My STEM Units

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Family Literacy Night

Almost everyone knows that STEM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  However, there are a few organizations which add a letter or two (or three!) to the simple acronym.  I have seen STEAM, adding Art to STEM.  One group even uses the acronym STREAMS to encompass Reading, Art, and Social Studies. STEMx uses the x to represent all other variables.  I like them all because they show us that these subjects work best when integrated.  How can you do Science without Math?  Social Studies without Reading?  Actually, how can you do anything without Reading Language Arts?

A number of brilliant writers have compiled Science lessons based on children's literature.  Click here for a link to some great resources.  Yet, these lessons are always classroom-based.  What can a family do to encourage literacy at home?

Family Literacy Night

I recently held a Family Literacy Night at our school.  Our attendance was one of the tops (Family STEM Night was tops).   This speaks volumes.  Our parents want to learn how to help their children. I have heard presenters and administrators talk for years about "the need to extend the learning" or "the need to extend the school day".  Family literacy extends the learning.

We know the statistics of reading at home versus not reading.  We know it's important.  Parents know it's important.  What they need is the "how".  How does this look in my home?  And, how can I help my child?

I set three goals for the evening.
  • We will see ideas for setting up a reading spot
  • We will learn additional ways to support our child while reading
  • We will learn how to encourage Journal Writing

I used QR codes on the parent hand-out to extend the workshop to a later time at home.

While explaining the importance of establishing a reading spot, I shared personal struggles with this.  For instance, I thought I was "mom of the year" when I bought huge floor pillows for my boys to lie on when reading.  My boys HATE those pillows and they are now in the closet in the guest bedroom.  Nice.  But, I didn't give up.  I asked them what they wanted, and they wanted to transform a large box into a reading spot.  I agreed and set it all up.  When I came back 10 minutes later, I found my youngest asleep in the box.  Surely there had to be a better way.  In the end, it turns out that the living room couch works best for us.  Parents, keep trying until you find what works for you.

How do I help my young reader?  Hint: don't give them the answer right away.

I know that I have an advantage over the parents in that I have been extensively trained how to help struggling readers.  More than likely, our parents have not.  And that's what I really wanted to focus on.  A few years ago, two books became the focus of Professional Learning Communities in schools all across the continent.  Daily 5 and Cafe are great books and I recommend them to any elementary teacher.  One of the strategies that I learned from the books is "Coaching or Time?"  The two sisters paint a scenario where a reader struggles with a word and someone shouts out the word, in order to help them.  Yet, this is akin to a coach reaching in and grabbing the basketball away from a player.  The coach shoots and scores!  But, what did the player learn? What has the reader learned?  Nothing.  As a coach, we need to guide and give strategies with the end goal that one day, they will internalize those strategies and make that shot (read that word) without our assistance.

We took some time to review those strategies with examples of each.

Just as students need lots of practice, parents do too.  We spent a few minutes role playing and trying out "coaching or time?" and specific strategies.  They were hesitant at first, but soon, the whole room was abuzz.

But what about older readers?  What can we do to help them?  I found a great video clip for just that.

I explained to the parents what graphic novels are and that we have 250 of them in our school library.  Our librarian stated that the graphic novels were the most circulated genre.

My final goal for the night was to encourage journal writing.  Reading and writing are reciprocal.  One does not exist without the other.

Two years ago, I watched a Laura Candler webinar about Reading Response Journals.  It has transformed my English Language Arts teaching.  You can view her webinar here.  I use her prompts as the cover for the journals, with a slight modification.  Common Core refers to fiction text as "literature" and nonfiction text as "informational text".  At the top of those pages, I have the students write "literature" and "informational text".  Simple, but I want to make sure they are comfortable with the new verbiage.

Another modification is to make the journals interactive (that's a whole another blog post!).  It has been said that "you don't truly understand something unless you can explain it to someone else".  This is the premise of reciprocal teaching.  My students know that their homework is not complete until they tell someone at home what they learned that day, then the parent (or older brother or grandma) write in the journal what the student had taught them.  Reading, writing, reading, writing.

You might be wondering what the children were doing during this entire presentation.  They were in the library with another teacher.  She taught them how to pick a book that is a "just right fit" for them.  She then let them choose 10 books each to keep (the books had been donated to me for this purpose).  They also had the students choose a journal and personalize it with their name.  Finally, they were able to personalize a bookmark.  The "bookmark" was really a list of the strategies I had taught the parents for "coaching or time?".  This way, the parents will be able to reference the strategies.


So, how was the workshop received?  What did the parents have to say?  I closed the workshop with a question and answer session.  This continued for twenty minutes!  I shared additional strategies and suggestions.  The parents also filled out the feedback survey.  I cannot post all of them here, as there were just so many, but here are some snippets.

One feedback I noticed over and over again, was the request for more literacy nights.  Yes!

What does the data say?

I wanted to know if families actually took these strategies and started to read with their children at home.  I had the librarian do a little research.  She looked at the circulation rate for a time period last year and the same time period this year.  What did she find?  Our circulation rate rose 272%!

**If you wish to hold a Family Literacy Night at your school and would like a copy of my PowerPoint, send me a personal email at

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