The Times West Virginian

Local News

May 8, 2014

Teachers: Early steps can instill an interest in reading

FAIRMONT — Scores released from the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that, among the 13 states tested, West Virginia’s high school seniors had the lowest reading scores.

Steps can be taken early on in a child’s academic career to instill an interest in reading and build confidence and skills that will carry on throughout their life, some local teachers argue.

“Sometimes kids reach a certain level or a certain age, or maybe they have a particular teacher along the way somewhere in their journey through the grades that really might give them a spark,” said Andrea Layman, the Title I facilitator at Fairview Elementary School.

“And all of the sudden, they enjoy reading, and they never did before. But I think in general, whatever kind of attitude they have toward reading when they’re younger, normally that pretty much carries over through all the grades.”

Fairview holds several activities throughout the year to promote reading and to also encourage the students’ parents to promote reading at home and provide them with books to read with their children outside of school.

The school invites families to a book bingo night, for example, where they receive books as prizes for winning a bingo game.

Fairview also hosts a bedtime stories night, during which families read stories in their pajamas while sipping hot cocoa.

“Part of the research, at least, says that when kids are read to on a regular basis when they’re small, that they’re more likely to be successful readers,” Layman said. “We talk about how that helps with language development and how it’s a good bonding experience and it prepares the kids for reading.”

Adam Bowers, a reading and language arts teacher at Mannington Middle School, tries to find material that appeals to his students’ interests and then adds in more literary items once they’ve built up their skills.

“I try to meet the students where they are, meaning if a boy is really interested in hunting and fishing, then I’m going to pull resources and magazine articles about hunting and fishing,” he said.

He also encourages parents to provide their kids with material they will be interested in reading at home.

“That’s another thing research shows,” Layman explained. “The more the parents are involved, generally the more successful the kids will be with learning and with reading.”

Randall Farley, administrative assistant for curriculum and instruction for Marion County Schools, agrees that students can learn to enjoy reading through exploring their own interests.

“The engagement of the student, finding what’s that hook that keeps them interested,” he said.

“You have to talk to kids and look at their interest inventory tests and try to see what is it they’re really interested in, and for the teachers to try to make sure that lessons and things that they do incorporate a little bit of the things they know the students that they are teaching that particular year are interested in.”

Personalization is also important for students who are having trouble with reading, Farley said.

“All schools participate in the process for supporting personalized learning, which means that they’re looking at each individual student and what their needs may be.”

Layman works with students in small groups and begins instruction based on their current level before working to build their skills up closer to that of their classmates, she said.

Bowers stressed the importance of identifying the kids early who need help through previous test scores and recommendations from their past teachers. He also motivates them by starting them with easier material to build their confidence before introducing more difficult material, he said.

Farley said the county does not receive a score report from the NAEP, so educators never really know how they did on the assessment at the county level. However, he reported that WESTEST scores in Marion County are usually on target or above the state average.

“It’s unfortunate, I think, that the NAEP test is given and the only way we get back anything is when they publish the national report. … We don’t get information back from that test like we do with the WESTEST,” he said.

Bowers argued that standardized testing doesn’t always test students’ knowledge, though.

“Sometimes it’s testing their motivation, meaning what is the student gaining from taking the standardized tests? I think sometimes that factors in,” said Bowers. “’What is my motivation as a student to do well on this test?’”

Motivating students to want to read and participate certainly helps their future success, Farley said, and both Bowers and Layman agree.

“If you get them excited about reading in the beginning, then the skills of learning to read come more naturally,” said Bowers.

Email Chelsi Baker at cbaker@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @cbakerTWV.

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