Educators like to say that until third grade, kids learn to read. After that, they read to learn. Yet, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 34% of fourth graders in the United States can read with proficiency, while 33% have a below average reading proficiency. That was in 2011, with the statistics unchanged since the last time data was collected in 2009. This does not bode well at all for the state of education in the United States which fights a constant battle against high school dropout rates.
From third grade and onward, students are supposed to be gathering knowledge, but without proficient reading skills, these pupils find they can’t tread academic water and rapidly sink. Kids who don’t make it in school are unlikely to end up with successful futures that include meaningful employment. Unbeknownst to many parents, the issue with poor reading proficiency is related to a child’s lack of exposure to books and conversation before reaching school age.
Early literacy is fostered through the recitation of nursery rhymes and ordinary conversation. Learning to read also starts with seeing and touching books and hearing bedtime stories. Pre-reading skills come from the home. Educators have long known that it is the kids who are surrounded by words at home who will keep their heads above the water in school.
This is one of the reasons car donation program Kars4Kids makes an effort to distribute books to parents of young children. There have to be books in a home if children are to read.
It seems a simple thing, just make sure there are books at home and read and talk to your kids. Of course, it’s even better when you read to your children using methods that turn them into active participants in the reading process. For this reason, researchers developed a reading method called “dialogic reading.” When most adults read to kids, the adult is the active partner while the child remains passive. The parent reads while the child listens. Dialogic reading is an attempt at inverting the process so that the child becomes active in the reading process, a storyteller. The reader asks questions and listens to the child’s responses, becoming the child’s (passive) audience. In this manner, reading changes from a monologue to a conversation. Both child and reader are active and passive by turns.
In attempting to develop the theory of dialogic reading into actual practice, the Stony Brook Reading and Language Project came up with the PEER sequence in which the parent: Prompts the child to speak about the story Evaluates the child’s response Expands on the child’s response by rephrasing and adding additional information Repeats the prompt to see if the child has absorbed something from the expansion In actual practice, a parent may come to an illustration of a bird while reading to a child. The parent points to the bird and says, “What’s this?” providing the initial prompt. The child says, “Bird,” to which the parent responds with, “That’s right (evaluation)—a little blue bird (expansion)! Can you say, ‘Little blue bird’ (repetition)?” In the PEER sequence, it is recommended that children listen only, during the parent’s first reading. But for each subsequent reading, the parent can add one or more PEER sequences for each page of the book. The parent does less of the reading with every telling, as the child becomes the main storyteller.
In employing the PEER sequence, there are different types of prompts a parent might use in the dialogic reading method and these are known as CROWD prompts. The acronym CROWD stands for:
In completion prompts, the parent leaves a blank at the end of a sentence for the child to fill. Completion prompts works especially well for rhyming texts or for books with repetitive phrases. The parent might read, “The frog can jump. He jumps so _______.” The parent remains silent on the final word of the sentence so that the child can suggest a fitting word, in this case, “High.” Completion prompts teach children about the structure of language.
Recall prompts are appropriate both before and after a story has been read. A parent might ask, “What happens to Wilbur the pig in this story?” This prompt teaches children about plot lines as well as how to describe the sequence of events in a story.
The open-ended prompt is a worthy technique for books with rich illustrations. The reader asks, “What is happening in this picture?” Open-ended prompts teach children attention to detail and help them gain proficiency in verbal description.
The “wh” as in “Wh___ prompts” stand for who, what, when, where, why, and how. Best used with illustrations, wh prompts involve pointing to a detail in an illustration and asking the child, for example, “What do you call that?” Wh prompts enrich vocabulary.
Distancing prompts ask a child to relate his own experiences to the reading material. For example, while reading The Story of Ferdinand, a parent might ask, “Remember when we ate at a Spanish restaurant? What did we have to eat?” Such prompts create a bridge between the reading material and a child’s real experiences and are also beneficial for increasing conversational, verbal, and narrative skills. This is the most difficult of the crowd prompts and you might want to wait until your child is 4-5 years-old to begin with this technique.
The main thing is to make sure your child is having fun. That’s how you’ll know you’re definitely on the right (academic) track.
Author: Varda Meyers Epstein, a mother of twelve is the Communications Writer at Kars4Kids