Reading is fundamental. When children don’t read at basic or proficient levels by third grade, they are unlikely to graduate or succeed in life. This is especially true for young men, who develop their capacity for reading just as they enter school. So for parents, it is important to read to your kids. At the same time, it is also critical to make sure that the school your child attends is also on the job, especially since 40 percent of all kids will need special reading instruction no matter what you do at home.

Dropout Nation offers six key things to look for in your school’s reading instruction. Also, listen to Dropout Nation Podcasts on how to improve reading for your kids and the youngsters around them, and learn what teachers should be doing in classrooms when it comes to reading instruction. Read, pay attention to what teachers are doing, and take action if you don’t think they are doing the job.

  1. A focus on phonetic awareness: Your child should be learning the ability to manipulate sounds in words, an integral part of decoding what it read.
  2. Emphasis on phonics: Teachers should be teaching your child the relationship between written letters and sounds. If this doesn’t happen, your child will not be able to read.
  3. Building background knowledge: This is as critical as phonics because your child needs to know about the world around him — including history, social studies, even science — in order to build strong reading comprehension — or the ability to gain meaning while reading. The school should have a strong, rich curricula for each grade — and every teacher should be able to tell you what your child should learn (and what the school or district expects you to learn) in the grade your child is in. If not, begin advocating for the adoption of more-rigorous curricula or find them another school.
  4. Gain a vast vocabulary: Each day, your school should be doing what you do at home: Teaching your child words, their definitions and the context in which they should be used. Preferably, the teacher should teach your child at least five new words a week (if not more). Again, if it isn’t happening, start making it happen — even if you have to do it yourself.
  5. Get your child to read faster and pick up information more quickly: Sure, every child reads at different speeds. At the same time, there is a point where your child should be able to read aloud a text designated for their grade without a lot of stumbling (a first-grader should be able to read 60 words per minute). The teacher should have your child read constantly, repeatedly, sometimes working on the same passage, until they get up to speed. If this isn’t happening, take action.
  6. And it all should lead to strong reading comprehension: This doesn’t just mean being able to just pronounce words correctly and being able to speed through a book. They should be able to tell you or their teacher what is being discussed in a book or paragraph. Again, if this isn’t happening, you need to take action, both in school and at home.