The link below is to an article that looks at why men should read more fiction.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at machines that read.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at how you can increase the amount of reading you do each year.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Parents often receive books at pediatric checkups via programs like Reach Out and Read and hear from a variety of health professionals and educators that reading to their kids is critical for supporting development.
The pro-reading message is getting through to parents, who recognize that it’s an important habit. A summary report by Child Trends, for instance, suggests 55 percent of three- to five-year-old children were read to every day in 2007. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 83 percent of three- to five-year-old children were read to three or more times per week by a family member in 2012.
What this ever-present advice to read with infants doesn’t necessarily make clear, though, is that what’s on the pages may be just as important as the book-reading experience itself. Are all books created equal when it comes to early shared-book reading? Does it matter what you pick to read? And are the best books for babies different than the best books for toddlers?
In order to guide parents on how to create a high-quality book-reading experience for their infants, my psychology research lab has conducted a series of baby learning studies. One of our goals is to better understand the extent to which shared book reading is important for brain and behavioral development.
What’s on baby’s bookshelf
Researchers see clear benefits of shared book reading for child development. Shared book reading with young children is good for language and cognitive development, increasing vocabulary and pre-reading skills and honing conceptual development.
Shared book reading also likely enhances the quality of the parent-infant relationship by encouraging reciprocal interactions – the back-and-forth dance between parents and infants. Certainly not least of all, it gives infants and parents a consistent daily time to cuddle.
Recent research has found that both the quality and quantity of shared book reading in infancy predicted later childhood vocabulary, reading skills and name writing ability. In other words, the more books parents read, and the more time they’d spent reading, the greater the developmental benefits in their 4-year-old children.
This important finding is one of the first to measure the benefit of shared book reading starting early in infancy. But there’s still more to figure out about whether some books might naturally lead to higher-quality interactions and increased learning.
Babies and books in the lab
In our investigations, my colleagues and I followed infants across the second six months of life. We’ve found that when parents showed babies books with faces or objects that were individually named, they learn more, generalize what they learn to new situations and show more specialized brain responses. This is in contrast to books with no labels or books with the same generic label under each image in the book. Early learning in infancy was also associated with benefits four years later in childhood.
First, we brought six-month-old infants into our lab, where we could see how much attention they paid to story characters they’d never seen before. We used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure their brain responses. Infants wear a cap-like net of 128 sensors that let us record the electricity naturally emitted from the scalp as the brain works. We measured these neural responses while infants looked at and paid attention to pictures on a computer screen. These brain measurements can tell us about what infants know and whether they can tell the difference between the characters we show them.
We also tracked the infants’ gaze using eye-tracking technology to see what parts of the characters they focused on and how long they paid attention.
The data we collected at this first visit to our lab served as a baseline. We wanted to compare their initial measurements with future measurements we’d take, after we sent them home with storybooks featuring these same characters.
We divided up our volunteers into three groups. One group of parents read their infants storybooks that contained six individually named characters that they’d never seen before. Another group were given the same storybooks but instead of individually naming the characters, a generic and made-up label was used to refer to all the characters (such as “Hitchel”). Finally, we had a third comparison group of infants whose parents didn’t read them anything special for the study.
After three months passed, the families returned to our lab so we could again measure the infants’ attention to our storybook characters. It turned out that only those who received books with individually labeled characters showed enhanced attention compared to their earlier visit. And the brain activity of babies who learned individual labels also showed that they could distinguish between different individual characters. We didn’t see these effects for infants in the comparison group or for infants who received books with generic labels.
These findings suggest that very young infants are able to use labels to learn about the world around them and that shared book reading is an effective tool for supporting development in the first year of life.
Tailoring book picks for maximum effect
So what do our results from the lab mean for parents who want to maximize the benefits of storytime?
Not all books are created equal. The books that parents should read to six- and nine-month-olds will likely be different than those they read to two-year-olds, which will likely be different than those appropriate for four-year-olds who are getting ready to read on their own. In other words, to reap the benefits of shared book reading during infancy, we need to be reading our little ones the right books at the right time.
For infants, finding books that name different characters may lead to higher-quality shared book reading experiences and result in the learning and brain development benefits we find in our studies. All infants are unique, so parents should try to find books that interest their baby.
It’s possible that books that include named characters simply increase the amount of parent talking. We know that talking to babies is important for their development. So parents of infants: Add shared book reading to your daily routines and name the characters in the books you read. Talk to your babies early and often to guide them through their amazing new world – and let storytime help.
Right now, you are reading these words without much thought or conscious effort. In lightning-fast bursts, your eyes are darting from left to right across your screen, somehow making meaning from what would otherwise be a series of black squiggles.
Reading for you is not just easy – it’s automatic. Looking at a word and not reading it is almost impossible, because the cogs of written language processing are set in motion as soon as skilled readers see print.
And yet, as tempting as it is to think of reading as hard-wired into us, don’t be fooled. Learning to read is not easy. It’s not even natural.
The first examples of written language date back to about 5,000 years ago, which is a small fraction of the 60,000 years or more that humans have spent using spoken language.
This means our species hasn’t had enough time to evolve brain networks that predispose us to learn literacy. It is only through years of practice and instruction that we have forged those connections for ourselves.
How the brain learns to read
Brains are constantly reorganising themselves. Any time we learn a new skill, connections between neurons that allow us to perform that skill become stronger. This flexibility is heightened during childhood, which is why so much learning gets crammed in before adolescence.
As a child becomes literate, there is no “reading centre” that magically materialises in the brain. Instead, a network of connections develops to link existing areas that weren’t previously linked. Reading becomes a way of accessing language by sight, which means it builds on architecture that is already used for recognising visual patterns and understanding spoken language.
The journey of a word
When a skilled reader encounters a printed word, that information travels from their eyes to their occipital lobe (at the back of the brain), where it is processed like any other visual stimulus.
From there, it travels to the left fusiform gyrus, otherwise known as the brain’s “letterbox”. This is where the black squiggles are recognised as letters in a word. The letterbox is a special stopover on the word’s journey because it only develops as the result of learning to read. It doesn’t exist in very young children or illiterate adults, and it’s activated less in people with dyslexia, who have a biological difference in the way their brains process written text.
Words and letters are stored in the letterbox – not as individually memorised shapes or patterns, but as symbols. This is why a skilled reader can recognise a word quickly, regardless of font, cAsE, or typeface.
Information then travels from the letterbox to the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, to work out word meaning and pronunciation. These same areas are activated when we hear a word, so they are specialised for language, rather than just reading and writing.
Because information can travel so quickly across the skilled reader’s synaptic highways, the entire journey takes less than half a second.
But what happens in the brain of a five-year-old child, whose highways are still under construction?
The growing brain
For young children, the process of getting from print to meaning is slow and effortful. This is partly because beginning readers have not yet built up a store of familiar words that they can recognise by sight, so they must instead “sound out” each letter or letter sequence.
Every time children practise decoding words, they forge new connections between the visual and spoken language areas of the brain, gradually adding new letters and words to the brain’s all-important letterbox.
Remember, when a practised reader recognises a word by sight, they process the letters in that word, rather than its shape.
Literacy instruction can therefore support children’s learning by highlighting the symbolic nature of letters – in other words, by drawing attention to the relationships between letters and speech sounds.
What might the future hold for literacy development?
As technology evolves, so too must our definition of what it means to be “literate”. Young brains now need to adapt not only to written language, but also to the fast-paced media through which written language is presented.
Only time will tell how this affects the development of that mysterious beige sponge between our ears.
The sign on the public car park in the tiny Tasmanian town of Wynyard reads,
Egress from this carpark is to be via the access lane in the rear.
“Egress?” I wondered.
As my 21-year-old son quipped, perhaps the council had called in the local duke to write its signs. Or at least the local lawyer.
I could say all the words on the sign with very little effort, and with impressive fluency.
That is called decoding.
I had to work a little harder to understand what the sign was saying.
That is called comprehending.
The aim of reading is, of course, comprehension.
In essence, debates around how to best teach reading have been about which comes first, the decoding or the comprehending.
Research concludes these debates are redundant because comprehension and decoding are codependent.
The federal government’s recent proposal, however, for a Year 1 Phonics Screening test – which tests a child’s ability to decode made-up words – appears to support the view that decoding comes before comprehension.
Comprehension, therefore, is deemed irrelevant – at least initially.
So who is right? The researchers or the politicians?
Let’s take a look at what the research tells us about how we learn to read.
Tackling unknown words
It was the first word in the car park sign that threw me. “Egress.”
I used my knowledge of how sounds map on to letters in English to decode it. However, because I couldn’t remember ever hearing the word said out loud, I wasn’t sure if I was decoding it correctly.
It might be EE-gress or ee-GRESS, EGG-ress, or egg-RESS. It is the first, apparently. I Googled it later.
In any case my decoding efforts didn’t help me understand what the word means. In order for decoding skills to be of any use in reading, children need an excellent vocabulary to which they can cross reference as they attempt to decode.
Tip 1: teach phonics through words already in the children’s vocabulary.
Building children’s vocabularies
Before we rush out and start teaching children lists of vocabulary, words in lists are not enough.
If someone had shown me “egress” by itself on a flashcard, I might have guessed it was a bird.
Luckily, “egress” was in a full sentence on a sign in front of a car park, and all of that context helped me comprehend the word.
Without context, words are just letters on a page. This is because all words in English are polysemic – they have multiple meanings depending upon the context.
The wind in my hair. My baby has wind.
And some words keep their spelling but change their pronunciation as well as their meaning.
I’d like to wind you up. I need to wind my clock. Why do I always **wind **up doing the dishes.
Tip 2: build your children’s vocabulary by talking and reading to them so that they encounter words in all their many and varied guises. Seeing a word in many different contexts is more important than just seeing the word flashed at you many times.
The grammar of the parking sign in Wynyard also helped my comprehension.
I had figured out from the context that “egress” meant either entry or exit.
I hear a lot of language so I understand how words “collocate” in English – that is, how some words always hang out together grammatically. My experience with the language meant I knew that we exit “from” and enter “into”.
The more we hear and read real language, the more we learn about how word order works in English.
Tip 3: teach reading through real books with real language so that children learn the rhythm and patterns of English grammar.
I relied on my experience as a driver to look around and see that a median strip in the road would make “egress” from the front of the car park tricky. Life experience helps us read too.
If I write I live in a studio apartment in San Jose, your interpretation of where I live will depend upon whether you understand a studio apartment to be a basement bedsit, or penthouse bachelor pad. It will depend on whether you understand San Jose to be an affluent tech hub or an working class industrial city.
The words alone cannot carry all the meaning of my message. You bring your life experience to the task of reading my words.
Tip 4: give children lots of real life experiences and talk to them about what they see. Trips out and about, and chats about things beyond their everyday environment are important.
Are we giving poor readers the help they need?
Good readers have a full repertoire of skills, each dependent upon the other.
They have excellent oral language and a wide vocabulary. They know what words mean and this helps them decode.
They can decode and this helps them locate the word in their existing vocabulary.
They know the structure of English through exposure to authentic complex written and spoken language.
They use rich life experiences to support their comprehension of written texts.
Poor readers need all of these skills too. Yet our interventions for poor readers typically only address one skill – decoding.
Our declining results in international tests of literacy show us that our 15 year olds can decode but they can’t comprehend.
Until we pay full attention to all the other reading skills, the decline will continue.
The link below is to an article that looks at how to read more – in fact, how to read 200 books a year.
Phonics teaching in UK primary schools is rightly recognised as giving children the essential building blocks needed to become successful readers. Indeed, we are so pro-phonics that little is done to raise awareness about other methods, even those which might be seen as an accompaniment to phonics, not a replacement for it.
Schools tend to stick to what they know and, with more and more demand being put on teachers to raise standards and achieve excellent Ofsted reports, there is little in the way of “free time” to be allocated to testing out new methods, even those aimed at children who have had phonics training but who still have reading difficulties.
Phonics is based on training children’s “segmental phonological awareness” (that is, raising their awareness of letters and sounds and teaching them segmenting and blending skills). But there is a second part to phonological awareness known as “suprasegmental phonology”. It refers to the rhythmic components of spoken language that accompany the segmental elements, such as stress placement, intonation or pitch, and timing.
There is a growing body of evidence which supports the idea that awareness of, or sensitivity to, these rhythmic components is related to reading at various levels, including reading acquisition, comprehension and, more interestingly, reading difficulties. What this means is that children who have reading difficulties also tend to have poor speech rhythm sensitivity – and the better a child’s speech rhythm sensitivity is, the better their reading skills tend to be.
Surely, if we can somehow improve childrens’ speech rhythm sensitivity, their reading skills will also improve, right?
During my time at Coventry University, this question interested us enormously, yet there was no intervention that had attempted to train children on their awareness of speech rhythm as a possible way of enhancing literacy skills. So we set about designing a set of materials to help children gain better awareness of these rhythmic elements of spoken language.
We wanted the intervention to be suitable for children who were non-verbal – that is, children who do not speak, whether this is due to a disorder or just shyness – as well as children across a range of ability levels, so we decided on a picture and sound format, where children were presented with a picture card and a corresponding prerecorded audio sound for each item. This meant that children didn’t have to give a verbal response and that the format of delivery was repetitive to ensure some level of understanding between sessions. The intervention was designed to run for ten weeks, giving time for pre and post-test assessments to be administered within a school term.
We ran two experiments, one with reception children, age four to five years of age, who were just starting to learn to read – and one with children in year three, aged seven to eight years, who were falling behind in their reading. In each study, the intervention was compared to a traditional phonological awareness intervention and a control.
The results were very promising. In both the beginners and the older struggling readers, the speech rhythm intervention resulted in significantly greater gains in reading than the control intervention. This means that speech rhythm training is effective both at the beginning of reading tuition and once children have already received some formal training.
One of the things that interested us most is that the children in the second study were categorised as being struggling readers. For the speech rhythm intervention to work for these children is heartening and important. It means that this could be an alternative way in to teaching these children the skills they need to become successful readers.
Two papers describing similar findings, supporting the notion of speech rhythm training in struggling readers, have also since been published. However, there are no other studies to date which have investigated the effects of such training methods for beginner readers.
What our research adds is that speech rhythm training can also be effective in children who have yet to receive formal reading tuition, meaning that it can be implemented effectively from the start of primary education.
This is an exciting prospect for reading researchers – and it opens many doors for further investigation. It also has the potential to significantly improve reading instruction in schools – and will in fact soon be doing so, through a new programme which incorporates this speech rhythm sensitivity training.
The link below is to an article/infographic that looks at determining which Shakespeare play you should read.
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