Saturday, June 18, 2011

10 Principles for assisting reading 3c.Word awareness

The bulk of recent research indicates that there is a vast difference in the amount of vocabulary knowledge that children bring to school. Those that have a wide vocabulary tend to advance quickly in reading while those with limited vocabularies are at a distinct disadvantage. This situation is compounded by the fact that children who do well in reading learn more new vocabulary than the delayed readers with poor vocabularies. In other words, the children rich in vocabulary get even richer while the poor readers grow poorer in comparison because they have less willingness to read and a lack of opportunity to lean more words. This is often referred to as the "Matthew effect".

What is needed in guided reading sessions is the development of word awareness and the modelling of new word learning during reading. There are two aspects of word learning: depth and breadth of word learning. The depth refers to the encoding and the connections to what is already known about words in the mind of the reader. It is the linking of the new to the known. Does it look like other words? Does it sound like other words? "Do you know other words that sound the same?' "what do you think it means?" These observations questions can come before the reader begins to read. Obviously, if the reader is familiar with the words then the reading will be much easier to negotiate.

The reading guide could model the learning of new words during the initial reading to the child by stopping at what would seem to be an unfamiliar word (most parents and interested others are usually able to predict what words will be unfamiliar - if unsure - just ask the child). Say, "I wonder what this word means?" Read back in the text (or read forward) and also look at the picture and mention what clues are available to help work out the meaning.
Now say, "I think it means ..."
Then say, "Yes, that makes sense because..."
This develops the breadth of word learning because it shows that words are connected to other words and it also develops child's predictive ability.

One of the exciting things about the guided reading session is - "What new words did I discover today?"

Thursday, June 16, 2011

10 Principles for Assisting Reading 3b.Setting Goals

This blog follows on from Principle 3(a)  modelling and predicting. In this blog the emphasis will be on setting goals for the guided reading session.

Generally speaking, all behaviour is goal oriented. Learning often takes place in response to our attempts to achieve goals that we set for ourselves.  In the last session I showed how to help children make predictions. When readers make predictions before reading they are setting a goal for that reading session. The prediction enables readers to focus their attention and monitor their progress towards the goal that they have set. The prediction helps them because it gives them something to measure their progress in reading comprehension. This process is enhanced when the reader is directed to note the text clues, to monitor their original prediction, and to alter it if the story takes an unexpected turn. During the after reading phase the child should reflect on their predictions. Ask, "What did you think would happen? etc (refer to blog 3(a)).

This goal setting process requires three steps at the three stages of reading:

  1. Before reading - set a goal
  2. During reading - monitor and adjust the reading goal.
  3. After reading - reflect on the appropriateness of the goal and how it was achieved.
N. B. There is usually more than one reading goal. For the guided reading session the overriding goal should always be reading for pleasure. The reading guide should always keep this in mind when assisting reading.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

10 Principles for assisting reading - 3a. Modelling & Predicting

Children often learn by watching and listening to others, particularly people with whom they have a  good relationship. Guided reading sessions are no exception, in fact, this aspect is a vital element that begins in the pre-reading phase. In the last blog post it was emphasised that talking about the content of the book and related experiences was just as important as the reading itself.

This initial phase is often referred to as the book orientation phase because it entails becoming acquainted with the content and language of the book. Book language is different to spoken language and the type of language used will differ from book to book. During this initial phase the person guiding the reading (parent, older sibling, other) should read the book aloud to the child so that the child can become familiar to the language of the book and become acquainted with the content. The reading guide should also take the opportunity to model the sorts of reading processes that the reader should adopt. For example, the reading guide should model the following reading comprehension thinking processes:
  1. sampling,
  2. predicting, and
  3. confirming or correcting.
In practical terms this will require the reading guide to browse through the book with the child to demonstrate how predictions about story content can be made by sampling. This sampling process begins when the reader looks for clues in the illustrations and the text to show what the story or passage might be about. The reading guide should verbalise what they are thinking, this is often referred to as 'thinking-aloud'. For example, while looking at the pictures and discussing them the reading guide should think-aloud by saying something like, "It looks like ...  I wonder what will happen next?"

"This is very similar to what happened to me once when... So I think that ... might happen next. let's turn the page and find out."

After turning the page the reading guide then says, "Yes, my prediction was right, ... did happen but it was slightly different to what I expected. I thought that... would happen as well, but instead ... happened. Now I know what to expect over the next page. Let's turn over to find out if I am right."

N. B. Predictions are usually based on past experiences and so it is important for the reading guide to explicitly demonstrate that they are related to similar life situations that can be shared with the young or novice reader. The expectation is that the reader will eventually do this independently. Before this can happen the person assisting the reading will usually need to give prompts and gradually fade them out as the child becomes more confident and begins to take more responsibility.

Friday, June 10, 2011

10 Principles for Assisting Reading 2.Set the Scene

Reading involves more than just calling the words. Being able to decode the printed word is important and progress in reading cannot take place without a firm grounding in the look and sound of words. However, words do not exist for their own sake. They always have a purpose and a context.

People write words because they have a purpose and that purpose is communicated through language. Words are embedded within or language and reflect the meanings conveyed by the language and the situation in which the language occurs. Written words are symbols for a range of language experience, for example, the word happiness can mean different things to different people. Thus, the books that we read are placed within a social and language context. A rich reading experience requires rich talk and the sharing of related life experiences.

Before reading begins it is important to talk about the pictures in the book and relate those pictures to life events (of both the parent and child). Talk before reading is just as important as the reading itself. Often this can be a very rewarding experience for children because it gives parents and children the opportunity to spend some quality time together. When relationship building experiences are connected with reading it builds a positive attitude. When this is accompanied with rich talk and the sharing of experiences it builds comprehension and depth of word knowledge.

It is important to provide choice of books that include the things that the child is interested in.  This can be extended to questions designed to encourage the child to choose different experiences to match events  within a story. Questions such as: "Have you ever been in a place like that?" and "What did that feel like?" etc can develop the sense that the reader is actively engaged in the reading process by  constructing meaning. In fact, there is nothing more engaging that to use your own life experiences to understand print. This process builds competence and self-reliance.

Prediction also builds reading competence and self-reliance. For example, while browsing through a picture book and discussing the illustrations the reader could be asked to predict what might come next in the story. After a prediction is make the reader can be directed to turn the page to verify their prediction. "Is this what you expected?" "How is it the same?" "How is it different?" "What do you think might happen next?" This verification process involves either confirming the prediction or correcting it and modifying expectations of what is to come next in the story. This is not just a guessing game but a very important reading comprehension skill. What it does is this, it creates a learning goal and encourages the child to monitor their own meaning making. This is one of the most important skills that will lead to reading autonomy.

Thus, setting the scene involves lots of talk, sharing life experiences, making choices, and developing predictive comprehension skills.

In the third blog in this series we will be discussing book language.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

10 Principles for Assisting Reading 1.Motivation

This blog is the first in a series of blogs focusing on 10 important principles for assisting children with reading.

This series is intended to help a range of people. My initial concern was to guide parents when they are helping their children. One of the most common concerns that parents all over the world face is how to assist their children and remain on friendly terms. Many research articles over the last 20 years or so have consistently reported that reading sessions often end in anger, frustration, and an unwillingness to continue the reading episodes. This is not surprising since most parents have not had any formal training in regard to using the best techniques to promote reading engagement, motivation, and effective skill development.

This series has been designed to follow on from a video interview that I did with the New South Wales Education Department for National Literacy and Numeracy Week (see the link:

The first principle is that all children have three basic needs that need to be met in any learning situation:

  1. relationship, 
  2. competency, and 
  3. autonomy
When assisting children with reading it is important to build a relationship of trust, openness and sharing. This means that the tutor and the tutee should be seen as a collaborative partnership. The reader should be given opportunities to take risks in a supportive atmosphere. One of the most common problems when assisting children is when the focus is placed on reading for accuracy rather than for meaning and enjoyment. This can stifle their risk-taking ability and slow their reading down so that they decode letter-by-letter and word-by-word. This narrow focus will overload their limited short-term memory capacity by focusing on smaller and less meaningful chunks of information. The main thing to keep in mind is that reading should focus on meaning. The reading sessions should be enjoyable and provide an opportunity for parents and their children to share their life experiences around interesting literacy activities. 

One of the most common factors leading to reading failure at school is the number of books that are available in the home. Children become competent, in part, because there are lots of books and lots of choices. When parents provide books, particularly books that are linked to children's interests, it fosters their love for literacy. Children gain knowledge and reading skills when parents interact with them around rich book reading sessions. This is enhanced when parents share their own experiences as they relate to story books and information texts. Many of skills that they develop are often picked up incidentally. 

The third motivational need is that of autonomy. Everyone desires to become independent and self-reliant. This is something that can be encouraged in the way that help is given. However, it must be noted that  help can be given in such a way that dependency is fostered rather than independence. I will be giving some advice on ways to promote independence in reading in the blogs that follow this one.

Your comments and ideas will be very much appreciated.