Read aloud to your babies. Read aloud to your kids. Read aloud every day. Today’s parents hear these words frequently, and most know that they should be doing it with their young kids. However, by the time kids reach 5 or 6 years old, it often becomes “old news”. Kids are starting to read by themselves, they are starting formal education, they are getting homework. They are getting busy. Reading aloud moves down in priority. It often starts to be viewed as an “extra” that can be skipped without consequence, and it becomes the first thing to go after a long activity-filled day. It becomes more sporadic across days and weeks, and many families move on from it completely. As research has shown, these are the kids who are more likely to become “schooltime” readers — kids who read only when they have to, to complete a school assignment, to pass a test. They read to finish. They read superficially, without the passion or the mental effort required for experiencing a book deeply — both emotionally and cognitively. In contrast, families that continue to read aloud regularly throughout upper elementary school and beyond are more likely to raise “lifetime” readers — kids who read beyond the requirements of school, for pleasure and for information. Kids who read eagerly and think deeply about what they read, who believe that reading is an enriching and integral part of their life.
While I’m a huge advocate of reading aloud, I am even more passionate about two aspects of reading aloud that can greatly affect the quality of the read aloud experience and its cognitive benefits for kids. These two components are: (1) the quality of the texts that we choose to read aloud, and (2) how we read aloud, and in particular the interactions and talk that occur during read alouds. That being said, I am introducing and trying out my new…
Read Aloud TATTLER …Text and Text Talk for raising Lifelong Engaged Readers
1. TEXT. The quality of the books that we read aloud to our kids can greatly affect the development of their reading and thinking skills over the long-term. For example, if parents consistently read aloud books without new vocabulary words, kids’ vocabulary will not be helped much (which is unfortunate, since books are the number one influence on vocabulary development, which is the number one predictor of school achievement!). If books lack characters with psychological responses to story events, it is difficult to encourage kids to make inferences about character thoughts and feelings (which is at the core of deep comprehension of stories). There are many fantastic websites and blogs that recommend books for children for a variety of reasons (e.g., they target a theme of interest, award winners, appeal to particular audiences, are engaging read alouds). However, it can be difficult to find recommendations based on the particular features of books that help to support the development of specific reading and thinking skills. With TATTLER, I plan to highlight books that are not only great read alouds, but that also have at least one special “standout text feature” that makes it especially conducive to building the specific comprehension skills, complex thinking skills, or other reading skills that make for a successful reader.
Texts that will be highlighted will include many picture books for preschool through at least upper elementary aged children. (Parents, please don’t believe, or let your kids believe, that they can outgrow picture books…this is another post, but they continue to be so valuable for so many reasons!). I will also highlight chapter books, poetry, wordless picture books, and other text forms. Since different types of texts require many very different thinking skills, kids need substantial experience with the variety of types of texts that we want them to comprehend well. I will thus put much emphasis into highlighting high-quality examples of the two most prevalent text types: “narrative” texts (stories with plots) and “informational” texts (nonfiction text that conveys factual information about topics).
2. TEXT TALK. While most kids learn how to sound out words and read fluently, far fewer students actually apply the comprehension strategies and thinking skills that are required for deep comprehension of text. Many kids for a variety of reasons become “word callers” (reading the words on the page without attention to the meaning), with only a superficial understanding of the text at best. Reading aloud is an opportunity to show kids not just what fluent reading sounds like but also to build the comprehension and thinking skills that are most important for long-term reading success (building the good thinking is much more difficult to do when kids are reading on their own!). When parents read a book straight through, from start to finish, they can actually show kids that good readers neither pause nor think when they read. If this happens most of the time, kids will in fact learn to read the same way when on their own — quickly, without pausing, without thinking. The “text talk” section of the Read Aloud TATTLER aims to help parents make reading aloud interactive with high-quality text talk before, during, and after reading.
For each book, the majority of the “text talk” section will consist of a list of “before, during, and after” questions that aim to work on one or two specific comprehension (and sometimes other reading) skills. The questions are not a test of whether kids can provide a correct response. Instead they are intended to guide the text talk in ways that promote good thinking as well as show kids the kinds of questions they need to ask themselves while reading in order to comprehend the text deeply. Parents can use each question in one of two ways:
(a) As a guide for parents’ thinking aloud. Parents can ask the question to themselves (silently), and then they can “think aloud” about the response. This will help kids to see the kinds of thinking they should do. For example, the parent says aloud, “I’m guessing that the character is going get caught”. The child then is likely to think: “Oh, mom is making a prediction when it seems like more than one thing could happen. Maybe next time I’ll make a prediction too.”
(b) As a prompt to encourage kids to think. Parents pause while reading to ask the child a question. If kids need help responding, join in on their response to nudge them towards thoughtful analysis of the text. Remember, asking your child the question (and showing them the kinds of questions to ask in the future) is at least as important as the response itself.
With each TATTLER, I will draw from scientific evidence about the thinking skills required to become a successful reader in order to inform the book selections as well as the specific “text talk” that parents can provide and encourage. I am excited about this because there is very little out there that links specific book recommendations with specific tips for how to read the books aloud to promote high quality text talk. My hope is that the Read Aloud TATTLER will allow you to grab a book that is recommended and to have right in front of you tips for optimizing your child’s reading development that best fit that specific book. Over years, the cumulative effects of reading aloud high-quality books (much of the time) with high-quality text talk are likely to be enduring and substantial, dramatically affecting your child as a reader and a thinker.