What is your belief about reading to children? Does it really make a critical difference in their cognitive development or is it wasted time in the classroom?
What do statistics show about the language development children enter our schools with?
Reading, providing oral discussion and strategically introducing higher level vocabulary words are some of the best ways teachers can begin to bridge the language gap created by poverty.
However, just the simple act of reading aloud causes so many connections to be made. Yet we continue to underestimate the importance of it.
There are so many reasons for doing a read aloud (and I recommend you plan for at least 2-3 every day - two in subject areas and one just for pleasure).
Reading quality books to kids allows them to access "rare" words that don't occur in ordinary conversation. Children who never get the opportunity to hear these words are most likely to permanently struggle with reading.
Research has also shown that a read aloud is the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading.
One study cited by the author Mem Fox says that children who know at least 8-10 nursery rhymes by the time they are four years old are likely to be proficient to accelerated readers when they are eight years old.
A U.S. Department of Education analysis found that children who were read to at least three times a week by a family member were almost twice as likely to score in the top 25% in reading than children who were read to less than three times a week.
An interactive read-aloud is an explicit method of reading instruction that is vital to many children.
Students who have little experiences with being read to are at a huge disadvantage when they enter school.
Reading to children is a time for a teacher to model vocabulary, reading fluency and comprehension strategies using a think-aloud. While the teacher is reading to children, the students are to engage in active listening. which will turn into meaningful responses.
Some teachers and parents may feel that this is not as important once children are older. Not so.
There is a bonding element that occurs when you sit with your child or students and read together. My oldest son still asks for a story at night time, and he can certainly read by himself at 11 years old.
Plus, children are able to listen to (and understand) stories far above their independent reading levels. For many children, it takes up to 7th or 8th grade for their independent levels to catch up with what they are able to comprehend through listening.
If your students are not used to read alouds, don't start with chapter
books! You will need to build their attention span and listening skills
slowly. Start with very short books that provide opportunities for
students to be actively engaged in it (like Eric Carl's book Today Is Monday or Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel).
You could then move on to reading a week's worth of books by the same author,
picture books with related themes, then move into short chapter books
that have great hooks and leave them wanting more. This is the best way
to begin reading aloud in the classroom.
Reading to children is the best intervention there is in my opinion. In fact, it is my one and only recommendation to parents when they ask me what they can do to improve their child's reading.
I tell them, "Read to your child - a lot."