Kindergarten teacher takes to YouTube to promote reading

For parents who can't come to school for advice on how to help their youngster learn to read, now there's Mrs. Buckley's videos on YouTube. 
Children aren’t the only ones who are learning in Cindi Buckley’s kindergarten class at Minges Brook Elementary School in Battle Creek.

The parents of Buckley’s students also are learning courtesy of YouTube videos created by Buckley. The 40-year teaching veteran says she came up with the idea because she was seeing a real need to communicate with time-starved parents about ways they can help their children with reading and mathematics.

"Because the time goes so quickly during parent-teacher conferences and parents are technologically advanced, I wanted to give them something accessible that they could view on their own time," Buckley says. "They might not otherwise get my slant on it for my roomful of students and my grade level."

Unlike some new teaching initiatives which are rolled out amidst much fanfare, Buckley’s was presented in a very low-key manner that caught the attention of Lakeview Public Schools administrators by happenstance.

"I didn’t say anything about it to my principal," she says. "We were having a conference with a child who was having difficulties in school and the mom said to the principal that she really enjoyed the video about reading.  This was unexpected because this was not a parent who really volunteers here, but likes technology."

There are currently two Buckley-produced YouTube videos focused on reading on the school’s website. She plans to do one on math for the parents to use over the summer break.

The videos were filmed by Buckley’s son and the brother of a student who appears with Buckley.  Each YouTube segment is about seven minutes long and features Buckley interacting with a student.

"I just talk from my heart," Buckley says. "All you need is someone to talk the parents through.  While I’m talking to the parents I tell them that I know it’s probably easier to have a worksheet but, talking to your child about this is more important.  I ask my student to read and try to model for the parents about talking to their child."

One of the videos explains how parents can make reading a book a positive experience for their child, in addition to helping sound out the words, and asking questions at the end.

"Some parents feel that reading is something they learned by osmosis, but there was really someone there who practiced with them and taught them beginning reading skills," Buckley says. (Watch the videos here and here.) 

When parents and teachers were asked about the meaning of parental engagement perspectives differed somewhat, according to results of a recent survey conducted by the Calhoun County Intermediate School District, says Kathleen Moore, Special Projects Coordinator with a focus on Early Childhood Education for the Calhoun County ISD.

"There were a lot of similarities, but there were also some differences," Moore says of the survey findings. "Part of being engaged with your child’s education is knowing how to support them when they are doing their homework. A lot of people have transportation barriers. For them to even get to a school where they’re doing an afterschool program on how to help your kids…a lot of them can’t get there."

Moore says the survey sparked candid conversations about what could be done to help parents. She says Buckley’s work was well-ahead of these discussions. The goal now is to replicate the YouTube videos throughout the Lakeview School District at any school that wants them.

"This is a way to help a school connect with families where it doesn’t require families to show up at school," Moore says. "It’s another layer of support for families."

Buckley says two children out of her class of 24 students can’t read well.  She says she calls the families of these two students on the phone as often as she can and is hopeful that her videos will help them to encourage their children to read.

"The first thing I do with kids in kindergarten is to try and promote comprehension and an understanding of the beginning, middle, and end," Buckley says. "I try to teach my kids to love books. Some of them, particularly at this age have trouble focusing enough to enjoy a book, but they can get excited about an author or a subject."  

For those who struggle, "A lot of it is not being able to concentrate, or a lack of support and encouragement from their parents," she says.

Moore says she has yet to meet a parents who doesn’t want to help their child succeed. These videos give them one more resource, she says.

"This creates another way for parents to feel connected and informed about their child’s education and feel a lot more engaged," Moore says.  "We have a lot of people in our community who assume that if parents don’t show up, they don’t care. Those of us who aren’t living their life don’t understand. There are so many different barriers for them to come to us.  We need to be going to them more."

In addition to developing accommodations for parents who may be working multiple jobs or have transportation challenges, school officials also are taking into consideration parents who may not have access to computers or may not speak English as a first language.

There have been discussions about putting the YouTube videos on discs that may be played with a DVD system. Moore says Early Childhood Connections has three family coaches who are native to Burma and one coach who speaks Spanish who are able to translate the video content for the area's Burmese and Hispanic families.

"Likely, the families who have a harder time being present at school will benefit more," Moore says.

However, she says even families who are able to get to school for conferences and meetings designed to help their children succeed stand to gain from the videos. Moore, who was very involved with her children’s schooling, says if she had had these resources and someone to demonstrate how to use them, she would have used them.

As Buckley's teaching career has progressed, she says she has seen many changes that have made it necessary to give students and parents as many additional resources as possible. For example, she says, when she first began teaching kindergarten was totally focused on play.

"Now kindergarteners are leafing through a three-lined page story of 16 pages and that’s just grade level," she says. "I keep a survey of how many of my kids read at home. I ask them to give me the titles of the books they read and to tell me what the book is about."

The YouTube videos are a positive addition where reading is concerned, Buckley says.

"Even if it’s a game, there are some things as far as visual perception that are helpful," she says. "I have a couple of kids that this is their way to learn.

"It really makes a difference if parents are there to help with the practice and listen to them."

Jane C. Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek.

Photos by Susan Andress

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