we didn’t like ice cream or retirees. It’s that the district required our attendance when we had other things we wanted to do.

There’s a really simple way to make an enjoyable activity unenjoyable and something people resent doing. Force them to do it. Take away their freedom to choose. Want to make them really dislike it? Make them do it for seven hours a day for 180 days, year after year. I love Disney World.  But I’d like it a whole lot less if you made me go there five days a week between September and June, year after year.

Almost Everything is Contrived

Almost everything done inside a school is contrived. Very little of it reflects the real world. Think of the reading you do and compare it to the reading we ask students to do. I read primarily for two reasons: to learn things I’m interested in and for entertainment. Now consider the reasons your students read:

Because you told them to.

To answer questions.

Because they have a reading response entry due.

To prepare for a discussion.

To get better at reading.

The standards practically require inauthentic tasks. We’re all going to learn how to reduce fractions today. Why? Hell if I know, but it’s in the standards and you might need it someday (or worse, you need it to pass the contrived test the state devised to see if your teachers are doing a good enough job teaching you contrived things).

Yes, there are moments where students can do authentic tasks, but they are few and far between. You find an article in your local paper and students write letters to the editor. People in the real world actually do that (of course, most of us who read such letters think the writers are quacks with nothing better to do, but still). You have an actual problem in your classroom with storage, so you have students design a cabinet. A group of students saw something on the news and you decide to guide them in some research and have a class discussion about it.

There are opportunities to connect to the real world, but they also require you to be constantly aware of those opportunities and be willing to scrap your carefully prepared plans and possibly ignore the standards everyone expects you to teach. They also mean deviating from whatever cruddy program your district is forcing you to use, so you better keep such lessons on the DL.

Teachers can mitigate this natural resentment of contrived and mandatory things. They can try to bring authentic tasks into the classroom. They can inject fun into their day. They can provide students’ choice to give the illusion of genuine freedom. They can build relationships so that students want to be there to be around people they like. But they can never change the two fundamental truths about school to which students are justified in rebelling against.

The next time you hear a student say she hates school, don’t feel so bad about it. Don’t feel guilty, like you’re somehow personally failing her. Be thankful that all students don’t feel the same way. Because to hate contrived things that you’re forced to do is a natural human reaction. It is, frankly, exactly how we should want freedom-loving people to respond.


*If you’re curious, the banana-eating student’s declaration of hatred was in response to a well-meaning food service worker writing the phrase, “I love school,” in marker on the banana’s peel.