Taming the i-Ready test anxiety:
How to be ready to read
For many children headed back to school, rather than feeling eager to learn and play, they will often feel anxious as they are faced with assessment tests such as I Ready. As a parent, we can feel hopeless to see our pre-reader or early reader struggle. At least that’s how I felt when my son would wrestle with the inevitable assessment tests. When it comes to teaching kids how to learn to read, one of the most universal questions parents and caregivers have is when should they start teaching their child to read. And, there’s the inevitable follow up question of how.
When and How to Teach Reading –
Little consensus to be found
For a parent or caregiver who searches for advice on how to help a child learn to read, the bulk of the information out there is dry, technical, and simply put, not practical. You’ve probably heard the term “hooked on phonics”, but how many of us know how that translate into actually helping our child learn to read. It can make one’s eyes cross to read terms like “metacognition” and “phonemic awareness”. Even thinking about articles like this makes the prospect of reading seem boring, even for me, a die-hard bookworm.
To add to this problem of the “how”, there is no strong consensus on the “when”e also diametrically opposed camps in regards to when to start teaching a child to read. The opinions on when to start range from starting in the toddler phase to the opposing camp’s position that it’s better to wait and not to push .
Broaden Their Horizons
Daniel T. Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and the author of Raising Kids Who Read, points out there is a risk that the child may be turned off on reading altogether if reading is taught too mechanically. He continues to make a second point that early readers struggle when they have not been offered a wide and diverse range of topics. And that even poor readers do better than strong readers when the topic is within their scope of context. In other words, context matters and the more context the child has to draw on, the better reader they will be.
He says “The poor readers who knew a lot about soccer were three times as likely to make accurate inferences about the passage as the good readers who didn’t know much about the game.” Willingham’s conclusion from this study? Without children being exposed to a very broad range of subjects and concepts at an early age, the effectiveness of any reading system will be limited. Simply put, without a broad foundation of general knowledge, it will be harder to learn to read.
Willingham’s point resonates with me. It makes sense that everyone, kids included, does better when we have a bigger, broader, and richer picture. We as parents, should see ourselves as curators for our kids, on the look out for good stuff, whatever form it may take.
My List of Effective Methods to Prepare Kids for Reading
(and i Ready!)
So with that, here’s my practical suggestions for best methods to use to enrich our kids’ perspectives to tackle school assessments such as i Ready with confidence and make them better readers in the long run.
This recommendation may come as a surprise for most people, but audiobooks takes the number one spot for so many reasons. It may seem like a ploy to weasel out of having to make the effort to read the book oneself and I do admit there is some relief to get a break from the bedtime reading routine, but I do recommend audiobooks being added to the mix, because they are so very engaging.
Consider that audiobooks are read by professional voice talent artists. It is always amazing to hear a number of distinct, dramatic characters all the creation of a single reader. Unless you have the training and talent of Tim Curry, you probably can’t compete on this one.
Audiobooks are great for in the car anytime, but are especially good for road trips. Our family makes a yearly 1,000 mile trip from Portland to L.A. and gave audiobooks a try to fill the many hours. We were pleased to find that our then 4 year old son was quite drawn in to audiobooks that were written at a 12 year old level with rich imagery, complex concepts, and lots of vocabulary expanding words. The point is, that even very young children are capable of listening to fairly language, and though may not get all of it. will be more likely to be engaged when read by a skilled, emotive reader.
- Multiple readings of their “favorite” book
This suggestion may be obvious, but reading a book again and again allows the child to begin to anticipate next words. If you point to the words with your finger, you child will strart making the connection. This suggestion, admittedly requires patience.
I feel like poetry for teaching language is like fertilizer (organic, naturally!) for your garden. It seems like poetry has slipped out of fashion at some point, but poetry will always be a champion at teaching language and so trendy or not, it deserves to be in the mix of any story-time routine. Poetry is such a workhorse because it delivers language that is woven with imagery and structure. It is words on nitro. I compare prose to poetry to be like comparing salmon steak vs. sushi. Both are good to eat, but poetry’s structure and art makes it something special. Click here for tips on how to bring poetry into your routine.
- Magazine subscriptions
My son dragged his feet in reading. It is very hard work to learn, after all. None of my subtle or even overt pushing was doing the trick. That changed when we subscribed to the literary magazine, Spider, which is one of several magazines from the award-winning Cricket Media. If you have not heard of them, do check them out.
- Children’s dictionaries
There are some excellent illustrated children’s dictionaries out there. There are also so very dull and patronizing dictionaries. My favorite set was by Sesame streets filled with charming illustrations and lots of silly jokes, of course.
- Atlases, Globes, & Google drive a foreign country
In the world of Google maps and Google Earth, it is still very fun to sit down with an excellent atlas book. Don’t get me wrong, I love Google’s products. In fact, my son and I sometimes take virtual road trips on Google street view in exotic locales, but I’m biased I guess, but I challenge anyone to a better way to learn the world than, say, a national geographic atlas, Also, if you don’t have at least one globe in the house, get one.
- Flash cards
There are several extremely popular YouTube videos demonstrating how to teach a toddler to read. And these are very compelling. I will add a cautionary note, that keep your compassionate instinct crisp and have the sessions last only as long as the child is truly interested, and to stop once the exercise loses its fun and seems compulsory. The risk is kids sometimes begin to associate reading as a chore. As parents we ultimately want to encourage a love of learning and that includes instilling a love of reading.
- Making regular trips to the library
Take an active role in selecting books. Kids tend to cling to a favorite author (say Diary of a Wimpy Kid) out of worry that trying something new may be boring. Let your child choose books but also seek out a few extra books that are diverse enough to mix it up.
- Reading systems, including phonics techniques
There is a lot of very good evidence that in addition to lots of together-time reading, including all the above, a child may still be struggling to keep up in school. My son is a case in point. And it was beginning to affect his self esteem. Fortunately, in his case, by early third grade the pieces finally fell in place, and then he really took off, but it did cause a good deal of anxiety. Looking back, we may have done well to invest in a good reading, phonics method. There are many systems out there, like the “Hooked on Phonics” which has been around for decades.
- Book and Audio Kits
Can you remember ever having a paper book that came with a record or audio tape? If so, do you remember how fun it was to read along with the audio? I sure do. This is a great way to give your kids an early sense of reading independence.
- TV Shows (yes, TV!)
I am on the purist end of the spectrum when it comes to allowing a lot of TV time, but I have to admit that there are some TV shows that are undenidably excellent for young children and I have to recommend a few to enhance your mix of activities that lay a foundation for your future reader. My top favorite reading shows may not be broadcast anymore, but thank goodness for YouTube: Reading Rainbow, Between the Lions, and honorable mention to Sesame Street.
So there you have it. As you can see, the best way, as with many things in life, is variety, the proverbial spice of life. Your child will be ready for reading – and those scary tests like i Ready won’t be so scary.
What am I missing? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comment section below.