Reading

In our parent Zoom on Friday (22nd Jan), we looked primarily at reading - ways of approaching reading so that children maintain a daily reading habit and continue to develop a love of reading. 

Some of the key points discussed are outlined for your reference:

Encouraging reluctant readers:

We know that, for many parents, managing reading is made more challenging by a child's reluctance to read. Reading is hard, requiring simultaneous skills around word decoding, understanding punctuation, word comprehension, sentence understanding, contextual awareness and concept knowledge to name a few. A little like learning to drive, once we can do it, we often forget how tricky it was to learn and to combine all the necessary skills! 

What we are aiming for is that children develop not just a proficiency in reading, but a love of books - of whatever type suits them! To do this, it sometimes requires a slower approach and that we actively create pleasure in the reading experience, which may mean making it 'externally' rewarding, until it becomes a reward in and of itself.

In our discussion, we looked at:

  • the 'reward' of parent-centred time provided by shared reading;
  • creating rituals around reading time (perhaps hot chocolate or biscuits while we read);
  • creating a culture of reading in the home: all siblings - and parents where possible - reading simultaneously, which also serves to minimise 'other' distractions;
  • reward charts and trackers - marking completion of books/pages/chapters with an earned reward;
  • the importance of children seeing adults read, and how teachers in school do this during focused reading times also;
  • the importance of re-reading, particularly for developing readers - that it is better to encourage them to revisit a book several times, so that they build up word recognition and sight memory. Rushing through the books (even if your child is desperately keen to reach "X" level or book band), can lead to weaker reading skills overall. 

Reading strategies - reading together

- tandem reading: You and your child read in sync. Matching the child's pace, you read quietly when they are confident, allow thinking time if they become stuck, and then provide a word if the child is struggling. This supports pace, reduces anxiety and aids comprehension of the text. When you re-read the text (see above), note whether your child remembers the word(s) you provided: if not, can you offer a prompt this time to help them remember?

- shared reading: split the load! You and your child can alternate pages, paragraphs, chapters... whatever works. This eases the load on the child and provides them with modelled reading from you. You can then support things like pauses for punctuation, intonation and speech. If you re-read the text, you could alternate the system so that your child is reading the parts you read last time, and vice versa. 

- split reading: the two-book tango! Especially good for children whose reading ability doesn't always enable them to access texts that are more mature/a richer narrative. Your child reads a book at their level, with the emphasis on decoding (breaking down and reading words) and building fluency; you read a trickier book to them, which offers a wider vocabulary and a more challenging narrative or subject matter. When reading 'your' book, you can draw on words they know - either words they can confidently sight read, ones that are a spelling focus, or ones that feature a phonic sound they are developing proficiency in. 

Reading strategies - encouraging independence

- adult story recordings: Parents can record themselves reading a book to their child - child then accesses the video recording with the book alongside for reference. The camera is best positioned to show the reading text anyway, avoiding awkward self-recordings! You can also get wider family/friends in on this - can they provide recordings (or do live readings?) to free you up and to promote (virtual) contact outside of the family bubble?

- child-read story recordings: once they've seen you do it, you could have your child read their book and record themselves (tech ability permitting, of course!). If they do this while you are working, you can watch the recording later and feedback. Great for little performers, and lovely to share with other family members!

- accessing audiobooks: this is a useful strategy for developing and continuing the love of stories, but removes the 'reading' element, so should be used sparingly. However, if you have a copy of the printed text alongside the audiobook, this can be really helpful! See below for details of some free-to-access audiobook resources for the 2021 lockdown period.

- pre-setting reading targets: for independent readers, who have mastered many of the smaller skills of reading, it can still be a challenge to focus and complete reading time. It is often the case that parents who set a time window for independent reader discover that the time has passed, but the reading hasn't been done - the child has sat with the book but failed to engage with the reading! A strategy I have used successfully is to sticky tab the book before the child begins - breaking it into reasonably-sized chunks based on the child's reading speed/ability. Each tab denotes a day's reading expectation (always ending at the end of a chapter/section - so page amounts may vary slightly), and until those pages are read, no Xbox (or equivalent motivating element for your child) that day! It's important to talk to your child about what happened in the day's segment. Asking rich and open questions about the characters' feelings, the plot, and how your child felt about what happened provides them with a good opportunity to develop their language around reading and also gives you confirmation that they read and understood the text!. 

- book talk: alongside any and all of these strategies, regularly talking with your child about the book they are reading - what they like about it, dislike, the developing plot, what the characters are like, etc. - will not only encourage your child to notice these elements of the books they read, but will make them aware that you are aware of their reading. If they can't tell you what happened in today's bit of the book, did they really read it effectively? It only takes a few times of sending them back to read it again before they read it properly the first time! It also means that you will get a sense of the kinds of books and writing that your child most enjoys, and this can help inform book choices in the future! 

Tips for reading:

- vary the author: while David Walliams is indeed very funny, if children read his books in succession, they can go a long time with only one authorial style and 'voice' in their reading experience. Varying the author/book style helps children understand different registers of writing, different styles and approaches, and this really helps to develop them as a writer, too. Maybe alternate the David Walliams/Diary of a Wimpy Kid with something 'other' each time?

- new vocabulary: encountering new vocabulary in reading is really important in developing children's literacy. It can, however, be a barrier to comprehension if we allow the new word to break the focus of reading. We discussed how children can be encouraged to decode (break down and sound) the word for pronunciation, and at the end of the sentence we can talk about what we think the word might mean, using the sentence as a whole for clues. You can draw on the context of the story to support this. This, at this point, is enough, and reading should progress, to retain the flow of the text and the child's understanding of the story. To capture the word, so that we can explore/revisit it later, you could write it on a card, or simply place a sticky tab at the side of the page where the word appeared. Once the reading is finished, the new word(s) can be explored, using a dictionary, discussion, or by adding words to an ongoing word bank/wall.

- separate skills: As well as applying children's literacy skills to reading a story, their development can be supported by practising specific skills in isolation. This might be by creating word cards for new words, and practising them individually. It could be picking a focus phoneme - for example 'ch', and asking your child to use their scanning skills to find it on a page of their story book, then looking at the word it is in.