By Roger Barbee
As the student was telling me how he had failed the state-mandated reading test again, his anger was evident. For the past semester, several teachers had worked with him, every day for a period, hoping to help him pass this time.
One comment he made demonstrated his anger, "There was only one of those things [figure of speech] on the test." I reminded him that anything associated with reading could be on the test, and that we had covered as much material as possible in order to help prepare him, but it was apparent that he blamed me. I understood and appreciated his anger, but told him that the day of an important game was too late to begin practicing needed skills. With that, he turned and walked away, leaving me to wonder what would happen to this senior and all the other students like him who struggle to pass a test of basic reading skill.
Since we live in such a rich and vibrant land of agriculture, allow me to use an analogy to farming. How successful would a farmer be who decides in September that, since it is close to harvest time, he or she better plant a crop? Of course, there would be no crop to harvest before the onset of winter, and that is what I see happening with many students. All too often, the student realizes that he or she is not prepared to pass the reading SOL, and the responsibility for this situation lies in several places.
Want to blame the schools? The superintendent? The school board? The method used to teach reading in the earlier grades? Choose one of these or one not mentioned, and you may be correct. However, if you are correct, so what? How will that wrong be corrected when our system of education is straddled with a myriad of mandates and directives and laws and parental wishes. Instead, I suggest that every parent consider that he or she is the most directly influential person in his or her child's reading readiness, and to prepare each child for a test of basic reading skill is not that difficult. But how to do this when you the parent are not a teacher or administrator or reading specialist?
First, model being a reader. Go to your local library and get a library card. Check out a book and let your child see you reading. Establish an evening that you and your child go to the library to check out books and see the other incredible offerings that are available. You may also consider subscribing to one or two periodicals that have content of personal interest. There is an abundance of periodicals for today's interest. Subscribe to a newspaper. Not only will your few cents every day help keep print alive in our area, but it will help you become a better reader and better informed concerning local and national news. The newspaper is an inexpensive way to share what is read with your child.
Get involved in your child's reading. Not all books are equal. While any reading is better than no reading, the popular books such as graphic novels, vampire series, and soppy, sentimental novels are like eating junk food high in sugar all of the time. Sure, you feel good for a short while, but the rush soon wears out, leaving no lasting nourishment to build on.
What to do as a parent? Realize that every reader has some beach reading that is not demanding literature. Allow your child to read his or her favorites, but also insist that your child read more demanding books, articles and poems that are age appropriate.
When you help your child read more demanding literature, you are helping to exercise his or her brain as skills in vocabulary, reasoning, and drawing of conclusions is built. Try to treat your child's reading like many parents treat sports - show an interest and try to learn with your child. If your child is reading a book assigned in school or of personal choice, read it too so that you can share in conversation about the book. Make books and periodicals available to your child. Encourage your child by modeling good reading and make it an inexpensive, shared activity that is varied like a good diet. Don't wait because later may be too late.