It’s common knowledge that the first snowfall of winter usually ignites a bit of a frenzy. However, on the night of those first flakes in Denver, a frenzy of a different kind was building at North Star Elementary. Parents flooded a classroom amidst the wet roads and signs of winter eager to attend their child’s literacy night. Book Trust and North Star Elementary teamed up to equip parents with literacy strategies to take home – strategies that will take those Book Trust books one step further.
The biggest question of the night was not, “Will we have a snow day tomorrow?” but instead, “Exactly how should I be reading with my child?” It may have been years since Book Trust parents sat in a very small seat among dozens of desks prepared to learn, but that’s exactly what they did.
With North Star’s principal proudly smiling in the back of the room, fifth grade teachers gave a warm welcome to parents before Book Trust’s Jessie Chase engaged with parents. Her first line of business? Jelly beans. A jar of 80 green jelly beans sat next to a jar of just 16 jelly beans representing an unknown statistic about literacy.
Guesses ranged from number of pages to read to percentile rankings before everyone reacted to this graphic: reading 20 minutes a night equates to 80 extra school days by the end of 8th grade! Heads nodded and whispers of, “I told you so!” filled the room.
Quality questions, thoughtful conversations
But the big question still remained. “Now what?” Right away Jessie reassured parents that they don’t need to read a library’s worth of books to prepare for reading at home with their kids. Instead, they worked on how to get their 5th grade Book Trust students talking about what they’re reading. And what fifth grader doesn’t love to chat? They do it exceptionally well!
Jessie then walked parents through exercises to help them understand how to engage deeply around the rich content their kids are reading. After reading Hello Ocean, Hola Mar to practice with, parents took a deep dive into the value of asking higher level, open ended questions. The lesson started with Jessie turning to a page and asking a very simple question about the text. “Who is the main character?” In just a second or two, all the parents (and some kids) shouted the answer in unison. They chimed in with a one-word answer – and once answered, that question left nothing more to discuss.
Wait for it…
Jessie then modeled a question along the same lines, but a bit stronger. “How does a character respond to challenges?” Wait time. Wait time. More wait time. And in this moment was the spark that led to a great evening.
A parent asked, “So, the longer it takes to answer the question, the better it is to ask?”
YES! It was a lightbulb moment, for sure. “It will take my kid longer to answer and they’ll have to explain the story,” another parent noted. Higher level, opened ended questions are not begging for an answer but are instead begging for a thought.
Learning, sharing, doing
Several more weak and strong questions were modeled and parents held up cue cards, voting on which questions were the strongest. It was a gameshow Book Trust style – parents learning strategies to better engage with their kids with Book Trust books.
Parents left with a list of questions they could ask their child about almost any book. The North Star Elementary community didn’t let the frenzy of the first snow dampen their enthusiasm. Instead, they built a frenzy of their own – a crowded classroom full of eager parents, committed teachers, energized students – all with a passion for literacy, and now ready for strong questions and great conversations.