Archives for March 2014


There is much debate on the topic of whether parents make good tutors.

Study #1

A study published by former Duke University researchers found that parents do not make good tutors for their middle school students for the following reasons:

1) the parents are unfamiliar with the academic content

2) the students want independence from their parents and are less open to academic support

Nancy Hill, a researcher in the study, said that because poor grades often serve as the impetus for parental tutoring there is a correlation between parental involvement and a decrease in academic achievement.  It makes you wonder had the parents provided tutoring before the poor grades emerged would there be a different effect.  Poor grades in middle school are often the result of a student’s poor reading skills.  What if the parent had provided reading tutoring in the early elementary grades when the student stood a much better chance of developing into a competent reader?

Study #2

A very small study conducted in 1979 looked at whether parents of first-grade students could affect positive reading growth in their children after nine weeks of tutoring.  Parents received three hours’ of training in tutoring techniques.  It is unclear what those techniques were.  The students who received tutoring from their parents made no significant growth in reading skills compared to the students in the control group.

Study #3

However, another researcher found parents of third-grade students were effective tutors of oral reading techniques.  Parents received six hours’ of training and materials for tutoring.  In a survey that was part of the study, parents stated that the school should help parents find ways to boost their children’s reading achievement.  My conclusion is that parents are more willing to tutor if support and training by qualified educators is available.

My Opinion

I argue that parents make good tutors when they start tutoring their children when they are in kindergarten through second grade.  Why?

1.  The child, if delayed in or struggling with literacy, is not that far behind grade level.

2.  Most early elementary children still have a positive attitude toward learning and school.

3.  The child is more open to receiving support from their parents (than at an older age).

4.  The child’s brain and learning pathways remain very pliable.  Consequently, it is easier to learn to read well (aka efficiently) when in the early elementary years.

Ultimately, for parents to make good tutors, they must be provided with appropriate materials and trained how to use them.  Additionally, they need to be able to receive feedback from a qualified educator.  The hardest challenge for parents wanting to tutor their children is knowing where to begin.  To really contribute to your child’s reading development, you need to find a reading specialist who can serve as your mentor.

Hill NE, Tyson DF. Parental involvement in middle school: A meta-analytic assessment of the strategies that promote achievement. Developmental Psychology. 2009;45:740–763.

Jacobowitz, SE.  Tutoring by Parents of Their Children in First Grade.  M.Ed Thesis at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. 1979.

MacDonald CA, Parents as tutors of their own children: Effects of reading strategies on third-grade students. January 1, 1994. Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. Paper AAI9434509.



Before learning more about your child’s literacy development, it helps to understand the general progression of literacy from birth to proficiency.  Different sources label the stages differently.  I have chosen to categorize the stages of literacy development into four stages: PRE-EMERGENT, EMERGENT READER, BEGINNING READER and INDEPENDENT READER.  Each stage can last for several years or a child can cruise through it in a year’s time.  I will offer ages that are associated with each stage of development as well, but keep in mind that there is a wide range of normal or typical development.



PRE-EMERGENT (Birth – Age 3)

– Handles books, turns pages, examines illustrations

– Asks to be read to

– “Reads” aloud and silently to self

– Memorizes passages or phrases in books

– Scribbles, imitates writing even if it isn’t legible


– Understands that the print in the book carries meaning (along with the illustrations)

– Notices environmental print (writing on toys, signs, food containers)

– Recognizes letters

Think of letter recognition as working in two directions:

1) The child looks at a letter A and names it.  This starts with a visual (the letter A) and ends with the oral representation (the spoken A).

2) The child is asked to find the letter A among many letters.  This starts with the oral representation (the spoken A) and ends with a visual (the letter A).

– Reads meaningful words such as name, mom, dad, etc.

– Writes meaningful words, such as name, may be inaccurately spelled or illegible

– Begins to match spoken words to written words

– Understands directionality of print (that we read left to right and top to bottom)

– Begins to understand that spoken words are made up of sounds, like hearing the sound /b/ at the beginning of boy

– Hears and produces rhyming language

– Knows some letter-sound relationships

Again, think of letter-sound relationships working in two directions:

1) Upon seeing the letter b, the child makes the /b/ sound.

2) Upon hearing the /b/ sound, the child states that the letter b represents that sound.


– Able to hear, count and manipulate sounds and syllables within words (Phonological awareness)


How many sounds are in the word luck?

What is the middle sound in the word bed?

What is the last syllable in the word buckle?

What are the individual sounds in the word blank?

What word do you have if you remove the sound /l/ from the word blank?

– Has mastered the letter-sound relationships

– Uses letter-sound relationships to decode (sound out) words

– Uses letter-sound relationships to spell phonetically-regular words

– Increases sight word vocabulary for both reading and writing

– Begins to write simple sentences

– Can read and understand simple texts, which are often composed of repetitive language, phonetically-regular words and high-frequency sight words

– Begins to self-monitor reading, making self-corrections when the error does not make sense or fit visual cues

– Starts to develop comprehension strategies such as predicting, using context, and rereading

INDEPENDENT READER (Ages 8 and upward)

– Develops greater reading fluency

– Reads independently in a variety of genres and for many purposes

– Uses word-identification strategies to read most unknown words

– Uses knowledge of roots, prefixes and suffixes to decode and understand the meaning of words

– Sight word vocabulary continues to grow

– Asks and answers (orally and in writing) explicit and open-ended questions related to text

– Written work is organized and coherent

– Uses reading skills to acquire new information **

** Third grade is considered the transition year from learning to read TO reading to learn.  If your literacy skills are delayed in grades kindergarten through second grade, you are still learning content through a variety of other mediums (teacher read alouds, discussions, investigations, creative play, visuals).  In third grade, the majority of content is presented in text format.  If you are not reading on grade-level and cannot read classroom materials well, you will miss out on a lot of instruction.  Thus, it is essential to be reading on grade level by third grade.

Information adapted from the following resources:

All Children Can Read, Literacy for Children with Combined Vision and Hearing Loss, National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB) Literacy Practice Partnership (2006).  Literacy Development.

FIRST YEARS, Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (2009). Literacy Development: Ages & Stages.

School of Education, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (2014).  Emergent Literacy (Early Childhood). Language Arts Standard 1, Literacy Development.