Hi everyone! I hope you have all had a fantastic week! I have a question for you…
Why is it that my three children have very different attitudes and approaches to reading?
They were all born and raised in the same environment with stories being read to them regularly and always - without fail - at bedtime. They had bookshelves in their playroom and bedrooms and friends would tease me, as books displayed on top of the bookcase would change in theme depending on the time of the year. Christmas books would be prominent in December whilst books about the seasons or other celebrations would soon have their featured time. Visitors would often remark, “Oh Kerry, once a teacher, always a teacher!” I did my best to foster a love of reading in each child and expected my non-book-loving husband to do the same, which he did. In fact, he read to them in bed almost every night. By the time they were old enough to be reading to him, he would fall asleep in their beds. The kids were oblivious to this and they would read on, thinking they were rendering him speechless, which I suppose he was!
There is ample evidence at our fingertips to support the theory that children who are read to regularly at home from a very early age are at a greater advantage when beginning school than those who aren’t read to. Vibeke Bergersen from the University of Stavanger, Norway, has written a thesis based on the findings of a study undertaken in connection with the On Track research project.
He states, "There are big differences among six-year-olds. While many new first grade pupils can already read on their own, others are not even at the point where they understand that letters represent sounds. We know from the research that it is important that children are well prepared for reading when they start school and will be embarking on formal literacy. This study shows that the parents' attitudes to reading, the number of children's books in the home, the age at which parents start reading aloud to children and how often they read to them all determine how well prepared children are to learn to read when starting school."
I do agree with him, in theory. Yet how is it, that my own three kids developed such distinctively contrasting attitudes towards reading by the time they were in the early junior primary years?
My oldest (a girl) has always loved to read. She began to speak at nine months of age and became a big sister at fourteen months. There were days as a toddler when she wouldn’t touch a toy, a game or piece of outdoor equipment, as she was so engaged with her books. She would sit beside me as I fed her brother and ‘babble read’ her books for hours. She mastered the art of independent reading in grade one and has enjoyed it ever since. I can still remember the moment I walked in to her room and found her sitting in her wardrobe reading – really reading! She had just stumbled on the discovery that not only could she read the readers her teacher sent home each day but that her skills were transferable to the treasury of books under her own roof! The sheer delight on her face was a moment I caught on camera and I clearly remember she was reading that good old chestnut by Dr Seuss – Green Eggs and Ham. She read for pleasure from that day on and was always one of those kids with her nose in a book wherever we went – the beach, camping or a road trip down south. Her favourite subjects to study during her ATAR years in high school were history and psychology, absolutely devoted to all the reading involved.
My middle child (a boy) declared himself a non-reader by the time he was in year two. There was no time to read with so much sport to be played! This wasn’t entirely true though, as he would insist that we saved the sports pages of Monday’s newspaper each week, which he poured through systematically, devouring every scrap of information he could find to prattle on about throughout the week. At least his comprehension skills were fine! I was always the Mum that bought books for Christmas gifts and he always loved his Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not books, Guinness Book of Records books and the autobiographies of his favourite AFL heroes. He loved to learn facts and details on the topics of interest to him, which has pretty much always been limited to AFL and cricket, but I learned to accept that. So yeah. Not exactly a non-reader but we refrained from pointing that out to him, in case it was something he was striving to be. We didn’t want him to stop what reading he was doing. You never can tell how that one’s mind works!
My youngest (a girl) went through the motions of learning to read but never developed an interest in, or even an understanding of, reading for pleasure. Seriously?? Some people do this for fun?? Puh-lease. I tried everything to instil an interest of reading in her – read to her, read with her, listened to her read, took her to the library, bought her books that appealed to her in the bookshop but would have been left in the car if I hadn’t reminded her of our purchases. Something a little bit left of centre, a bit quirky or alternative would appeal to her initially but never sustained her interest for long. Maybe there was something wrong that was making reading difficult for her? Nope. Apart from needing mild prescription lens glasses to help with fatigue, should it set in, nothing else was ever found. Now in high school, a novel study is a fate worse than death. Thank goodness for movie versions and on-line chapter summaries!
So why is this?
Why did they all turn out so differently when it comes to the way they view reading?
Is it because of something I did or didn’t do?
Sure, the eldest one enjoyed more idle hours at home throughout those early formative years with her little brother while life for number three was more about learning to transition well from bed to car seat to pram and back again. I’m sure that lifestyles may have played a part. But then again, my husband is a first-born and finds reading to be a painful form of torture while I am the youngest of five and have always considered reading to be a wonderful hobby and past time.
Anyway, I tried! My desire to foster a love of reading has never been limited to my own tribe. I try just as hard to fuel that love for books in every child who walks through my classroom door. Just as I did for my own, I read to them, read with them, listen to them read, take them to the school library and buy books for them. We engage with books and texts numerous times a day, every day.
Our Talk for Writing program has deeply embedded strategies to support developing readers. Last week, I spoke briefly about a strategy within the imitation phase commonly known as ‘Reading as a reader.’ This is the process whereby we read through the newly introduced written version of the text to develop comprehension skills. Even those kiddos who struggle with reading have access to reading the written version, as they already know what it is going to say after learning the text orally and intimately. We look for which techniques within the text appeal to us as readers.
Check out the depth of awareness students develop about themselves as readers throughout this process!
Comprehension skills need to be explicitly taught and this stage provides an ideal opportunity to develop required skills. Sometimes this is done predominantly through discussion only and sometimes this discussion leads into a more structured set of questions to be answered. Regardless, discussion is the key.
To begin with, we read the text thoroughly and make connections between what we know from learning the text orally and what we are reading in the written version. We explore the vocabulary used and develop a deep understanding through questioning and discussion. We then read the text again on a much deeper level, often sentence by sentence and questions asked are very open-ended, such as, “What has the author done here?” or “What is the author wanting you to think now?”
The children are always encouraged to build upon another student’s response so that together they are piecing together their own understanding, rather than telling me what they think I want to hear, or what they think the right answer is. I just ask the kids to tell me more or I might say something like, “ I was wondering…what do you think?” My role becomes more like that of an interested listener and facilitator of discussion. Children are sometimes asked to discuss something in particular with a partner or to act a part of the text out. Pie Corbett makes reference to ‘booktalk’ techniques and it is definitely something I would like to delve into and learn more about.
I want these kiddos of mine to develop a love of reading, as I strongly believe that an ability to read well and to enjoy reading opens up a world of opportunities. Reading promotes effective communication skills, develops our awareness of self and others, and supports our mental well-being. I try to create a classroom culture where reading for pleasure is not only encouraged but also supported and held in high regard. If the interest in reading is established first, the skills will develop and strengthen.
But is it possible to teach someone to enjoy something they simply don’t like? I never managed with my youngest, but is there more that I can do in my classroom? I’m just not sure but I will continue to try!
I am very fortunate to teach in a community where the parents provide a novel of my choice for all of my students. For many of my students, this is the first ‘big book’ they have owned and you can almost see them swell with pride when we begin our novel unit each year. Some look doubtful and will tell me that they won’t be able to read it by themselves. I don’t allow room for doubt in themselves as a reader and will reassure them of their ability. I might say, “Well isn’t it lucky that we’re going to read it together then?” or I might tell them that they’re about to amaze themselves! I read the book to them, usually a chapter a day, and they look so grown up sitting in front of me with the same book!
Some will follow along with me as I read and I always click my fingers at the end of each page. This lets the kids who have lost their place find where we are up to without each one asking individually. As we progress through the book, I am always impressed with the increasing number of students who are able to follow along, word for word. After all, this is a novel and they are seven years old! Others hold their book in their lap but look at me intently and listen carefully to my modeled reading. Either way, they are engaged, involved and responsive.
And all I can do is hope and pray that I am playing my part in fostering a love of reading in as many little minds as I possibly can.
What do you do to try to develop a love of reading in your students? I’d love to hear your ideas!
Well, that’s it from me this week! I’m excited to delve further into anything of interest to you in upcoming posts.
Until then everyone – be safe, be well, and be happy!!
Keeping up with Kerry can be hard work. She is full of energy and creative ideas... you might be lucky and get a chance to meet her at the Perth Teacher Meet event on September 5th.
We are so grateful for Kerry's contribution to our Smile Teachers Community.