I’m delighted to once again bring you an interview with one of my favorite educational experts and reading teachers in my blog today. Faith Borkowsky is the author of one of the best books in the business on teaching reading, Failing Students or Failing Schools: A Parent’s Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention, and has recently developed an additional series of short educational reads for parents called If Only I Would Have Known. This series needs to be on the radar for all parents, educators, and children’s medical practitioners. The goal of these books is to help parents learn what they need to know about how their child learns to read and to make parents aware of things they can watch for in order to detect potential language-based learning difficulties as early as possible.
Don: Faith, you have a new book series called “If Only I Would Have Known.” Tell us about how you came up with the title and how many books are planned for the series?
Faith: In my private tutoring practice, just about every conversation I have had with parents following a reading assessment of their child ended the same way – “If only I would have known. . .” It was the same story. Teachers told them their child would be fine. School administrators and educational support team members assured them the right instruction and interventions were being provided. I said to myself, “Boy, I could write the script. . .” And then I had a thought. “Wait a minute. I should write the script!” It was written as a set of three accessible graphic plays that follow one mom’s struggle to learn how to help her children with language-based difficulties such as dyslexia.
Don: Who is the intended audience for the series and what is the objective of the series?
Faith: The books are meant to be read by parents before they face the heartache of seeking help for their children in a school system that won’t work for them. Parents of children between birth and age five are my target audience. My hope is that my “If Only I Would Have Known. . .” series will be made available in pediatricians’ offices, daycare centers, preschools, and libraries, as well as in maternity wards, where they can be given as gifts for new parents. The graphic play format hits home important messages without the subject matter becoming too heavy. I want everyone to be able to identify with the characters, so the illustrations are all animals drawn in silhouette.
Don: How did you identify the need for these books?
Faith: Look no further than all the children in need of intervention. Instead of a prevention model, we wait for children to fail and hope that remediation will work. Prevention is always the better route. Parents need to have this information early in order to advocate for their children immediately. From what I have seen, the only parents who know about language, literacy, and dyslexia are the ones who have suffered with older children and have learned from their experiences. They became proactive and began to respond preemptively by watching for red flags and even teaching their own children to read as a way to “school-proof” them. Parents today do not have the time to sit down and read lengthy books on important topics. They want concise, straightforward advice. The “If Only I Would Have Known. . .” series is written for busy parents and professionals.
Don: What would you like to share about each title?
Faith: In these short, easy-to-understand books, I try to convey the importance of having members of the community support and educate parents early enough in the process to change the trajectory for their children. I provide specific examples of things parents can and should look for to ensure their children get off to a good start when they begin school.
In the first book, the main character, Ms. Query, takes her youngest child to the pediatrician for his annual physical. This visit is different from prior visits because her pediatrician includes a “literacy checkup.” The conversation between parent and pediatrician is what every parent of a struggling reader wishes they had heard from their child’s doctor about language, literacy, and dyslexia. The book is really about awareness.
In the second book, Ms. Query, now armed with some basic knowledge, has a conversation with her child’s preschool teacher at the start of the school year. Readers will learn all about phonological awareness and letter knowledge along with Ms. Query.
In the last book, Ms. Query visits the local library and speaks to a librarian about explicit, systematic phonics and books that would be appropriate for emergent and struggling readers. Ms. Query’s conversation with the children’s librarian points to a need in the community. The library really needs to be a resource center for parents.
Ideally, the books should be read as a set of three in numerical order; however, each one stands on its own and functions as a roadmap for parents and other caregivers, pediatricians, preschool teachers, daycare providers, and librarians without excessive technical language.
Don: I noticed that book one covers sensory processing disorders. Why is that subject important for parents to be aware of?
Faith: Although sensory issues are not directly related to dyslexia, it seems to be prevalent in a large number of students with decoding difficulties. It is not unusual for children to have overlapping problems with fine motor skills, speech, attention, and sensory processing.
Don: Can you please explain what decoding is?
Faith: The simple definition would be the sounding out of unknown words. Children must be able to learn letter and sound relationships in order to pronounce the written word.
Don: Talk to us about the importance of phonics.
Faith: Phonics is the instruction we give children in order to teach them to decode words. Children are taught letters and letter patterns connected to the individual sounds in spoken language. Some children can figure out the alphabetic code without phonics, but many children need to be taught through explicit, systematic phonics instruction. Without this structure, many children will not intuitively understand how to blend sounds from left to right through words. They will default to guessing strategies and use pictures and context cues to derive meaning. This guessing response becomes habit and does not go away on its own. This is why it is so important to build phonological awareness and letter recognition skills early, to teach children to read words correctly, and to catch the ones who truly need extra support.
Don: Where can we learn more about your series and how to purchase?
Faith: The books are available on Amazon as well as other online book outlets. There will be no eBooks available because my goal is to have people read the books and “pay it forward” by sharing with friends and family members. I invite everyone to visit my website www.highfiveliteracy.com to learn more about me and my work.
Don: Thank you, Faith. I really like the idea of the entire community being part of supporting parents with young children. It really does take a village. And the more we help one another, the richer life can be, and the more children will get what they need so that they can learn to read well.
Cardboard Box Adventures Picture Books are great for shared reading and can help parents establish a strong pre-literacy foundation for their children. Check out the new CBA Catalog for a full list of award-winning picture books, chapter books, and resources for parents and educators.