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Reading aloud – not just for the early years

Long reads
Reading aloud – not just for the early years

Research has highlighted the importance of providing ongoing opportunities for children to read aloud in class to teachers and friends, and at home to parents, siblings and even pets.

A safe and supportive environment and a conscious effort by teachers to dissociate reading aloud purely with some form of testing or task were also seen as key to helping youngsters improve their skills.

Dr Margaret Merga interviewed Year 4 and 6 students (aged eight to 11) from 24 schools across Western Australia about their attitudes toward ‘interactive reading’ – reading aloud to others and being read to. The Murdoch University academic reports her findings in the Australian Journal of Education (AJE).

Merga says there’s little research into older children’s experiences in this area, once they’ve moved beyond initial independent reading skill acquisition. She adds teachers can struggle to find time for interactive reading beyond the first years of primary school, despite the many benefits to students. ‘Reading aloud to an interested audience can provide opportunities for children to improve their oral fluency and pronunciation, and to allow for opportunities to check comprehension.’

The AJE paper – Interactive reading opportunities beyond the early years: What educators need to consider – reports that some of the children interviewed had no one reading to them at school or at home. ‘… not all students in this sample were being read to at school. For example, Max’s teacher did not read to him at all, and Samuel’s teacher “only reads books when it’s for a task or something”. Zac really enjoyed his teacher reading to him, but reading was discontinued, with The Hobbit remaining unread on the teacher’s table.’

Discussing school contexts, Merga says shared reading has been associated with increasing student learning engagement, motivation and enjoyment. Some students interviewed used reading aloud to solidify friendships and enjoyed the social aspect of it, while others found listening to others read relaxing, good for their mood and a chance to learn new vocabulary.

At home, children were involved in different social exchanges, reading aloud to pets –including dogs and birds – sometimes because it was a more relaxing and less stressful experience than reading to a sibling or parent.

However, not all the children’s experiences and attitudes were positive. ‘Embarrassment and fear clouded the prospect of reading aloud when children in this study lacked the confidence and skills to read well,’ Merga writes. ‘Naomi explained the distinction between errors in independent reading and reading aloud, as “if I mess up everybody hears it. If I mess up in my head I just smile and just go back and read it”. She did not like reading out loud at school or at home due to its perceived difficulty, illustrating the relationship between anxiety and skill level.’

Other children said they were scared they would be laughed at it they made a mistake reading aloud to classmates, or were anxious about their lack of fluency and expression.

Merga tells Teacher that educators can support students by providing them with continuing opportunities to practice their skills in a safe space. ‘Some children in the study were legitimately terrified, and it was interesting to note that they were usually children who were not having the opportunity to practice the skills at home. This is why it is so important that we provide safe spaces for children to practice their reading aloud in front of a small and friendly audience, not just in front of the whole class in a test situation. Pair practice, friendly volunteers and education assistants can all play a valuable role in providing this opportunity.’

Asked why some teachers are reluctant to read aloud in class, other than in a test or study situation, Merga says it’s something she’d like to explore further but based on the research already done there could be a number of reasons.

‘Firstly, even though the Australian Curriculum places some value on an aesthetic response to books, reading for pleasure is not something it strongly promotes, so if we want teachers to place a greater emphasis on reading for pleasure in the classroom, this needs curricular support.

‘Secondly, research in the US and the UK suggests that not all teachers necessarily read for pleasure; we can’t assume that all of our reading teachers love to read. My recent research in this area suggests that there can also be a strong focus on skill acquisition related to test preparation in contemporary classrooms, which can be approached in a way that excludes pleasure and enjoyment, leading to children deciding that reading is a thing done for the purpose of measurement and testing.’

Merga advises that, where possible, interactive reading should happen both at school and at home and, indeed, teachers may have a greater responsibility as parents could face challenges such as low literacy or not being at home because of high workloads. She says her research provides a clear model that teachers can share with parents in order to support their capacity to read with their children at home.

‘As I was lucky to have a mother who read with me as a child, I might tend to take for granted that this is a universal experience, but sometimes as educators we’re asking parents to do something that they’ve never had modelled themselves while they were children, which is not really reasonable or fair if we fail to provide adequate support.

‘The key points of shared responsibility, frequency, continuance and quality are really important, and need to be foregrounded in our home/school communications. We may also need to literally show them how it is done in workshops, as reading to siblings across multiple ages can pose real challenges for parents, some of whom are inexperienced, having never been read to.’

Merga and colleagues hope to investigate the issue further in a national study.

References

Merga, M. K. (2017). Interactive reading opportunities beyond the early years: What educators need to consider. Australian Journal of Education, 0004944117727749.

The full paper – Interactive reading opportunities beyond the early years: What educators need to consider –  is free to access in the Australian Journal of Education until the end of November.

When was the last time you read aloud to your students? If you used to read aloud to your students but no longer do it, why did you stop?

Do you provide safe environments for students to practice their skills? Is it usually in the context of a test or task? Are they reading to the whole class or do they have the opportunity to build confidence and enjoyment by reading in a small group or to a friendly listener?

How can you support parents to read with their children at home, or listen to their children read at home?

Allison Greenland 03 November 2017

Fantastic article; very good points about teacher’s reading aloud and also how some students need to first read aloud in a safe environment to build confidence in themselves.

Terence Mills 08 November 2017

I teach pupils about mathematics. Pupils often find word problems difficult, even at the senior levels. I often encourage them to read the question out loud. Somehow, the problem is clarified by this process. Also, these days, people often write using a computer: they simply type ideas and let them appear on the screen. I have noticed that this can lead to very long sentences. In such cases, I will encourage the author to read the sentence out loud - without taking a breath - and then re-write. In some disciplines in the humanities, researchers often read their conference papers, literally, This sounds odd to people from other disciplines, but there is an art to reading aloud. Monks used to, and perhaps some still do, take their meals while a brother reads scripture aloud. Reading aloud has much to commend it.

Ngaire Booth 08 November 2017

What a great article, would you mind if I published it in an abridged form on my school blog with full credits? Our students are reluctant to read at all, let alone aloud and any encouragement to parents or teachers would be really useful.

Jo Earp 08 November 2017

Hi Ngaire, Thanks for getting in touch. We’ve replied to your email with details.

NOTE FOR READERS: Teacher is happy to share its content - readers can get in touch at any time via .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with a request (include a link to the piece of content you wish to republish, your contact details and the name of the publication you’d like to reproduce it in) and we’ll be in touch with the permission to republish paperwork. Jo Earp, Editor.

Mary Keating 08 November 2017

Very worthwhile reading. The comments are as well! My only comment is that teachers in the lower grades encourage encourage fluency and expression on the first reading. The article states that the researchers found children : “... were anxious about their lack of fluency and expression”. Of course they were because teachers place so much importance on it and it flies in the face of everything we know about decoding first and reading for meaning second. Teachers have created this unreasonable expectation. I’ve listened to kids read aloud and they seem to think they are performing on a stage. That’s not what reading aloud together is all about. But “reading with expression” is somewhere in the Victorian curriculum papers and that’s where the problem is.

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