Schools Superintendent Vincent Matthews: Helping students to grow as readers

There is a lot to love about November — sweet potato pie, extra cheesy macaroni and cheese, and football almost every night of the week — but nearest and dearest to my heart is literacy. That’s right, November is National Literacy Month.

As a parent, I remember the joy I felt when my children first began to master reading. We started with me reading Goodnight Moon to them and before I knew it they were reading Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters to me. It is an incredible gift to be part of this process.

We believe that the ability to read and write is paramount to most other learning in school. We also know that developing a joy of reading is essential. That’s why we monitor closely how our scholars are progressing as readers. We don’t just guess. Allow me to share some of the ways that we observe the progress of our students.

Beginning readers

We have an assessment we use three times a year with all TK, K and Grade 1 students and sometimes older elementary students as well. The test, called Fountas & Pinnell (F&P), measures student readiness for reading and determines a student’s reading ability.

This research-based assessment helps teachers understand a student’s ability to read with help (instructional) and on their own (independent). Teachers gain insights regarding each child’s reading abilities as they progress from reading letters, to words, to texts of increasing complexity.

The results are used to place students on an A-Z reading level scale which helps students find “just right” books which are not too hard or too easy. Imagine how much easier this makes choosing a book. Students can go to books in their range and be assured they will be able to read them while also being challenged with new vocabulary and complexity.

Teachers also use this assessment to help them plan instruction that meets the individual needs of all students.

Assessing along the way

All students in grades 3-10 participate in a computer-based reading assessment called Reading Inventory. During these assessments, students read texts, and then select words that complete sentences within those texts.

Assessment results provide information for monitoring a child’s progress and growth in reading across the school year and across grade levels. With this information teachers match readers to text, differentiate and plan efficient and effective instruction for all learners.

Parents as guides

But knowing a child’s reading level isn’t just important for classroom learning, it can also guide parents in helping their child grow as a reader.

Later this month, all elementary school families will be invited to a parent teacher conference. If you have a child in TK, K or first grade, ask the teacher about your child’s F&P reading level. You may also want to discuss what types of support or enrichment the teacher offers students who are reading below or above grade level.

Beyond connecting with your child’s teacher, there’s a lot you can do to encourage your child’s reading. Help your child with choosing “just right” books at the library. Read with your child and encourage him or her to read at least 20-30 minutes each day. If you are most comfortable reading a language other than English, read in your home language if possible. You can also ask your child to read aloud in English and explain the book in your native language.

Vincent Matthews is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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