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Reading - Value Of Reading Engagement For Children

aloud literacy research development

Educators have become increasingly interested in the role that reading engagement or volume–the amount of print children are exposed to–plays in the growth of academic achievement. In the early twenty-first century, it is believed that reading activity itself serves to increase the achievement differences among children. Children who are exposed to more literacy experiences early in their development are positioned to take advantage of the educational opportunities presented to them in preschool and elementary school. In contrast, children who are largely unfamiliar with print find themselves less able to take advantage of those same educational opportunities. This reciprocal relationship is observed in the social and cognitive contexts of school and home. A model of these effects in reading has been emerging in the literature. Reading engagement is thought to be deeply intertwined and a contributing factor to the escalating differences observed among children in their reading achievement. Thus, on the basis of available evidence, there appears to be a strong rationale for educators and policymakers alike to call for increased amounts of reading volume or engagement in young children as means to improve their reading achievement.

The Importance of Reading Aloud to Children

Reading aloud to children has been broadly advocated as an important educational practice in which to foster reading volume. Parents and teachers have been increasingly encouraged to read aloud to young children as a developmentally appropriate practice by professional societies such as the International Reading Association for the Education of Young Children. These reading experiences have been shown to provide a host of benefits to the young child. In addition to the socioemotional benefits of sitting in a parent's lap, many aspects of language and cognitive development are thought to be facilitated. For example, reading aloud to children has been found to facilitate the growth of vocabulary in preschool-age children and elementary-age students. Reading aloud has been shown to promote children's understanding of academic language of text, which differs significantly from oral language. This practice also introduces novel concepts of text structure and story grammar and provides an important avenue for learning about the world. One of the most commonly held beliefs regarding the value of reading aloud to young children is that such exposure will introduce them to the world of print and motivate them to seek out these experiences on their own. These outcomes are all important predictors of children's reading achievement, yet it appears the effects of reading aloud to children are limited to certain facets of language and literacy.

Does Reading Aloud to Children Teach Them How to Learn to Read?

A common hypothesis, held by many educators and parents, is that one of the primary benefits of reading aloud to children is the promotion of children's literacy development. Specifically, some researchers have argued that reading aloud to children is an effective and natural way for them to learn to read. Via a series of successive approximations while being read to, the young child will learn how to decode and recognize words. That is, the practice of reading aloud to children is thought to be an important mechanism (and for some the primary one) in learning to read and can explain individual and group differences in literacy growth among children. Although it makes sense intuitively that reading aloud should facilitate general literacy development, this hypothesis merits empirical investigation to understand under what conditions and for what readers reading aloud facilitates children's reading development. While it is difficult to isolate the literacy gains that accrue from reading aloud to children, one must attempt to compare this variable to the impact of other educational practices or experiences when inferring causality about certain practices.

Although many studies have shown a strong to moderate relation between reading aloud to children and their subsequent reading achievement, these studies failed to control for numerous mediating variables. The studies that attempted to tease apart the relative contribution of the time parents spend reading aloud to their children and determine the effect of this practice have demonstrated relatively low correlations when compared with other predictors such as promoting phonemic awareness (the ability to attend to the sounds of language and manipulate them) and letter-name knowledge (the ability to quickly name letters). David Share and colleagues' comprehensive study from 1984 indicted that parents reading aloud to their children made a weak indirect contribution to developing literacy and that children's phonemic awareness was a far more potent indicator. In the early 1990s Hollis Scarborough and her colleagues determined that other variables–such as early language, interest in solitary book reading, and emergent literacy skills–were significantly more predictive of later reading achievement. The results of yet another large-scale study by Jana Mason suggested that when compared to other individual differences in children's abilities, reading aloud to children was a less direct and relatively weaker predictor of children's reading achievement. Parallel results have been observed through the examination of the contribution of teachers' reading aloud to their students and the students' subsequent growth in decoding and word recognition skills. Many of the studies demonstrate weak or moderately facilitative effects, whereas a few have even observed negative effects of reading aloud to children, which should be interpreted as largely owing to the displacement effect of reading to children instead of teaching them to read.

In the domain of children's beginning word recognition skills, the research is demonstrating that read-alouds by parents and teachers play a limited role. Yet when parents and teachers scaffold or help a child's attempts to read the words in a story (compared to reading the words out loud to the child), stronger effects are observed. The National Reading Panel Report in 2000 summarized the research demonstrating that the primary mechanism for acquiring fluent word recognition skills (e.g., letter knowledge, sound-symbol correspondences, decoding words and recognizing them automatically) is not through being read to but via methods that entail guided or direct instruction.

Guided Reading and Reading Aloud to Children

In addition to direct instruction, guided oral reading is emerging as an important form of reading volume, particularly for beginning readers. Guided oral reading encourages children to read text orally and includes systematic, explicit guidance and feedback from their parent or teacher. In 1999 Linda Meyer and colleagues juxtaposed the practice of teachers reading with children (guided oral reading) versusreading to them (read-alouds) as different mechanisms for increasing reading engagement. In contrast to reading aloud to children, reading with children is a more effective practice for promoting reading skill and fluency. In 1997 Steve Stahl and colleagues provided further support for this conjecture. They observed significant differences in students' reading fluency and comprehension levels as a result of teacher-guided reading practices in a comprehensive study of second-grade students. Meta-analyses of guided oral reading have further demonstrated the value of this instructional practice in promoting word recognition, fluency, and reading comprehension across a range of grade levels.

In conclusion, the emphasis on immersing children in literature and increasing their exposure to print is an educational practice that makes sense. Nonetheless, there are multiple purposes and mechanisms for fostering reading engagement and volume that must be considered. When discussing the value of reading engagement and volume, one should attempt to specify the purposes of these practices, especially when making causal attributions. Reading aloud to children is an important educational practice that promotes vocabulary growth, understanding of text and genre, general knowledge, and hopefully motivation to read. In contrast, guided oral reading is a practice that has been found to be a more effective method of promoting children's word recognition, fluency, and comprehension. The primary aim of these educational practices is to foster independent reading.

The variability in children's levels of reading volume serves to further exacerbate the growing disparities between good and poor readers. It is therefore essential to provide multiple reading experiences for young children: reading aloud to them from a variety of genres, reading with them and facilitating their oral reading with tailored feedback and guidance, and promoting extended independent reading opportunities at home and after school. If reading makes one smarter (as some research has found) and if reading is important for a child to get off to a successful early start for future reading ability and engagement, then the value of early reading engagements, as Anne Cunningham and Keith Stanovich have found, and volume across a variety of venues cannot be overestimated.


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