Saturday, March 20, 2010

Listening to Children Reading

I've written before about how to listen to children reading (here and here) but I like to repeat this topic regularly, and as it's the start of the school year in Australia, it is the right time to do so. In this post I want to outline some simple advice for any adult listening to a child reading.

The benefits of oral reading

While there is very little evidence to support the use of 'Round Robin Reading' as a class (in fact it's the opposite, it can be harmful), there is value in a proficient or older reader (normally a parent or teacher) listening to a child reading. As an instructional strategy oral reading on a one-to-one basis has some simple advantages:
  • Anyone can do it
  • It ensures that the child reads a specific number of words each day
  • For the skilled listener (usually a trained teachers) it acts as a 'window on the reading process' allowing us to understand what strategies children are using, misusing, not using, what help they need, etc (more on this later)
  • It is an opportunity to build confidence and self esteem
But there are potential disadvantages:
  • It is slower than silent reading
  • The proficient reader does most reading silently, so this is the key reading skill we're working towards (with the exception that skilled audience reading does have a place and needs to be developed later) so it shouldn't be a total replacement for silent reading
  • It is teacher or parent intensive compared to silent reading (oral reading is mostly one-to-one or in small groups rather than individual)
  • It can be a source of frustration for the child and can lead to a loss of confidence and self esteem if the listener is unskilled
The key skills - controlled support and careful correction

Even as an adult, when we are learning anything we don't cope well if we are being constantly corrected. The way we listen to children reading matters. Reading is a difficult and unnatural activity that some children find hard. The things we correct, how we do it, the additional comments we make, and how we make them matter a great deal. Here are some basic 'Dos' and 'Don'ts'
  • Don't make unfavourable comparisons between the child you're listening to and another child. Avoid statements like "How come Jason can read that word but you can't?"
  • Don't feel that you need to correct every error, or teach every sound that a child seems to struggle with. Listening to a child read is not just an accuracy test. Besides, if the child struggles on more than 5 words on a page then the book is too hard for them (see 'Five Finger Test' in my previous post - HERE).
  • Don't ridicule a child as they read (even your own).
  • Don't make the sessions too long (10-15 minutes is ideal). It's better to have two short sessions each day than one that is too long.
  • DO relax - try to make it fun and enjoyable for you and the child. The experience should strengthen your relationship, not weaken it.
  • DO choose a good time & place - choose a good time when the child is fresh and you are feeling patient and perhaps less stressed. If as a parent it has to be after school give your child something to eat and drink and let them relax or play for a while first. And make sure you choose a quiet place without distractions.
  • DO select books carefully - choose the books well. Hopefully the book will be at the right level, and the child will enjoy it. If the books are boring speak to the child's teacher and try to substitute another book.
  • DO encourage the child and praise them - the purpose of the reading session is to help, encourage and build confidence, not test, frustrate and shatter confidence.
  • DO talk about the book first - read the title, look at the book, ask if he or she has read it before, ask what they think it's about etc. Maybe even read the first page for your child.
  • DO let the child hold the book (it's more natural and gives them a sense of being in charge).
  • DO talk about the book after reading (not as a test, just as a chat).
  • DO show patience, progress can be slow.
  • DO help them as they read but don't labour any teaching moment.
'Pause Prompt Praise'

One helpful strategy that parents and teachers have found useful when listening to children read out loud is 'Pause Prompt Praise'. This is a simple strategy for helping children as they read without turning the experience into a stressful experience for the child that leaves them feeling that they're hopeless at reading. Confidence is very important to aid reading fluency. The technique has three simple elements that are important if you are going to help young readers.

PAUSE - After the reader makes a mistake you pause for about 3 seconds and say nothing, this allows time for self-correction.

PROMPT - If the reader doesn't self-correct either give him the word or offer a prompt (e.g. give him the sound that he is struggling with; help him to sound it out; get him to re-read the sentence)

PRAISE - Encourage the reader by praising the fact that he has finished the page, had a go at a difficult word, had no or few errors, read fluently, and seemed to understand what it was about.

Summing Up

There is value in oral reading between a child and an adult or older experienced reader. But if this experience is little more than a stressful oral assessment of reading, the child will be harmed rather than helped by the experience. Exercise care when listening to children read - offer good praise and support and correct errors or miscues with care.

Further Help

If teachers would like more help with Running Records, Miscue Analysis, simple readability strategies etc then consult my first post on 'How to listen to children reading' which has some extra strategies and ideas (here)

'The importance of reading to and with your child' (here)


Marita said...

My 6 year old keeps forgetting she should be reading out loud as she gets engrossed in the readers sent home from school and starts to read in her head :) We've come to an agreement that so long as she starts off reading a couple of pages out loud and can tell me the rest of the story after then all is good.

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Marita,

You are very wise. The reality is that silent reading is better than oral reading. To stop your 6 year old from reading silently would just frustrate her. Of course, at 6 some oral reading is necessary to help her and to make sure that she isn't making too many errors or miscues. Sounds like she's doing well with reading.

Thanks for your comment.


Prue said...

I've had to learn to stop myself from pressuring my son to continue when he pauses during his reading. He's a very distractible kid, and at first I thought his mind was just wandering off onto other things, until I realised he was stopping to look at the picture and take it all in. It's just that stopping in the middle of the sentence to do that seemed quite strange to me!

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Prue,

Lovely to hear from you. The good news about him stopping mid sentence is that he's searching for meaning not just 'barking at print'. Letting him do this is fine. Of course if he was reading for public performance we'd want him to be more fluent. But what you're doing when reading with him is an appropriate thing to do.

Thanks for your comment.