Teaching Reading Using…. the Written Word

Small changes in how teachers read books to preschoolers can potentially have long-term effects on the children’s reading skills, says research published in the journal Child Development. The changes call for teachers to draw young children’s attention more to the actual words in books, says NPR:

For the study, they gave two groups of preschool teachers books for an entire school year — 30 weeks’ worth of books. One group was told to read the books normally; the other was given weekly cards with specific questions the teacher could ask — really just small phrases — that might momentarily draw a child’s attention to the print on the page.

The teachers were told to read their books four times a week, and to point out the print in this way between four and eight times, so that together the small phrases hardly added extra time to their reading sessions — maybe 90 seconds per book.

The children have been followed for two years and, according to the most recent findings, increasing their contact with print is helping to improve their reading, by addressing their difficulties at an early stage.

As one of the researchers, Shayne Piasta, a professor at Ohio State University, says, children tend to ignore the printed words on the pages of a book when read to and to focus instead on pictures or (if a parent is reading to them) on looking at a parent.

At one level, these findings seems obvious: Children need to make the connection between the words they hear read out loud to them and the words printed on the pages of a book. How can you read a book to a child without pointing such out? But so many children’s books, and certainly books for those learning to read and for young readers, are often amply illustrated with colorful pictures. It is a similar case with many of the software apps designed to teach children to read e-books on devices such as an iPad: Such apps often contain eye-catching graphics not to mention animations, sound effects and the like. The plain old written word has a lot of competition on a page or screen.

My autistic son Charlie is 15 years old; he only seems able to read some single words. I have put some books on his iPad but wondered if all the “bells and whistles” of the apps — the animations to mimic a page turning, the bright colors, the letters seeming to move themselves as a voice reads them — only distract him. It seems to take Charlie a lot of effort just to focus his eyes and mind on groups of letters so the simplest presentation — writing words in black ink on an otherwise plain piece of paper — looks stark, but keeps his attention focused on just the essentials; on the written word.

Currently, the US is 45th in the world in literacy rates, inbetween the UK and Italy and tied with Puerto Rico. The “average” American reads at about a 7th or 8th grade level. Could the plain old unembellished word, and directing children to focus on it — a return to the basics, indeed — make a huge difference in teaching young children to read?

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Photo by woodleywonderworks


Hello G.
Hello G.3 years ago

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
― Albert Einstein

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

I LOVED story time! books and reading are so very important. I was able to read at the age of 4, and it really did put me ahead academically

Shan D.
Shan D.4 years ago

Barbara, did you ever TELL your mom that you just wanted to hear her voice and feel close to her? That could have made all the difference. My grandmother never turned me away after I learned to read (and I learned at age 4). Years later, I sat on her bed, happily scarfing down her home-made pudding while she read novels to me (Anne of Green Gables, Singing Wheels, Girl of the Limberlost). It was a very special time, just for the two of us, and I wouldn't have traded it for anything.

Barbra D.
Barbra Drake4 years ago

Oh for cryin' out loud. Now everyone is going to take away the fun of storytime, and make it into another work experience for little children. No wonder so many kids are sick of school by the time they reach the 9th grade. I loved hearing my parents read to me, and our elementary teacher too. Story time was a nice break from classwork. However, after I learned to read and brought a book to my mother to read to me, she said, "Oh, you can do that yourself." It broke my heart. I was 6 and now I'm 58. I remember it like yesterday. What I wanted was to be close to her and hear her voice, the story was secondary. Let kids be kids, and give their imaginations a chance to work, which are going full tilt when they hear a story. Storytime shouldn't be about learning, it should be about love, and relaxation. If kids learn that reading is work, how will they ever learn that it's fun?

Tony C.
Tony C.4 years ago

I remember my mother reading me Tarzan comics and that is where I learned how to read. By listening to the words and following the pictures I developed the love of reading.

Hannah Short
Hannah Short4 years ago

what i hate is after the next couple of years they will be tested on how well they can read by answering questions on paper that have nothing to do with how well you read but if you understand it they way the test makers did. And i kind of thought that it was common sense to show the words while reading them for kids to learn how to read, just hearing a word then later seeing it is no guarantee they will know its the same word

Hello G.
Hello G.4 years ago

So true reading a book to a kid is great, just look at their eyes you would feel their joy!!!

Hello G.
Hello G.4 years ago

So true reading a book to a kid is great, just look at their eyes you would feel their joy!!!

Edith B.
Edith B.4 years ago

I started reading to my son when he was three months old, he had his own library card when he was two, and the big event of the week for him was going to the library. He is and has always been an avid reader, and is currently a newspaper editor. My grandmother started me on books when I was a toddler. If the parents read, the children will, too. I had some excellent teachers in elementary school, but my love of reading started at home.

Kelly Rogers4 years ago

Thank-You, to the teachers who are truly caring for our future. It is good to READ books are not going to the wayside. Although, electronics are good enough is enough.