Sunday, 3 May 2020

Learning to Read is not Magic - but it is Magical!

"Be patient; the best way to teach kids to read is to make it fun!
Every child learns at his or her own pace, so always remember the single most important thing you can do is to make it enjoyable. 
By reading regularly, mixing things up with the activities you choose, and letting your child pick out their own books occasionally, you'll instill an early love of reading and give them the best chance at reading success in no time."  

This is the 24th blog post entry of the 2019-20 school year. Last entry we explored the differences between reading out loud to our children and helping our children learn to read. 
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 supported by 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!

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 through this time of emergency teaching through the COVID-19 pandemic. These are important elements of developing positive reading stances and attitudes in children and work in tandem with supporting the development of strong reading skills and strategies. The read aloud experiences offer what I like to think of as the 'modeling reading behaviours' aspect of supporting a child to become a successful and joyous reader. The 'teaching and practicing reading behaviours' describe all the other aspects of learning to read that come together with the modeling to create a pathway for a child to learn to read. 

Sometimes it seems like children learn to read by magic - through a mysterious process of knowing sounds, letters and words that really isn't all that magical at all. Learning to read is really a process of learn new concepts and practice, learn new concepts and practice - peppered with positive experiences where children experience intonation, fluency, expression and the amazing power of vocabulary that ultimately results in new insights, ideas, understandings and information through comprehension. The magical part happens - truly - when suddenly there is an epiphany on the part of the new reader - a moment where EUREKA! seems to happen :)

Recognizing Magical Moments with Young Readers
Because most of time spent reading with our children - not reading aloud with them, but listening to them read and trying to support them - is usually a bit of a challenge (and sometimes downright exhausting as they repeatedly seem to stumble over the same words for what seems forever!), it can be difficult to notice and celebrate the magical moments when they seem to emerge unexpectedly. A very young child may bring the same story for read aloud many times - this is an early magical moment! They may repeat the text as you read it to them, or correct a word or phrase you inadvertently say differently. These are magical moments - a recognition on the part of the child that particular words and a specific story are connected to a distinct book; their earliest understandings of text are beginning to form. It is exciting and so much fun to live through these very early experiences with our toddlers and preschoolers - everything is new and exhilarating!

With our youngest early readers, usually our three to five year olds, magical moments in reading happen when they choose a book they love to sit and look at independently - they may repeat the words from memory or point to pictures of things they know; they may tell a different story about a character in the story or tell the story in their own words, and they may choose to interact with this book on repeated occasions. This is a magical moment - a time when a very young child clearly demonstrates awareness that reading is a valuable action, something to be enjoyed and savoured independently, not only as a read aloud experience but as something they can do on their own. This is a defining moment for most children - although they do not know this at the time - as they are developing a personal image of themselves as a reader of books as well as a consumer of stories.

These early years often hold an other kind of magical moment as well when children discover they can turn to books for specific information about something they have become passionately interested in, such as sharks or lego or dogs. Frequently children will ask to buy a book they see about their interest in a store, or to watch a movie or show on television they understand to be connected to their interest. These are indications they are beginning to see the world as a literate place, where words, letters and sounds work together to bring new meaning and understanding for them personally. 

Early Readers: Numerous Magical Moments
As children begin to establish their identities as readers and recognize potential relationships with texts, words, information and stories, there are several magical highlights that may become evident as indicators of growth towards a joyous, successful reader. As they are able to engage meaningfully with increasingly complex texts, young readers will begin to identify which books they would like to read independently and explain why their particular choice of text might not be what a parent or teacher might choose. Another magical moment might occur when a young reader identifies a friend they want to share reading a book with for a particular reason - because they both like lego, for example, or because their friend has a bike like the one in a particular story. Early readers may begin to see the common elements of a particular genre - like fairytales, for example - that will capture their interest and lead to them requesting more reading experiences within that genre. Each of these 'magical moments' represents an opportunity for a young reader to see themselves as part of a reading culture, wanting to extend and engage with texts for purposeful interactions that are both social and educational - seeking to develop a relationship with reading that will sustain them through life.

Growing Readers Also Have Magical Moments
Developing readers acquire greater proficiency with decoding, phrasing, fluency, accuracy and making meaning as reading skills while developing a relationship with reading that elevates interest, engagement and desire to read more. As these reading habits become better developed and more evident in growing readers, magical moments also emerge. Sometimes readers with growing reading proficiencies will begin to develop a greater interest in complex texts within a genre - like science fiction - or in a particular author. They will begin to read across genres, seeking new opportunities as readers to test their reading preferences. Sometimes there will be an opportunity to connect with an author at a book signing or conference and they will ask to participate. As they begin to understand the complex work behind crafting text in their own writing, they will also begin to appreciate the complexities of text creation in the books they read. Magical moments surface when growing readers first identify a favourite author or genre, seek opportunities to demonstrate their preferences by organizing a bookshelf for themselves, choose a book to read because it has won a award or because it was recommended by someone they are friends with or admire. A magical moment might happen when a growing reader reads the 'blurb' as a strategy for making a personal reading choice, or recommends a text to someone else. These are strong indicators of joyous readers, those children who have successfully woven the threads of modeled and practiced behaviours together with interests and passions to find a happy place in life as a reader.

As parents, we worry whether children are acquiring the necessary skills to become a successful reader. Children demonstrate their comfort with reading through their preferences, interactions and access to books. We worry about the practicalities; they demonstrate their milestones through their enjoyment and relationships with books. Learning to read is not magic but demonstrating their developing achievements and enjoyment of reading is truly magical nonetheless!

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal 

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