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Being a reading advocate for your child

Improve Literacy Newsletter

28 February 2011 -- Issue 30


Hi there!

This month we're going to be looking at how you, as a parent, can be an advocate for your child with regards to reading and literacy development.

Let's get straight into it!


In this issue:

1. How you can be a reading advocate for your child
2. Guest article - Advocacy in Action: You Can Advocate for Your Child!
3. Resources for reading advocacy
4. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook


As a parent, you know your child's strengths and weaknesses better than anyone, and if you don't 'go in to bat' for your child, then no-one else will. Kids frequently feel overwhelmed by the demands of a new school, or the need to make new friends in a new school year, or the introduction of homework into their routine, and the additional pressures of academic success, especially in the fields of reading and writing, can sometimes be a bridge too far.

This is why it's so important to be a reading advocate for your child. The right steps taken by parent, teacher and child early in in the reading journey can only be of benefit to a young reader. We have come up with a list of handy hints and tips to help you on your way.

1. How you can be a reading advocate for your child

a. Talk with your child's teacher on a regular basis. Your child's teacher is usually the best qualified person to give reading instruction, so it's a good idea to try to catch up with him or her as regularly as possible to discuss progress, and to establish what you can do at home to complement what is taught in the classroom. If possible, volunteer in the classroom to get maximum exposure to teaching strategies.

b. Develop a reading portfolio. Start a reading log of the books that your child has read. As your child learns to write, encourage her to continue with the reading log. The log should include the Title, Author, Date Read, and short comments about the book. Include results of past reading tests, reading logs, any self-assessments by your child, and writing samples. It's a good idea to show your reading logs to teachers at the start of the academic year.

c. Discuss reading choices. Discuss with your child's teacher which strategies s/he plans to use with your child and other more advanced readers in the classroom, in relation to reading choices. Even a little knowledge about these strategies can be invaluable in helping your child, as it will allow you to select relevant material to fast-track his literacy skills.

d. Communicate effectively. It's critical that you are well prepared when you go to meetings, and are aware of the specific outcomes you want. Be clear, calm and direct, and put things in writing whenever possible. Consider when documentation or data might help your case, and present it in an orderly and readable format. While assertiveness and persistence are crucial, anger and aggressiveness can work against you and can damage important relationships.

e. Focus on the big picture - Simply put, don't sweat the small stuff. Knowing the specifics of a law may be important on one level, but constantly arguing technicalities can ultimately waste time and inhibit rapport. Try not to take things personally, and always consider both sides of the story. Details are important, but don't let them get in the way of negotiating the best educational experience for your child.


2. Guest article - Advocacy in Action: You Can Advocate for Your Child! (1998) from LD Online.

Even when they do not seek the position, parents of children with disabilities or gifts and talents often find themselves acting as advocates for their children. While they may advocate for changes in federal or state/provincial law, more often, parents advocate for changes in their child's placement, a teaching strategy, or local policy.

To help parents advocate successfully, Trina Osher, Director of the Family Leadership Initiative, offers the following suggestions.

Get all the information you can

The first step to successful advocacy is to gather information. Learn what is happening in the school; get copies of school records, as well as information about any tests or evaluations affecting your child; and talk with your child's teacher to learn his or her view of areas of concern.

You should also learn about special education law and its protections. You can obtain this information from the school's special education or guidance director, state departments of education, or parent information and training centers, as well as organizations such as CEC. Because the law can be complex and difficult to understand, you might want to work with a parent advocate, who can explain the law, as well as special education procedures.

Last but not least, talk with your child to learn his or her view of the situation and what he or she thinks will help. Even young children have a keen sense of their stress points and what could be done to make it easier for them to succeed.

What do you want the school to do?

As your child's advocate, you need to be clear about what you want the school to do. Be able to explain what you are happy with, unhappy with, what you want changed, and how you want it changed. For example, if a child is having difficulty completing homework, you should say whether you would like the assignment to be changed or for it to be provided on tape.

To learn about the different options available, you could talk with other parents who have children with similar problems. Ask the school for contact names.

Be a good communicator

Communicating well with your child's teacher and other school personnel is essential to your advocacy efforts. Keep in mind that the school's interest is the same as yours -- you both want the best for your child. In your dealings with the school, be honest and develop a positive relationship with the teacher and other staff. Start where the concern is, usually the classroom teacher. Only move up the chain of command if you must.

Being diplomatic can be hard when you are concerned about your child's welfare -- you want to get feisty. But, get feisty only if that is what it takes.

Bring a companion to meetings

Bring a companion, a friend or advocate, with you to school meetings. This person can help you listen, take notes so you are free to concentrate on what is happening, and help you understand what happened afterwards. In addition, your companion can help slow you down if things get too emotional.

Don't be afraid to say no

Don't be pressured into making a bad decision. You can always say no, ask for more information, or for more time to consider a proposed solution. Take the time to consult with experts and people you trust in the community, then get back to the school with your decision.

Due process

If your child has a disability, you can use due process to resolve disputes with the school, but it should be a last resort. Often, due process proceedings turn the school and parents into adversaries. It is much more beneficial to maintain a positive relationship with the individuals who will work with your child.

Making your voice stronger

One of the best ways to make your voice stronger is to band together with other parents facing similar situations. To learn of other parents who share your concern, give the school a sheet of labels containing your name and address and a statement that you would like to meet other parents facing a similar issue.

When you meet with other parents, share your experiences. As a group, develop some proposals to solve the problem. The parents should then meet with the individual(s) who will be affected. For example, a group of parents who wanted to get computers in the resource room would meet first with the resource room teacher. This approach allows the parents to build a strong partnership with the teachers. Then teachers and parents can build an alliance, which can be particularly effective in creating change.


3. Resources for reading advocacy

a. Words Alive - Words Alive is a nonprofit organization founded by Leslye Lyons, a professional book group facilitator. Its website provides information about reading advocacy programs, as well as resources explaining how to make reading more valuable, and how to be an engaging reader.

b. The National Center for Learning Disabilities, Inc. - Advocacy resource locator - This website gives a list of providers of one-on-one advice, as well as direct referrals to specialists for children with learning disabilities. It is only US-focussed, however. It has a handy 'print-and-export' feature so you can save your results for later reference, and only lists items that have been screened and approved by NCLD staff.

c. Reading Rockets - Reading Rockets is a national multimedia project offering information and resources on how young kids learn to read, why so many struggle, and how caring adults can help. It has a detailed section dedicated to reading advocacy, with great articles chock-full of handy hints and tips for teachers and parents alike.

d. Bright Kids World - Bright Kids World describes its primary objective as being to 'make a difference...to be helpful...to be innovative'. The advocacy section of the website contains some practical advice on how parents can be best equipped to be effective reading advocates for their children.

e. Reading Recovery Council of North America - This website provides a handy 'advocacy calendar', with a list of literacy events categorised by month. It also has useful information about how to be an advocate, with particular regard to everyday practical activities like letter writing, lobbying, telephoning etc.


4. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook

Keep up with our latest news, as well as child literacy-related news articles and interesting information pieces. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!

 
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