Twice in your life you know you are approved of by everyone – when you learn to walk and when you learn to read ~ Penelope Fitzgerald
Seeing children blossom into readers is one of the thrills of my professional life. I love to see the moment when children discover that the squiggly lines on a page form letters, the letters form words and the words make sentences.
Learning to read is an extraordinary feat—it requires children to physically alter the architecture of their brains. This takes time! Steven Pinker puts it this way: “Children are wired for sound, but print is an optional accessory that must be painstakingly bolted on.”
And if you ever wondered why young children seem such natural and creative artists, it’s because babies’ brains are massively wired for picture (John Medina, 2008). Having a brain wired for picture and sound – not for word – doesn’t sound very promising does it? However this should be no surprise because until about 2000 years ago, there was no alphabet, hence no reason for us to learn how to ‘convey language through vision’ as Stanislas Dehaene so eloquently describes the act of reading. We now expect children to accomplish this process in as little as 2000 days! (Mary Ann Wolf, 2008).
Children need all the help they can get as they grapple with connecting parts of their brains that weren’t previously talking with each other. How, as teachers, do we assist children to connect the visual, auditory and language centers of their brains?
One answer is to involve children in reading everyday in a variety of ways. Why? Because children’s brains respond to novelty, variety and repetition; children thrive on interactions with others and they pay particular attention when involved in activities that have purpose and/or meaning to them.
8 ways to engage children in meaningful reading in the classroom everyday:
- Reading aloud (children hearing reading)
- Shared and interactive reading (from big books, boards, charts and screens)
- Independent reading and free reading (choosing books of interest, choosing ‘good fit’ books and reading to self)
- Partner/buddy reading (reading to someone)
- Quiet reading (children choose books to read quietly on their own)
- Teacher monitoring (reading to me and I note what each child is ‘doing’ in reading aloud)
- Home reading (reading aloud to someone at home)
- Reading own writing (children re-read as they write)
The more reading the better. However, regardless of how much is done, reading that isn’t enjoyable isn’t fun – and slim are the chances of nurturing children as passionate readers. One of the easiest ways to make reading enjoyable is to allow the children lots of choice in the books they read.
Each time a child discovers he can read I marvel that it’s taken him a ‘lifetime’ to begin reading words that he will soon recognise in just 500 milliseconds – less time than the blink of an eye (Mary Ann Wolf, 2008).
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