Sunday, 26 April 2020

Reading to Your Child & Helping Your Child Learn to Read Are Not the Same


"Research is also clear that reading to kids - whatever its benefits - has little or no impact on the development of (reading) skills that are so prominent in the early grades...(where) texts only use limited numbers of words and depend heavily on words known to be in kids' early oral vocabularies." (Dr. Timothy Shanahan)

This is the 23rd blog post entry of the 2019-20 school year. Last entry we explored some ideas for promoting and encouraging reading at home through these unusual days. 
Parents are encouraging their children to listen to teacher read alouds each day on the Pod blogs, and are reading to them as well at home. 
Many of the strategies explored in this blog are ideas parents might use to help their children develop their own reading skills, using basic, early reading books that are not related to all the benefits derived from the many read alouds children enjoy each day. 
Learning to read independently is a unique journey and requires dedicated, ongoing support. Classes may be cancelled but teachers and parents alike continue to support this steady practice of reading skills to ensure children become proficient and joyous readers!


In conversation with a parent recently (virtually, of course!), I was asked to explain the difference between reading aloud to a child and helping a child learn to read, and it occurred to me that I haven't really delineated the distinction between the two as clearly in this blog as perhaps I could. So, in this blog entry - the 23rd dedicated to home reading this school year - that is what we are going to explore: the differences between reading to your child aloud and helping your child learn to become an independent reader. 

Benefits of Reading Aloud 
Reading aloud to your child brings many significant benefits - most of which have been explored in this blog in great depth, so I will just summarize them quickly: significantly greater awareness of vocabulary and pronunciations; introduction of many different topics, ideas and genres as families read through multiple stories each year; opportunities for re-reading favourite books and stories to reinforce vocabulary, character development, language patterns; opportunities to develop 'favourite' reading material choices, genres, authors; opportunities to discuss ideas, explore text features such as maps or charts, make connections to personal experiences, movies, etc; build stronger family relationships as a result of shared experiences. 

Benefits of Supporting Your Child Learning to Read
Learning to read is, as I have mentioned numerous times in this blog, an idiosyncratic journey for each reader that follows some general directions without adhering to the same paths. It requires much practice over many years, trying out new strategies and approaches as text complexity increases. There are some basic skills readers need to get started that are quite similar - once these are mastered, learning to read becomes even less similar from child to child as they indulge in their own favourite texts and interests. Parents who are able to successfully support their child's practice of reading at home will notice enhanced interest in learning to read and be able to celebrate the small successes that seem to occur frequently throughout the reading journey. As parents note these successes and support continued growth, children appreciate both the help and the celebration and are more likely to want to continue growing as a reader. The greatest benefit of supporting a child on the learning to read journey is watching a successful, joyous reader develop in your child!

How to Help Your Child Learn to Read
There are literally hundreds of thousands of research studies and articles that describe and detail how to help a child learn to read. Many of these research projects focus on highly specific learning challenges that may not necessarily occur in every child, while others seek to find 'one way' to best support the majority of learners who are new to the experience of independent reading. In my opinion, the key ways parents might help their child learn to read can be distilled into four basic approaches:
                   1) have your child read aloud to you every day for a few minutes and use this as the starting point for helping with reading
                   2) practice high frequency sight words daily
                   3) make learning to read fun with games and small challenges
                   4) teach your child rhymes, chants and songs from the time they are newborns

Listen to Your Child Read Aloud Every Day
From Kindergarten forward, this is often called 'home reading' and children will bring home appropriately written early reading materials with repetitive phrases, vocabulary and limited text for the earliest readers. These are often called 'controlled text' stories and are designed to help children build awareness of phonology, letters, high-frequency words and text patterns (such as sentence structure, paragraphs, etc). As you listen to your child read aloud their 'learning-to-read' book, remember that learning requires generosity, permission to make mistakes and correct them, and ideas for making learning easier. Learning is not about correcting mistakes, it is about learning from mistakes. And learning requires strategies such as those often mentioned in this blog. 

Before your child begins reading, take a walk through the book with them - what is the title? What is the book about? Ask how they know this? What do the pictures imply (predicting) will happen in the story? Doing this allows the child to become familiar with the ideas of the story beforehand and takes some of the pressure off as they enter the text. As children become more proficient at reading, this pre-reading strategy becomes less important but it is critical with the earliest readers.  When your child is ready, prompt them to take the lead and begin reading. Listening to your child read aloud helps you understand what their strengths and challenges are with reading - they will pause and try to make sense of a word so give them lots of time. Sometimes I will say 'if you need help, put your thumb up and I will help' and this gives them control. This puts the child in charge of prompting and encourages them to try, knowing there will be help if they cannot figure out a particular word. It does not mean I necessarily will give them the word - sometimes I point out the word on a different page where they decoded it successfully before to job their memory, sometimes I will prompt them to look at the first sound and the ending sound, or refer to a picture. Sometimes I will say 'this word rhymes with..." or have them identify a small word inside the larger word. If they are still not able to figure out the word, I will ask them 'does ___make sense?" and give them the word. When we get to the punctuation at the end of the sentence, I will say something like 'that was a tough word!' and re-read the sentence with expression and then ask them to re-read it to, pointing to each word as we go.  And always praise what they have done well - it is in the little successes that real growth in reading builds.
The books are short at these early reading stages with very limited text but it is in working to decode, accepting prompts and re-reading for fluency that oral reading awareness grows.

High Frequency Words
There are many words that are used repeatedly in all text, but most particularly in simple texts. These are the utilitarian words (such as the, said, then) as well as the words most familiar to children (run, bike, bed, brother).  If a child learns the 100 most commonly used words (and there are numerous lists of these available), then reading immediately becomes smoother, easier and more fluent.  Teachers will often provide word lists for parents and practice them with children in school. Helping your child identify sight words in a list is a similar process to supporting them with oral reading - prompt when stuck, use word families if possible, point out beginning/end sounds. Usually children will begin to build a strong sight word vocabulary in a few short weeks with repeated exposure and practice. 
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Playing Games to Make Learning to Read Fun
There a many word-construction games available for young children to help them become better readers, and simple oral games can help as well. Making lists of words that end with 'all', for example, helps children understand words belong in families and beginning sounds matter (ball, call, fall, mall, etc). Kids can orally play such games for a few minutes happily and will often make up games of their own. What parents are highlighting in these games are the phonology of words - another way to bring awareness to printed text.

Rhymes, Chants & Songs
Learning nursery rhymes (like the rhymes from Mother Goose), simple poems, chants and songs are simple ways to remind our youngest readers that words follow patterns. 30 years ago, when children came to school the majority of them came with awareness of nursery rhymes and understood that words came in families based on that knowledge - an easy concept for teachers to expand. Today, many children have never heard nursery rhymes or poetry before entering school and are not as aware of word families and patterns. They remain easy to teach, learn and make up silly rhymes and sayings with young children - and this, again, builds awareness of sounds, phonology and word rhythms. 

Listening to your child read aloud and offering them the time to sound out or use a strategy to identify an unfamiliar word, as well as a prompt if needed and praise for work well done is foundational to someone on the learning to read journey. Parents can provide comfort and support through this process as their child becomes an increasingly proficient reader. Practicing high frequency words, rhymes and chants and playing impromptu silly word games are all very important and easy ways parents may help a child develop daily into a proficient reader.  And the read alouds bring a rounded experience that includes joy, excitement and interest as well as the most important element of all - relationship - to the learning to read experience.

Reading aloud to a child is not the same experience as helping your child learn to read. Combine the two approaches, however, and the incentive for a young child to become an independent reader will be strong and successful. Parenting is complex in so many ways but supporting the reading journey really just takes time, focus and a positive, generous approach that leaves room for fixups and celebrations of success.

Next week, we will explore the reading-writing connection as a way to further help children become proficient readers in the early grades.

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School 








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