Why I started reading storybooks to my older students
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
When I was a preschool teacher, reading to my students daily was a requirement for the school’s ELL program — well-supported by a bin of illustrated storybooks in the classroom.
But as I began teaching progressively higher grade levels, the amount I read to them progressively decreased. By the time I was teaching ninth-graders, the storybook bin had disappeared from the classroom and I’d stopped reading story books to my students all together — except for one time.
That day, I walked into the classroom with a picture book that I had taken out of the library for my young daughter on the top of my stack of materials. Upon spying the book, one student assuming a little-kid’s voice, begged me to read the book to them, behind his joking demeanor and desire to escape some of his school work, I sensed genuine yearning.
Soon, the whole class joined him in asking me to read to them and in my preschool teacher voice I agreed, once they’d finished their assignments for the day.
The significance of this isolated incident didn’t dawn on me until I recently bumped into research pointing to the value of being read to for all children — including those who can already read.
Listening to a story is enjoyable and relaxing
A qualitative study of Australian school children aged six to 11 years revealed their personal experiences related to being read to at home and at school. Although they could already read on their own, over one-third of the children interviewed shared that they felt disappointment that they were no longer read to by parents and wanted it to continue.
Marco an 11-year-old interviewed in the study explained, "I like how like sometimes I don’t have to be the one who actually reads it, sometimes I like having someone else read to me ‘cos it’s also very relaxing when someone else reads to you."
As I experienced with my ninth-grade students, shared reading can lighten up the school day. It provides a break where they can relax, allow their eyes to rest while entering a receptive learning mode in the midst of productive academic work.
"The social and emotional effects of listening to reading emerged from the data, as enjoyment of sharing the reading experience, and use of reading aloud as a panacea, to raise the mood of listeners," noted study author Margaret Kristen Merga.
Picture books introduce uncommon vocabulary
In terms of academic achievement, some students in the study shared that being read to taught them the meaning of new words. They related that when the reading ceased, they feared losing the opportunity to build more vocabulary skills and confidence.
While speaking is generally considered the ideal way to help children build vocabulary, reading is much more effective in developing word mastery and grammatical understanding, according to a study by Dominic Massaro. He says that picture books are up to three times more likely to contain unusual words not found in the 5,000 words most commonly used in parent-child conversation.
The words in 112 popular picture books, largely recommended by librarians, were compared to adult-to-child conversations and adult-to-adult conversations.
"Given the fact that word mastery in adulthood is correlated with early acquisition of words, shared picture book reading offers a potentially powerful strategy to prepare children for competent literacy skills," Massaro said in an article on the study.
Listening to adults read motivates students in their own reading
Along with a greater range of vocabulary, children who are read to by their teachers are exposed to a wider range of genres than they might typically access as well as a model of reading fluency and enthusiasm, says Merga.
She relates how one student surveyed wished to emulate her teachers’ high skill level in reading. In a direct quote, 11-year-old student says, "I think it was the teachers reading me the stories that really got me interested more about them, and how they seemed so confident in reading it, and so I wanted to be able to read good."
Such positive in-class listening experiences can motivate students, extend their understanding of genre and give them supported access to new tastes while setting a benchmark to strive toward.
Shared reading deepens the bond between teacher and student
While several of the Australian students interviewed recognized and appreciated the academic benefits they got out of the shared reading experience, it was the one-on-one social connection that they reported missing most when the activity ceased.
The source of bonding with students is hard to measure, in my own classroom I have noticed increased engagement in some more distracted students when I read illustrated books. It is as if a light turns on and they
Most literature on the topic bonding through reading focuses on very young children and the parent-child relationship. Yet as Merga notes, the many benefits enjoyed by preschool age children don’t suddenly disappear when the child enters primary or learns to read independently.
Along with encouraging parents to read to their own young readers, educators who make the effort to read to their students can nurture the special connection that comes with shared reading.
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