Six things you should do when reading with your kids



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Stories take children on imaginary adventures.
Photo by Mazyar Hooshidar. , Author provided

Ameneh Shahaeian, Australian Catholic University

There is magic in stories. We all remember hearing them as children, and we loved them. Imaginary adventures set in faraway places. Tales about how the dishwasher isn’t working. It doesn’t matter! Whether made up by parents or read from books, kids love to hear stories.

Our recent work showed reading to children positively impacts long term academic achievement more than many other activity (including playing music with them, or doing craft). We found the more frequently parents read to their children, the better their children’s NAPLAN scores in different areas.




Read more:
If you can only do one thing for your children, it should be shared reading


In our most recent study, we asked parents to read a wordless storybook to their three to five-year-old children titled The Wolf and Seven Little Goats. We also tested children in many areas of their important cognitive skills, such as language proficiency, memory, self-control, and friendship skills.

Through examining the different ways parents tell stories, we have pinpointed which elements of shared reading are most beneficial for children’s cognitive development.

1. Tune in to your child

Perhaps the most important aspect of reading to children is to tune in to your child. Listen to your child’s cues. Do they like the story? Do they know the vocabulary? Are they paying attention to the pictures more, or the text?

Try to coach your child, not to instruct them. Instead of saying: “look they are going to cook some food, maybe they are hungry”, you can ask “what are they doing?” or “why do you think they’re doing that?”.

Be sensitive about whether they are listening and engaged or uninterested and disengaged. If they are disengaged, are there questions you can ask to make them more interested? Do you think they’ll like a different type of story better? The best books for your child are the ones they enjoy most.




Read more:
Research shows the importance of parents reading with children – even after children can read


2. Ask questions

Parents who ask lots of questions engage in a more fun and informative way with their children. Ask them if they know the vocabulary, if they can guess what the characters are going to do next, and why they’ve done what they’ve done.

These questions are not only helpful because they help children gain new knowledge and ways of thinking, it also helps strengthen the emotional bond between parent and child. Children like to feel they’re a part of the task, not that they’re being told how to do things.

3. Go beyond describing images or reading text

How would you describe what’s happening in this scene?
Author provided, Author provided

In our study, we gave parents a wordless picture book. An important difference we observed between parents was some only describe what they see. Some go beyond the picture.

For example, when the mother goat in the picture book comes home and sees the door to the house open, one parent said:

When their mother came home and was looking forward to seeing her children and hugging them and telling them a story, she suddenly saw that the door is open. She was shocked!

Another parent said:

The mother came home and saw the door is open; she went inside and looked for the children.

This parent is only describing the picture.

The first parent is imagining what is beyond the picture and text. This is a richer way to tell a story to children, and ultimately leads to better cognitive developmental outcomes for children. This is because it teaches abstract thinking, which is the basis for many of the higher order cognitive abilities such as problem solving and critical analysis.

4. Make logical links between different parts of the story

This wolf is a cunning creature.
Author provided, Author provided

Another element that has a strong link to the development of children’s cognitive skills is the way parents build logical links between different parts of the story.

Often the events in books unfold very quickly. One minute, the wolf eats the little goats, and the next minute he is found by the mother. Some parents try to make the sequence of events more logical than others.

For example, in this picture, when the wolf is coming to knock on the door, one parent said:

The wolf, who realised the mother is not home, came and knocked on the door.

This sentence is lacking logical links. How did the wolf know the mother is not home? Why should he come and knock on the door? What did he want?

Another parent said:

The wolf, who was sunbathing in the bush, saw that the mother is going to get some food. He thought, oh, the little goats are alone at home, and it’s a good time for me to go and trick them and maybe get a good lunch!

The parent here is clearly providing logical links between these different parts of the story.

5. Add relevant details

Keep added details relevant.
Author provided, Author provided

We also found most parents add many details to the story to make it more interesting or comprehensive. But relevant details are the most useful in terms of improving children’s learning. Relevant details are the kind of details that help make the story easier to understand.

For example, one parent said:

The little goat, who was wearing the yellow shirt and was the smallest said: ‘we shouldn’t open the door! How do we know this is our mother? She has just left.’

Here, wearing a yellow shirt is a descriptive detail, but it doesn’t add much to the story.

Another mother said:

The smallest one, who was also the cleverest and very careful, said…

This second parent is clearly adding a detail (that the smaller one is also the cleverest and careful) that makes the story more meaningful and easier to follow.




Read more:
Enjoyment of reading, not mechanics of reading, can improve literacy for boys


6. Talk about mental and emotional concepts

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The Conversation

We found parents who not only describe the events of a story but also discuss abstract concepts related to emotions, desires and thoughts tend to have children who are better cognitively skilled. These children develop a better understanding of others’ emotions, better friendship skills, and even improved memory and higher order cognitive skills that are useful in later life. These lead to academic success as well as better skills to build friendships and perform well in social relationships.

Ameneh Shahaeian, Research Fellow in Developmental and Educational Psychology, Australian Catholic University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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If you can only do one thing for your children, it should be shared reading



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Whenever you get a chance, even if it’s only ten minutes, engage in shared reading activities.
Author provided, Author provided

Ameneh Shahaeian, Australian Catholic University and Cen Wang, Charles Sturt University

Reading to children is beneficial in many ways. Books offer a unique opportunity for children to become familiar with new vocabularies; the type of words not often used in day-to-day conversation. Books also provide a context for developing knowledge of abstract ideas for children. When an adult reads a book to a child, they often label pictures, talk about activities in the book, solve problems together and teach them new words and concepts.

Reading to very young children can have long-lasting benefits for their later school success, not only in literacy but also in mathematics. Adding to this, early shared reading particularly helps children from disadvantaged families defy limitations associated with their socio-economic status. So, if there is only one thing you have time to do with your children, it should be reading to and with them.

Read your way to the top

Parents have long been encouraged to read more to their children. There have been many initiatives, challenges, and programs aiming to increase individual reading time and shared reading time between parents and children. These include the Australian Reading Hour Campaign, the Premier’s Reading Challenge, Let’s Read, and others.




Read more:
Five tips to help you make the most of reading to your children


What’s still not clear is which specific skills improve while parents read to their children, and whether the benefit of shared reading is due to other things parents do that help their children thrive at school and beyond.

That is: is it really book reading that’s beneficial or is it because parents who read more to their children also provide a lot of other resources, and engage in a range of other activities with their children?

Books provide children with the opportunity for discussion and concept development.
Jeremy Tarling/flickr, CC BY-SA

This was what we looked at in our study. We used data from a large scale nationwide study called the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). It has followed the development of 10,000 children and their families since 2004.

The sample we studied consists of 4,768 children from the cohort that was zero to one year old when the study commenced. During face-to-face interviews with trained LSAC interviewers, parents reported the frequency of them reading to their children at the age of two every week.

The LSAC then followed these children until they were four and eight years old. The good news is the majority of parents reported reading to their children at least three days a week. Specifically, 61.6% of the parents reported reading to their children every day and 21.1% of the parents read to their children between three to five days a week.




Read more:
Enjoyment of reading, not mechanics of reading, can improve literacy for boys


Our study showed the benefits of shared reading with children during early childhood at two to three years old is long-lasting. The more frequently parents read to their children when they were two years old, the more likely their children had better knowledge of spoken words and early academic skills such as recognising and copying geometric shapes, and writing letters, words and numbers, two years later when children were four to five years old.

What’s more, frequent early shared reading was linked to better performance in NAPLAN reading, writing, spelling and grammar. More surprisingly it was also linked to mathematics even six years later when children were eight to nine years old in year three.

Even if you only have ten minutes to read to your children, it will benefit them.
Shutterstock, CC BY-SA

The most encouraging finding is that children from disadvantaged families benefited more from shared book reading. This suggests increasing the frequency of book reading is a viable way for disadvantaged families to support their children’s vocabulary knowledge and general academic achievement.

To address whether the benefits of shared reading are a product of other factors associated with parents and families, we controlled for the effect of a range of potential confounding factors. These include indicators of children’s intelligence, the number of children’s books at home, and home activities that parents engage with children other than reading. These would include drawing pictures or doing art activities with children, playing music together, playing with toys or games, and exercising together.

Even though we controlled for these other factors, the long-term importance of early shared reading still holds.

Suggestions for parents

Read more to your children and with your children. Whenever you get a chance, even if it’s only ten minutes, engage in shared reading activities.




Read more:
Research shows the importance of parents reading with children – even after children can read


We also suggest parents make a reading session interactive. For example, parents are encouraged to ask children questions, such as if they know the vocabulary and ask them to guess the story and what the story characters will do. Try to make the reading a learning session.

The ConversationFinally, not all books are created equal. Parents are encouraged to choose the most suitable books for their child’s age to reap the most benefits of early shared reading.

Ameneh Shahaeian, Research Fellow in Developmental and Educational Psychology, Australian Catholic University and Cen Wang, Research Fellow in Educational and Developmental Psychology, Charles Sturt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Eight bedtime stories to read to children of all ages



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Evgeny Atamanenko/Shutterstock

Raluca Radulescu, Bangor University and Lisa Blower, Bangor University

Speaking at the 2018 Hay Festival, His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman said: “To share a bedtime story is one of the greatest experiences of childhood and parenthood.” This couldn’t be more true. Besides helping sleepyheads absorb language through the familiar voices that nurture them, understand the complexities of their world, and the reasons behind their feelings, bedtime stories show how childhood can be the greatest adventure of all.

1. Toddle Waddle by Julia Donaldson

Age range: two to five years

Toddle Waddle, by Julia Donaldson.
Macmillan Children’s Books

Even the youngest child can engage with sound, colour and fun, and this book (illustrated by Nick Sharratt) is filled with bright joy and wonderful onomatopoeia. From the sound of flip-flops to the excitement of slurping a drink at the beach and the music made by different instruments, the sounds, then words, are a wonderful introduction to the intricacies of language.

2. Mr Men & Little Miss books by Roger Hargreaves

Age range: three years+

Hargreaves’ colourful 2D characters behaving to type are a wonderful way to identify with basic emotions by interpreting colour as a feeling. As journalist and author Lucy Mangan puts it in her memoir Bookworm: “Of course uppitiness is purple. Of course happiness is yellow.” These are no fuss, easy to follow collectables – and bitesize too, so you can gobble through second helpings before turning out the light.

3. The Lorax by Dr Seuss

Age range: three to eight years

The Lorax, by Dr Seuss.
HarperCollins

No child should grow up without The Lorax. They’ll never be the same when they’ve learned about the Swannee-swans, Humming fish, and Bar-ba-loots bears, their Truffula trees being cut by the mysterious and scruple-free Once-ler. While the environmental message of the book is even more urgent now than it was when The Lorax was first published in 1971, the story is just as entrancing, instructive – without preaching – and, above all, as hopeful as ever. A wonderful wise Lorax speaks for the trees, and for all the world’s children, who want to keep the future green.

4. My Big Shouting Day, by Rebecca Patterson

Age range: two to eight years

A funny picture book for younger readers that will resonate with many parents for its keen perspective on patience. It positively encourages under-fours to shout along with grumpy Bella who gets up on the wrong side of the bed. It shows the child that it’s ok to feel angry – heck, they’ll be a teenager soon enough – but it also gives them permission to express it, and reminds them that tomorrow is always a new day.

5. The Moomin books by Tove Jansson

Age range: three to eight years

The Moomins’ home, Moominvalley, is a place of wonder and fun, populated by fairy-like, round creatures that resemble hippopotamuses, but enjoy human hobbies such as writing memoirs (Moomin papa), making jam (Moomin mama), and playing make-believe (Moomintroll and Snork Maiden). Their adventurous side comes out at all opportunities, stirred by friends Little My and Snufkin, or by mysterious intruders.

First published between 1945 and 1970, in recent years the stories have been tailored for both younger (soft and flap books) and older children (hardback storybooks). The Moomin books tell dream-like stories while tackling questions about love, friendships, encounters with strangers, and so on. An all-round winner.

6. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Alice, by John Tenniel.
Wikimedia

Age range: four to 11 years

The first true book written for children about children never fails to bewitch and baffle. Young Alice-like readers can explore the topsy-turvey Wonderland, while the grown-ups reading to them will appreciate the metaphorical Mad Hatter and role of the white rabbit as leader in the adventure in a way they wouldn’t have been able to as a child. Carroll’s book is a celebration of a child’s wonder and curiosity, and fears of growing bigger too. It invites you to talk dreams and nightmares, to accept the weird and extraordinary and, best of all, to conjure up your own adventure down the rabbit hole. It’s a rite of passage, ideal for sharing.

7. Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor and Loki, retold by Kevin Crossley-Holland

Age range: five to 12 years

In a world where comic book superheroes and heroines reign supreme, these legends can entrance a young mind forever. This selection of Norse myths brings all the gritty dark stuff about trickster Loki together with tales of hammer-wielding Thor, and the machinations of Asgardean king Odin and goddess of love, battle and death, Freyja. It tickles the imagination of the young and challenges the parent too. Fabulous illustrations by Jeffrey Alan Love accompany Crossley-Holland’s delightful retelling, bringing these ancient stories to life in a way that no other anthology has.

8. Charlie and The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Age range: eight to 12 years

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl.
Penguin Random House

This chocolate wonderland is the perfect read-aloud book, thanks to Dahl’s masterful use of the English language. Amid all the magic and invention is a wagging finger providing moral lessons on the perils of being greedy, or a brat or overly competitive – and that goes for the adult reader too. Thank goodness then for Willy Wonka, the man who really never grew up, and his band of oompa-loompahs who punish the bad, reward the good, then provide reason for it all through song.

In truth, there is no right book to share – there are plenty of them available these days – nor should there be any chronological order to how and what we read. These are just some suggestions on ways to make bedtime a little more magical. But never underestimate how marvellous it can be to reread a childhood favourite to the little one you’re now tucking in to bed. It could inspire a passion for reading and spark an interest that lasts a lifetime.

The ConversationThe age ranges used in this article are mostly based on interest and reading level ratings from Book Trust.

Raluca Radulescu, Professor of Medieval Literature and English Literature, Bangor University and Lisa Blower, Lecturer in Creative Writing, Bangor University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Children’s books can do more to inspire the new generation of Earth warriors



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Gary Haq, University of York

A changing climate means the frequency of extreme weather events such as heat waves, flooding, hurricanes and wildfires has become a common occurrence. Temperatures are increasing on the land and in the ocean, the sea level is rising and amounts of snow and ice are diminishing, as greenhouse gas emissions and concentrations have increased. Unfortunately, children and young people are taking the brunt of climate change and this will continue into the future.

Doctors are seeing the serious effects of global warming on children’s health and are concerned that it could reverse the progress made over the past 25 years in reducing global child deaths. Not only that, children are at risk of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety due to natural disasters caused by climate change.

A UNICEF survey of children aged nine to 18 in 14 countries showed that children are deeply concerned about global issues affecting their peers and them personally, including climate change. Children across all countries feel marginalised because their voices are not being heard nor that their opinions considered.

Environmental diversity

Given the enormity of the climate challenge, it is surprising how limited coverage of our changing climate receives in current children’s fiction. The children’s publishing sector is booming. UK sales of children’s books rose by 16% in 2016 with sales totalling £365m. Globally, children’s book sales have risen steadily across all age categories.

Some picture books do explain climate change (such as The Magic School Bus and Climate Change by Joanne Cole and Bruce Degen). And there are plenty of young adult novels that feature dystopian climate futures (such as Carbon Diaries by Saci Lloyd). But few fiction books for eight to 11-year-olds discuss the issue.

In my view, the lack of “environmental diversity” in children’s literature is just as important as the debate about the lack of cultural and social diversity. After all, children will be responsible for the future protection of our fragile planet, and so their knowledge and engagement are critical.

Connecting with nature.
Angelo lano/Shutterstock.com

Stories not only develop children’s literacy but convey beliefs, attitudes and social norms which, in turn, shape children’s perceptions of reality. They allow children to move from a position of powerlessness to a position of possibility. Through fiction, children are able to explore different perspectives and actions beyond what they know by living in the story world of characters for whom they care.

Through literature, children can develop a better understanding of global issues and engage in critical inquiry about themselves in the world. And so combining narrative structure with factual information has the power to take children beyond what is on the page. This could allow them to expand their understanding of difficult scientific concepts such as climate change.

Earth warriors

As children engage in the printed word, they can be inspired to make a difference in the real world. This is what a group of Portuguese children is doing after watching their district burn because of the worst forest fires in their country’s history. The fires that occurred in June 2017 have been linked to climate change, and killed over 60 people. The children are now seeking crowdfunding to take a major climate change case to the European Court of Human Rights alleging that the states’ failure to tackle climate change threatens their right to life.

When I decided to write my first children’s novel, I never intended it to be an eco-themed book. But given that I am an environmental researcher, it seemed the most natural thing to do. The result is My Dad, the Earth Warrior, a funny story about the relationship between a boy called Hero and his dad who have grown apart since the death of his mother. Then one day dad has a freak accident and wakes up claiming to be an Earth warrior sent to protect Mother Earth. This plunges Hero into an increasingly bizarre and dangerous world.

Climate change can be a dark, apocalyptic issue to discuss in a story to overcome this, I did not make it a central topic but used the changing weather as an underlying theme throughout this book. The persona of the Earth warrior provides an alternative perspective on our relationship with the natural world. At the end of the book, I encourage readers to join the tribe and become Earth warriors. I hope by taking a humorous approach to a serious topic, I can not only engage and entertain children but also inspire them to think beyond the book. This is something that writer and illustrator Megan Herbert has done by teaming up with climatologist, Michael Mann, for their crowdfunded picture book The Tantrum that Saved the World.

The ConversationWe need children to care about the planet if they are to the tackle climate challenge that lies ahead. Storytelling can play a part in raising awareness and inspiring children and young adults to take action and become the next generation of Earth warriors.

Gary Haq, SEI Associate, Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How children’s picturebooks can disrupt existing language hierarchies


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This image is from Te taniwha me te poraka, an issue from the Junior Journals series He Purapura, aimed at fluent readers.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Nicola Daly, University of Waikato

There are many factors that shape the value we place on different languages.

Some languages seem more pleasant to listen to, easier to learn or more logical. These perceptions are generally influenced by our attitudes towards the speakers of a language and the different situations in which the language is spoken.

One reflection of the differential status of languages comes through in bilingual children’s picturebooks. Here I explore how te reo Māori (the indigenous language of New Zealand) is represented and argue that the way languages are displayed in bilingual picturebooks can disrupt the status quo.




Read more:
Why children’s books that teach diversity are more important than ever


Linguistic landscapes

As a sociolinguist, I am interested in the representation of languages in bilingual picturebooks. This not only reflects existing attitudes towards languages, but it can also be powerful in shaping future societal attitudes.

As well as telling a story or giving information, the presence of a minority language in a picturebook can serve a symbolic function. The way in which languages are presented in bilingual children’s books may encourage readers to value a language, or perhaps use this language more frequently, thus positively affecting its vitality.




Read more:
Indigenous picture books offering windows into worlds


To show the different ways in which minority indigenous languages can be featured in children’s picturebooks, I examine the linguistic landscapes of some Māori-English picturebooks that are disrupting the status quo of language hierarchies.

Linguistic landscape is a term used to describe the (usually visual) presence of different languages in public spaces. In my work with picturebooks I use this term to describe the space occupied by languages within a book. Language hierarchies relate to the idea that in any society some languages have more status than others.

I use these concepts to examine the comparative presentation of different languages in three areas: which language is presented first, which language uses a bigger font, and which language presents more information.

I argue that these three factors are reflections of the relative status of languages in a bilingual picturebook and they subtly indicate to the reader which language is more important.

Overturning existing hierarchies

In Aotearoa/New Zealand the indigenous Māori language (te reo Māori) has official language status, but it is spoken by a minority of the population (3.73% of the total population and 21.3% of the Māori population). However, some bilingual picturebooks have opted to assign primary status to te reo Māori in terms of order and font size.

Children’s picturebooks are often underestimated, but some bilingual picturebooks disrupt the status quo and promote an alternative language hierarchy.


Reo Pēpi, CC BY-SA

For example, Kākahu – Getting Dressed (Brown & Parkinson, 2015) is a board book in a series self-published purposefully by Reo Pēpi to encourage the use of te reo Māori with young children. On its front cover, the Māori word in the title (Kākahu) is much larger than the English (Getting Dressed). In the body of the book, Māori is privileged in several ways.

Māori is given first on the page, with English underneath; Māori is presented in a much larger font size than English; and Māori is given in a bold typeface, whereas English is given in normal typeface.

Te Wairua o Waitangi, which can be translated as “The Spirit of Waitangi”, is also part of a self-published series, written by Sharon Holt and designed to support teachers to bring te reo Māori into English medium classrooms via song.

The cover of Te Wairua o Waitangi.
CC BY-SA

This book (and others in the Te Reo Singalong series) features a brightly coloured title in te reo Māori only. It is bigger and more bold than any other writing (in English) on the cover.

The first few pages before the body of the story feature publishing information, a translation of the lyrics, and teaching notes for teachers in English. However, in the body of the book, only te reo Māori is used. At the back of the book, the lyrics for the song are given in Māori only with guitar chords. The picturebook includes a CD recording of the song, which also features a title in Māori and not English.

The power of the picturebook

The many different factors that influence the status of a language are often inter-related, but if a language is not valued, this may lead to people using it in fewer situations, and even to its eventual demise.

The ConversationThe two picturebooks I have discussed illustrate how an often underestimated form of children’s literature can be used to support an indigenous language with a minority of speakers. Children and adults reading and listening to these books will see, albeit subconsciously, which language is being given higher status. In this way, new language attitudes are being formed and this may result in the adjustment of existing language hierarchies.

Nicola Daly, Senior lecturer in children’s literature and language teaching., University of Waikato

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Five tips to help you make the most of reading to your children



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Reading aloud to children can encourage a love of reading.
Shutterstock

Margaret Kristin Merga, Curtin University; Paul Gardner, Curtin University; Saiyidi Mat Roni, Edith Cowan University, and Susan F Ledger, Murdoch University

Reading to your child is one of the most successful ways of instilling a love of reading in them. But in our recent study, more than one-quarter of primary-school-aged respondents claimed they were never read to at home.

Children typically enjoy being read to, and see educational, social and emotional benefits to the practice. But families are busy, and finding time to read aloud can be eaten up by the demands of everyday life.

Not all parents have been read to themselves as children, so may not have experienced a model they can then follow with their own children. And many adult Australians may be struggling readers themselves.

With this in mind, here are five suggestions that can help make the experience of reading to your children fun, relaxing and educational.

1. Give it all your attention

For many people, the best time to read with their children is at night, once the children are in bed. But if you find your child too cranky and disengaged at this time (or if you are feeling tired yourself), you might want to try reading to them earlier in the day.




Read more:
Three easy ways to get your kids to read better and enjoy it


Whatever the time, it’s important to give the book and your children all of your attention. Phones and other devices with enabled notifications should be switched off. Everyone should be comfortable, and children should associate time spent being read to with enjoyment.

Reading time should be free of distractions.
Shutterstock

Where possible, we strongly suggest reading to your child becomes part of the daily routine. The more often children are read to, the more substantial the benefits. Reading to children is both an opportunity to model how the written word sounds and a chance for family bonding.

2. Engage with the story

Children don’t typically enjoy having the story stopped every few seconds for comprehension checking, so we suggest you keep interruptions to a minimum.

But recapping is useful when picking up a book again after a break. If parents let their children provide this recap (“So, where are we up to?”) this also enables informal comprehension checking. Opportunities for prediction are also beneficial (“Wow… what do you think might happen next!”).

Sharing your response to a book and encouraging children’s responses stimulates critical thinking. These techniques and others can enhance learning and comprehension, but they shouldn’t upset the fluidity of the reading experience or turn it into a test.

We should read aloud to children for as long as possible .
Shutterstock

You can share the task of the reading itself with your children if they want to. This is beneficial for a range of reading skills, such as reading comprehension, word recognition and vocabulary building.

3. There’s no age limit

You can start reading to your child from early infancy to support their developing language abilities, so it’s never too early to start. The skills infants and young children develop through shared reading experiences can set them up for literacy achievement in their subsequent schooling years.




Read more:
Research shows the importance of parents reading with children – even after children can read


Reading to your children remains important beyond the early years, too, with continuing benefits for literacy development and cognitive skills.

We should read to young people for as long as possible. There is no age where the benefits of being read to completely expire.

Very recent research in the UK found struggling adolescent readers can make remarkable gains on their reading comprehension when books are read to them at school. This is perhaps due to the opportunity for students to enjoy books that are too hard for them to read themselves.

4. Pick a book you both enjoy

We suggest you select a book that interests both you and your child. Reading together is a great opportunity to share your passions while broadening your children’s horizons through making diverse book choices.

Children often struggle with picking a book to read.
from shutterstock.com

Don’t be afraid to start reading chapter books to your children while they are still very young. The age to begin this will vary depending on your child’s attention span, but it’s often possible to begin this with pre-schoolers.

As long as the story isn’t too complex, children love to be taken on an enjoyable journey into books that are too hard for them to read independently. This can also help to extend child’s vocabulary, among other benefits.




Read more:
How building your child’s spoken word bank can boost their capacity to read


It’s a good idea to take your children to the library and model how you choose interesting books for shared reading. Research shows many primary and high school children are easily overwhelmed by choice when they attempt to pick what books to read independently, so helping them with this is a valuable skill.

5. Don’t worry about your style

Not all of us are destined to be award-winning voice actors, and that’s OK. It’s great to use expression and adopt different voices for the characters in a book, but not everyone will feel able to do this.

At multiple points in our research, we’ve come across people who have praised the reading efforts of parents who weren’t confident readers, but who prevailed nonetheless. For example, in our recent paper a respondent described being read to by her mother who struggled with dyslexia. This mother, and many other parents, have inspired a love of reading in their children through their persistence.

Children love being taken into the virtual reality of a story.
from shutterstock.com

The ConversationBeing taken into the virtual reality of story is a memorable, pleasurable experience that stays with us forever. Reading aloud provides parents with a valuable opportunity to slow down, relax and share the wonderful world of books with their children.

Margaret Kristin Merga, Senior Lecturer in Education, Curtin University; Paul Gardner, Senior Lecturer: Literacy Education, Curtin University; Saiyidi Mat Roni, Lecturer, Edith Cowan University, and Susan F Ledger, Associate Dean Engagement, Murdoch University School of Education, Murdoch University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wicked witches and evil queens: why children’s books need more female villains



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Still from DIsney’s Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

Anna Cermakova, University of Birmingham and Michaela Mahlberg, University of Birmingham

This year, women’s history month follows what seems an unprecented upsurge of events that revealed the widespread abuse of women in both professional and private life. So it is not surprising to also see an increased interest in the representation of gender in literature – or rather, as a recently published big data study shows, a significant under-representation of women in literature.

Both female writers as well as female protagonists have been lagging behind their male counterparts for centuries. Gender inequality has naturally become a contemporary topic that has also made it into schools. To mark World Book Day, which we celebrated on the first day of women’s history month, Votes For Schools, a voting platform for schools, in collaboration with Let Toys Be Toys, a campaign promoting gender equality in the toy and publishing industries, published a lesson plan for primary schools asking the question “Do bestselling books encourage sexism?”

Votes For Schools then put this question to primary school pupils and got an interesting result: 79% of students said “No” and only 21% said “Yes”. But another vote on “Do we need more female villains in books?” tells a bit of a different story: the result is 67.5% “Yes” and 32.5% “No”. The response further revealed that 80% of female pupils wanted more female villains in books compared to 54% of male voters.

Books for boys and books for girls

Stories in which male heroes go through all sorts of adventures before they come to the rescue of the beautiful, but passive, princesses are all too familiar. The Observer newspaper collaborated with Nielsen research on a large market study which found that lead characters were 50% more likely to be male than female, and male villains were eight times more likely to appear compared to female villains. This kind of gender stereotyping is, however, just a continuation of a tradition established in children’s literature much earlier than that.

It was in the latter half of the 19th century that booksellers and book reviewers – “the cultural gate-keepers” as the American literary critic Anne Lundin calls them – started to distinguish between reading suitable for boys and that for girls. At the beginning of the 19th century, the book market was much more general, it did not even clearly delineate between adult and child readers.

From the 1880s, The Times newspaper started to devote separate review essays to literature for boys and for girls. Lundin notes it was rather critical particularly of the books addressed at girls – and it was not the quality of writing that was criticised so much as the subject matter: “Writing for girls … lacked the dynamism of boys’ books.”

Good girls and brave boys

Research at the University of Birmingham looks at gender in children’s literature with the help of corpus linguistic methods. As part of the GLARE project, which explores gender in children’s literature from a cognitive corpus stylistic perspective, a specialised corpus of 19th-century children’s books has been collected. This collection of 71 books was selected to represent what has been called the “Golden Age” of English children’s literature and contains classics such as Alice in Wonderland and The Water Babies.

A quick look in the GLARE corpus confirms observations on bias of gender representation. Among the books written by female authors, there are only seven where the word “girl” is used much more frequently than “boy”. Among the books by male authors, there are only two where “girl” is used more frequently than “boy”.

The highest relative frequency of “girl” is in the 1886 book A World of Girls: The Story of a School by the female author L. T. Meade. The book was greeted by The Academy review journal on publication (November 20, 1886) as “light and pleasant reading” with “many a quiet, useful hint about the education and general training of young girls”. The highest relative frequency of the occurrence of “boy” can be found in the 1858 cautionary tale Eric, Or, Little by Little: A Tale of Roslyn School by Frederic William Farrar.

But women who wrote books for children also often dealt with male worlds – the relative frequency of “boy” is similarly high in the 1883 novel Jackanapes by the female writer Juliana Horatia Ewing. A review described it as: “The wistful tale of heroic sacrifice in which the orphaned son of a Waterloo cavalry officer … dies saving the life of his childhood friend on the field of battle.”

These books are good examples of reading expectations of boys and girls at the time – and the following selection from the corpus provides us with some insights.

Examples of ‘girl’ in the GLARE corpus retrieved with CLiC.
Birmingham University, Author provided

In these examples, girls are well behaved and beautiful – and they certainly appear inferior to boys. Boys are strong and brave and ready for the adventures ahead of them. But boys are also trouble sometimes. In many respects, this has not changed much.

Examples of ‘boy’ in the GLARE corpus retrieved with CLiC.
Birmingham University, Author provided

Wicked witches and evil queens

Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland.
John Tenniel

Male villains in children’s books outnumber their female counterparts. In fact, not everyone might easily come up with a top ten list like that of the British author MG Leonard. Her list features the likes of Mrs Wormwood in Matilda, Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter, Cruella de Vil in The Hundred and One Dalmatians or Mrs Coulter in His Dark Materials.

The female villain is usually represented as a witch – as the White Witch from Narnia – or a queen, as the wicked queen in Snow White or the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. Witches embody an unattractive (often old), powerful female figure who is turned to for advice or help when everything else fails – as with the witch in the Little Mermaid fairy tale. Witches are feared and excluded from society, as illustrated in this example from The Book of Dragons (1899) by Edith Nesbit quoted from the GLARE corpus:

And besides a King he was an enchanter, and considered to be quite at the top of his profession, so he was very wise, and he knew that when Kings and Queens want children, the Queen always goes to see a witch. So he gave the Queen the witch’s address, and the Queen called on her, though she was very frightened and did not like it at all. The witch was sitting by a fire of sticks, stirring something bubbly in a shiny copper cauldron.

The ConversationChildren’s books are not only fiction. They provide vital opportunities for children to make sense of their own world. How many more women’s history months will it take to see a greater variety of fictional female characters, not just beautiful princesses, good girls and evil queens?

Anna Cermakova, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow, Centre for Corpus Research, University of Birmingham and Michaela Mahlberg, Professor of Corpus Linguistics, University of Birmingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Schools can’t tackle child literacy levels alone – it takes a village



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More than half of children under two and nearly half of children aged three to five are not being read to every day at home.
Shutterstock

Catherine Wade, Parenting Research Centre

The recently released NAPLAN 2017 results and findings from the latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) have got Australia talking again about how our children are faring when it comes to literacy.


Read more: NAPLAN 2017: results have largely flat-lined, and patterns of inequality continue


We know from PIRLS, while most Australian children are meeting international benchmarks for reading at year 4, nearly one in five are not meeting these benchmarks. Australia has one of the largest proportions of students who fall below the “intermediate” benchmark into the “low” or “below low” categories, compared to other English-speaking countries, including the US, Canada, and England.

Despite the range of steps that have been taken to address literacy levels across Australia, a large proportion of children are still not meeting international standards for reading. So what other approaches could we try?

Parents: an untapped resource

New research from the Parenting Research Centre highlights an area ripe for intervention: better supporting parents in reading to their children.

Our findings from a study of 2,600 parents showed more than half of children under two and nearly half of children aged three to five are not being read to every day.


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We found, while most children were being read to by an adult in the household four to five days a week, a concerning proportion were not being read to at all or very infrequently. Specifically, 13% of 0–2-year-olds and 4% of 3–5-year-olds were not read to at all by an adult at home in the previous week.

Our research also looked at how important parents’ educational values and aspirations for their children were and how they felt about their interactions with their children’s educators. The survey has national relevance, as most of the findings relate to broader parenting issues.

Why early reading is vital

We know from decades of international research that what parents do at home with their children has a profound effect on children’s learning outcomes. Children who experience enriched, cognitively stimulating home environments are at an advantage in the learning process because they have had exposure to many more words.

The evidence in support of providing a language-rich environment to children is vast. Children with language delays at school entry are at greater risk for academic difficulties. With flow-on effects to later academic and socio-emotional challenges, the imperative to tackle language and literacy problems early is paramount.

Sitting together, opening a book, and reading and pointing to words can be incredibly helpful in building the foundations of good literacy.
Shutterstock

A number of high-quality reviews of the scientific literature show good evidence for the benefits of parental shared reading for children’s literacy.

And while older children typically need less input from parents when it comes to actually looking at words on the page, that doesn’t mean the parents’ role in supporting reading diminishes. Creating a home environment that encourages time and space for books is key.


Read more: Research shows the importance of parents reading with children – even after children can read


If we know reading works, why don’t we do it?

The message that simply sitting together, opening a book, and reading and pointing to words can be incredibly helpful in building the foundations of good literacy has certainly cut through with many parents of young children.

But there are many reasons parents don’t read at home. As we know from sectors such as health, simply telling people what needs to be done – such as exercising more – does not take their personal context into consideration. Alone, it’s not enough to motivate people to adopt new patterns of behaviour.

Considering how best to support parents to read more often to their children is an important question and will depend on a thorough understanding of the barriers that are preventing them from doing so. Family and work pressures and parental confidence around reading books are some possible factors that could be further explored as barriers.

A shared concern

Children’s literacy is not the sole responsibility of parents, but it’s clearly an area where parents and schools can work together. This parent-educator partnership featured in our survey, which explored parents’ views about their interactions with kindergarten, child care and school teachers.


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Most parents (92%) felt comfortable communicating with their children’s teachers. Although 21% did not think or were unsure if their child’s teacher understood their child.


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Also, 20% did not agree they were able to participate in decisions that affected their child at kinder or school.

Of note, fathers tended to feel less comfortable talking with their child’s teachers than mothers did.

While 82% of parents felt their opinions were valued in discussions with their child’s educators, 11% had mixed feelings about this and 7% felt their opinions weren’t valued.


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Given what we know from research about the value of parents being connected with their children’s educational settings, it follows that parent-teacher partnerships are important for children’s educational outcomes.

Consequently, it’s important issues like literacy are looked at holistically. Literacy is not just as an education system issue, and not just a parenting issue. It’s a societal issue.

Parents are ready to engage

We found the vast majority of parents (93%) see their own contribution to their children’s learning in the early years as important. This supports the view that today’s parents are generally well placed for taking on information about how to improve their children’s literacy and educational outcomes.

It’s encouraging that most children are being read to at home – even if not every day. But in the context of concerns about Australia’s position in international literacy rankings there’s more to be done.

The ConversationThe message to parents is clearly “read early and read often”. The message for policy makers and professionals is “support parents to better engage with their children’s learning”. This could take many forms and is dependent on context. It could include strategies such as building literacy messages and materials into existing parenting support services and promoting online resources for parents, given our survey found 79% of parents look for answers online about parenting issues.

Catherine Wade, Principal Research Specialist, Parenting Research Centre

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

International study shows many Australian children are still struggling with reading



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Despite improvements in the national average score, the 2016 PIRLS report confirms many Australian children continue to be left behind.
wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

Jennifer Buckingham, Macquarie University

The results of an international study into the reading skills of Year 4 students offer reason for optimism for Australian children.

The latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) shows that, on average, reading achievement among the Australian children surveyed improved significantly between 2011 and 2016. This is excellent news.

However, there is still cause for concern about Australia’s literacy standards, with the PIRLS study showing that a substantial minority of Year 4 children continue to struggle with reading.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study

The study has been running internationally every five years since 2001. In 2016, it encompassed 50 countries. Australia has participated twice – in 2011 and 2016.

In 2016, 6,341 Year 4 students from 286 Australian primary schools took part.

The study focuses on two reading abilities – reading for literary experience, and reading to acquire and use information. Students were given texts to read and then asked to answer multiple choice and short answer questions. Example questions include:

How does the author show you what the red hen is like?

According to the article, what is one way people have made the sea more dangerous for turtles?

Signs of improvement

The results show Australia’s national average performance improved significantly between 2011 and 2016.

With the exception of the Australian Capital Territory, all the states and territories showed an improvement. The improvement was statistically significant in Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria.


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The increase in the average scores in many states is due to better performance by students at the top end of the scale. This is a wonderful outcome for those students.

While the 2016 PIRLS results run counter to the trends in the most recent PISA and TIMSS international assessments, the improvement isn’t entirely unexpected. Recent years of NAPLAN results have shown an improvement in average reading scores for Year 3 students.

It’s difficult to draw any firm conclusions about the reason for this improvement. But it’s fair to say there has been a strong focus on early reading since NAPLAN was introduced in 2008, putting a spotlight on progress in this vital area of education.

Indeed, the PIRLS results provide a very useful external validation of the reliability of the NAPLAN results, as they report similar trends in reading over similar periods.

The sting in the (long) tail

The improvement in average scores is certainly heartening. But the PIRLS data also show that when it comes to reading, many Australian children are still being left behind.

In 2016, 6% of Australian children did not meet the minimum (low) international benchmark for Year 4 reading. This is only a very small improvement from the 2011 figure of 7%.


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Some 19% of Australian children in Year 4 did not achieve the intermediate benchmark. To reach this benchmark, children needed to be able to:

  • make straightforward inferences about things that weren’t explicitly stated in the text
  • work out the order of events in the text, and/or
  • find and repeat explicitly stated actions, events, and feelings in the text.

PIRLS describes this benchmark as a “challenging but reasonable expectation”.

In 2011, 24% of Australian children in Year 4 did not achieve this benchmark. So the figure of 19% in 2016 is an improvement. But it’s a poor outcome compared to other countries, including England, Canada, and the United States.

Despite some improvements, Australia still has the second-largest proportion of children below the international intermediate benchmark for reading among English-speaking countries.


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Early identification of low progress readers

Research shows that children who struggle with reading in their early school years are unlikely to ever catch up. These children need to be identified and supported much earlier.

This year, an expert advisory panel to the Australian government (which I chaired) reviewed early years reading assessments used around Australia. We found a deficit in the assessment of phonics skills in particular.

Phonics is the ability to translate the letters on a page into their respective sounds. It’s a skill that children (and adults) need so they can read and learn unfamiliar words. Without the ability to read and learn unfamiliar words, children have little hope of reading for meaning.

Based on the outcome of the review, the panel recommended (as have other experts) a trial and possible subsequent adoption of the Year 1 Phonics Check that has been statutory in English primary schools since 2012.

In this context, it’s worth noting that England’s results in PIRLS 2016 – the first group to take the Year 1 Phonics Check – are the best they have ever been.


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The Phonics Check is a quick (five-minute) and effective reading check. It’s neither stressful for children nor onerous for teachers, and provides immediate information to teachers about this fundamental aspect of literacy development.

The expert panel acknowledged that phonics is one of five essential components, alongside:

But of those five components, there is good reason to believe that phonics isn’t being taught effectively or assessed consistently in many schools. For the children most at-risk of reading failure – including those from socioeconomically or language impoverished homes, and children with learning difficulties – the consequences are devastating.

Literacy on the agenda

This Friday, Australia’s federal, state and territory education ministers will come together for the year’s final Education Council meeting. Their agenda will include the need for a national Year 1 literacy and numeracy check.

The PIRLS statistics will be thoroughly dissected and debated. But it’s important to remember these statistics represent real children.

What does it mean to be unable to read? One mother of a Year 6 child poignantly described it as “not being able read the jokes in Christmas crackers around the table at Christmas lunch”.

The ConversationThis should not be the case for a child who has spent seven years at school. A literacy check in Year 1 could prevent many Australian children from falling through the cracks, and facing a lifetime of disadvantage.

Jennifer Buckingham, Senior Research Fellow, The Centre for Independent Studies; Associate Investigator, ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, Macquarie University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

South Africa has a reading crisis: why, and what can be done about it



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Children must be taught to read for comprehension, not just to parrot what they hear.
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Peter Rule, Stellenbosch University

The teacher stands in front of her Grade 4 class. The 45 nine and ten-year olds are crammed together at desks, huddled over shared books. Some are sitting on the floor. “Now, class, read from the top of the page,” the teacher says. They comply in a slow sing-song drawl.

“Stop,” says the teacher. “It is not ‘Wed-nes-day’, you say it ‘Wensday’. It is what?” “Wensday,” the class responds. “Again.” “Wensday.” The reading resumes, the teacher frequently stopping to correct her pupils’ pronunciation.

Sometimes the children read aloud in groups. At other times, she calls a child to come to the front and read aloud. Not once does she ask a question about what the story means. Nor do the children discuss or write about what they have read.

This is the typical approach to how teaching is read in most South African primary schools. Reading is largely understood as an oral performance. In our research, my colleague Sandra Land and I describe this as “oratorical reading”. The emphasis is on reading aloud, fluency, accuracy and correct pronunciation. There is very little emphasis on reading comprehension and actually making sense of the written word. If you were to stop the children and ask them what the story is about, many would look at you blankly.

Pronunciation, accuracy and fluency are important in reading. But they have no value without comprehension. Countries around the world are paying increasing attention to reading comprehension, as indicated by improving results in international literacy tests.

The problem with the oratorical reading approach is evident in the results of the recent Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2016 tests. PIRLS’ purpose is to assess reading comprehension and to monitor trends in literacy at five-year intervals. Countries participate voluntarily. Learners write the test in the language of learning and teaching used in Grades 1 to 3 in their school.

The tests revealed that 78% of grade 4 pupils in South Africa fell below the lowest level on the PIRLS scale: meaning, in effect, that they cannot understanding what they’re reading. There was some improvement from learners writing in Sesotho, isiNdebele, Xitsonga, Tshivenda and Sepedi from a very low base in 2011, but no overall improvement in South Africa’s performance.

South Africa was last out of 50 countries surveyed. It came in just behind Egypt and Morocco. The Russian Federation came first followed by Singapore, Hong Kong and Ireland.

South Africa also performs poorly in the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality surveys. These show that in reading and numeracy South Africa is lagging behind much poorer African countries such as Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Our research on reading at a rural primary school and an adult centre in the KwaZulu-Natal province showed that the oratorical approach to teaching reading was dominant both in the school and adult classes. Both adults and children were not learning to read with meaning, and so were not achieving literacy despite attending classes. Our findings confirmed the results of other South African studies.

So where does the problem lie and how can South Africa address it?

Rote learning

To understand the situation more deeply we interviewed teachers and explored how they had learned to read. We found that they teach as they were taught; an indication that oratorical reading is a cycle repeated from one generation to the next unless it is broken.

Teachers told us they assessed pupils’ reading ability just as they were assessed by their teachers: by having them read aloud. Marks were allocated for individual oral reading performance. This was based not on understanding the passage, but on fluency and pronunciation. There was no written assessment of reading comprehension. Reading was about memorising sounds and decoding words.

This suggests that the problem in learners’ performance lies in how reading is taught in most South African schools. Learners are taught to read aloud and pronounce correctly, but not to understand the written word and make sense of it for themselves. Another consequence is that the pleasure and joy of discovery and meaning-making are divorced from school reading.

New approaches

There are no quick fixes, but there certainly are slow and sure ones. The first is to get reading education in pre-service teacher training right. A report by JET Education Services, an independent non-profit organisation that works to improve education, found that universities don’t give enough attention to reading pedagogies.

Universities need to teach reading as a process that involves decoding and understanding text in its context, not just as a “mechanical skill”. Countries such as India, with its great diversity and disadvantaged populations, have begun to address the need for this change in how reading is taught.

The second “fix” concerns in-service training. The Department of Basic Education has a crucial role to play here. Teachers need to reflect on how they themselves were taught to read and to understand the shortcomings of an oratorical approach.

Effective reading instruction, such as the “Read to Learn” and “scaffolding” approaches, should be modelled and reinforced. In a multi-lingual African context, strategies that allow teachers and learners to use all their language resources in making meaning should be encouraged. Teachers’ own reading is vital, and can be developed through book clubs and reading groups.

The school environment is also crucial. According to the PIRLS interviews with principals, 62% of South African primary schools do not have school libraries. These are central to promoting a reading culture, as work in New Zealand shows.

Schools should develop strategies such as Drop Everything and Read slots in the timetable, library corners in classrooms, prizes for reading a target number of books and writing about them, and creating learners’ reading clubs. Learners can draw on local oral traditions by gathering stories from elders, writing them and reading them to others.

Finally, the home environment is vital. The PIRLS research showed that children with parents who read, and especially read to them, do better at reading. Our research found that children with parents who attended adult classes were highly motivated to learn and read with their parents. Even if parents are illiterate, older siblings can read to younger children. The Family Literacy Project, a non-profit organisation in KwaZulu-Natal, has done excellent work in creating literate family and community environments in deep rural areas, showing what is possible.

The ConversationDeveloping families as reading assets rather than viewing them as deficits can help to strengthen schools and build a reading nation.

Peter Rule, Associate Professor, Centre for Higher and Adult Education, Stellenbosch University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.