When projecting how much jail space will be needed in the future, officials often use the results of the local standardized test scores for reading students in the fourth grade.  The sobering reality is that when children are not reading on grade level by the end of grade four, they are at greater risk for dropping out and entering the justice system.  Making sure that your son reads on grade level is crucial for his success, so the article, “The Dos and Don’ts of Teaching Children How to Read,” by Peg Tyre on the Take Part website offers some practical advice for what to look for in your son’s elementary reading experience.  If you aren’t seeing the evidence of these activities within your son’s program, then you must intervene yourself at home and/or seek outside tutoring for him.  The older he gets, the wider the gap.  It gets more difficult to close those gaps.  Tyre suggests that parents look for the following at these stages of your son’s education:


¨     The teacher’s aim is to increase student vocabularies by engaging them in talking about words as much as possible.

¨     The teacher should read aloud to them several times a day.

¨     The teacher should help students connect words to meanings by pointing to the words as she reads to the class.

¨     Teachers should lead students to do lots of rhyming, clapping, and “breaking up sentences into words and words into syllables like you [the parents] do when they sing or chant nursery rhymes.”  Rhyming helps to develop higher sensitivity to sound chunks.  “If they have low sensitivity to sound chunks, they can struggle to read.”

Kindergarten and First Grade

¨     The teacher should continue having students talking and rhyming, but she should be teaching the connections between letters and their sounds.

¨     Phonics instructions should begin at the end of kindergarten or early in the first grade so that your son learns how to decode (figure out) new words.  If you need to reinforce this at home, Tyre recommends that you supplement his phonics instruction at the National Right to Read website.

¨     The teacher should encourage decode rather than guess by looking at the pictures or the shapes of the words.  Encourage this at home, too!

¨     Monitor your child’s reading levels closely.  He should be learning to read harder and harder books as he learns to read.  If he isn’t,

  • Meet with the teacher to find out what his specific reading weaknesses are—not his behavior issues.
  • Ask these questions:
    • What specifically will you be doing in the next six weeks that will instill these skills in my child?
    • How is that instruction method different than what you tried before?
  • Do not accept responses like the following:
    • He’ll catch up.
    • Don’t worry; he’s a boy. Boys always learn to read more slowly.
    • Your child is reading more slowly because you are not speaking English at home.
    • He just needs to repeat the grade to give him more time.
    • Meet with the principal and/or reading specialist if you are not satisfied with answers from your son’s teacher.
      • Ask what changes in his instruction are going to take place right now that will improve your son’s reading skills.
  • Follow up in six weeks to determine with the teacher if your son has acquired the reading skills that he lacked.

¨     After your son can decode, make sure that he reads books that inform him about the world—not just fiction.  Make sure that there is plenty of engaging books, magazines, comic books, etc. in your home, and carve time for him to read them.