Lessons from the research

Here’s what data and experience tell us about closing the word gap and helping West Virginia students to succeed, says Christy Schwartz, of the West Virginia Department of Education’s Campaign for Grade Level Reading:

Keep reading aloud to children from birth to adolescence, and keep educating families about the need to do it. Reading aloud does more for vocabulary development than talking with them, which is also good.

Encourage teachers to read to students daily.

“If children are responding well to a book you’re reading, encourage them to find another in the series, in that genre or by the same author that the teacher might read with them,” she said.

Put books in children’s hands.

“I grew up in eastern Kanawha County, and my favorite thing was when the Bookmobile came to the churchyard and I got to check out as many books as I was allowed to check out,” Schwartz said. “So I have a real passion for getting books in the hands of children in West Virginia.”

Read multiple texts on the same subject.

“One of the best ways that research has shown you can close that gap is to read multiple texts about the same topic,” Schwartz said. Encourage teachers to add books to the classroom library or display some that explore topics in the read-aloud book.

“I was really excited that some of the enrichment opportunities that you all provide for the classrooms are book trunks and book sets,” she said. “That’s wonderful. And some of them are heavily focused on informational texts. Those could be a great support to teachers when they’re trying to read multiple texts about a topic.

“So I’m really excited about that and that’s a really great connection between your work and our work.”

Do pause in your reading to briefly explain strange words, or introduce them in advance.

Being read to is the best way for children to develop word mastery and grammatical understanding, she said. Children learn more words and learn them better by reading and by being read to than by direct instruction, studying words in isolation.

Involve community partnerships.

“We know schools work really hard. Counties work really hard to educate children, but they can’t do it alone,” she said.