As early as the 19th century people started to teach children
reading through read-aloud. A strong body of research existed on the
significance of read-aloud to children. Parents and teachers exhibited
varieties of styles in reading aloud to children, which had important
impact on children's literacy development.
However, the study shows the needs for more naturalistic studies of
read-aloud, for more studies exploring the connections between
read-aloud at home and school, for more studies on read-aloud to
children with diverse background, and for more explorations into
cross-cultural and cross-national difference of read-aloud to children.
Reviewing the current status of research on a subject enables
researchers to "join the long conversation of science by first
listening to what is being said, and only then formulating a comment
designed to advance the dialogue" (Locke, Spirduso & Silverman,
1993, p.66). The purposes of this article are: to provide information
about the past and present of the studies on read-aloud to literacy
researchers who want to join and continue the conversation on read-aloud
to children; to indicate what we know and what we need to know about
read-aloud. To accomplish the purposes, I will sketch out a picture of
children's early story reading experience along the following
dimensions: historical perspective, the significance of read-aloud,
parent-child read-aloud, and teacher-student read-aloud.
I. Historical Perspectives on Read-aloud
The advocacy of reading to children has a long history. Durkin
(1974) pointed out that "... the family's role in teaching
reading has a long history. In fact, the descriptions of the earliest
education in the United States indicated that beginning reading was once
taught more often in a kitchen than in a classroom" (p. 136). Aries
(as cited in Taylor, 1983) wrote that the paintings and engravings of
seventeenth and eighteenth century have depictions of the storyteller or
charlatan perched on a platform telling his story and pointing with a
stick to the text written on a big board.
In 1862, Tolstoy (as cited in Taylor, 1983) wrote of the first
"rational and immutable" method of teaching reading. It
consisted of the teacher reading as a mother would read with her child,
and thus Tolstoy called it the "domestic method." Tolstoy
(1967) predicated that "this method will always remain the best and
only one for teaching people to read and read fluently" (p.264).
Some forty-six years after what Tolstoy said about reading, Huey
(1908) also recognized the importance of parents reading aloud to
children and wrote that "the secret of it all lies in the parents
reading aloud to and with their children" (p.332). Unfortunately,
these early recognitions about reading to children were largely ignored
until the late 1970's and early 1980's when the academic
community started to show a sustained interest in storyreading. Only
then, storyreading at school and at home, and storytellers once again
Why was storyreading to children neglected and disregarded for so
long in the intervening years? Teale and Sulzby (1986) said that
"not much attention was paid to the issue of pre-first-grade
reading and writing.... The general belief was that literacy development
did not begin until the child encountered formal instruction in
Also from the 1920's through the 1960's, the concept of
reading readiness and the programs and testing associated with it
dominated the educational practice of reading for almost a half century.
This paradigm did not provide theoretical basis and support for the use
of storyreading to children either at home or at school. It regarded
early storyreading as irrelevant to literacy development. Little
importance was attached to the role of parents in the development of
Durkin (1974)summarized the traditional objections about reading
before a child enters school: "Preschool reading will be injurious
to a child's vision; parents are not trained to teach reading;
preschool reading leads to problems of boredom or confusion when school
instruction begins" (p.138).
However, research in the 1950's by Sheldon and Carrillo (1952)
touched on the issue of parents reading aloud to children, but did not
specifically identify it. They found that as the number of books in the
home increased, so did the percent of good readers. They stated that,
although they could not determine if this relationship resulted
"from the attitude instilled in children by familiarity with books
throughout their developmental years" (p.265), evidence pointed to
it as a strong possibility.
Durkin (1966) did an in-depth research in the area of early
literacy development. She investigated children's experiences prior
to school for signs of literacy acquisition. In trying to determine what
circumstances existed that enabled these young children to come to
school already knowing how to read, Durkin concluded that being read to
created an interest in reading (p. 137).
Although for many years the classroom experiences of many teachers
and results from research projects such as Durkin's (1966) had
indicated that the reading readiness paradigm was theoretically and
practically inappropriate, it has only been since the late 1970's
that a substantial and unified challenge to the traditional approach has
Researchers like Clay (1966), Goodman (1967), and Harste, etc.
(1984) reaffirmed the discovery process of emergent literacy of
children. The shift of perspective from reading readiness to emergent
literacy has brought greater attention to the roles of parents, teachers
and storybooks in the development of children's literacy.
The research results along the line of an emergent literacy
paradigm strongly supported storyreading at home and at school. Cullinan
(1989), Donelson and Nilson (1989) and Huck, Helper and Hickman (1987)
noted that being surrounded by storybooks and supportive adults helps
children in their active acquisition of literacy much as being
surrounded by oral language is a necessary factor in learning to talk.
Mass (1982) argued that concepts of literacy develop gradually and that
in a natural language environment, saturated with good stories,
meaningful conversations, and abundant writing materials, the process
can begin even before a child goes to school.
Since then, a significant body of research has accumulated on the
topic of reading aloud to children. Teale (1981 a, 1984) mentioned that
we have measured the extent to which reading to children is associated
with their development in language and literacy; tried to elucidate on a
theoretical level certain general consequences of storybook reading
events; examined the relationship between parental style in reading and
the child's performance on certain prereading related tasks;
studied the organization and significance of storybook reading events;
and looked at the processes and consequences of reading to children.
However, Teale (1981a, 1984) also commented that the bulk of the
research has been correlational in design and, as such, only really
scratches the surface of the significance of reading to children. Teale
(1981a.) called for more naturalistic studies that would enable us to
learn more about the variations in the literacy orientations through
analyses of how children are read to. This knowledge may help with
educating schools in how to provide reading and writing instruction
which builds upon the foundation a child brings to school as a result of
his or her socio-cultural experiences. Cochran-Smith (1984) supported
Teale's (1981a, 1984) statement and said, "(P)atterns of
storyreading are cross-nationally and cross-culturally diverse
The current review found a few studies (Scollon and Scollon ,1981;
Heath, 1983; Sulzby and Teale, 1987; Roser, Hoffman, and Farest, 1990)
focusing on the patterns of storyreading at cross-cultural and
cross-national settings. Sulzby and Teale (1987) and Roser, Hoffman, and
Farest (1990) studied read-aloud to children speaking different
languages in particular.
Roser, Hoffman, and Farest (1990) reported their efforts to infuse
quality literature and related instructional strategies into a
traditional reading/language arts program serving primarily limited
English speaking students from economically disadvantaged home
environments. They came to the conclusion that literature-based programs
can be implemented successfully in schools that serve at-risk students.
Further, there is every indication that these students respond to such a
program in the same positive ways as any student would - with enthusiasm
for books, with willingness to share ideas, and with growth in language
and literacy (p.559).
Sulzby and Teale (1987) collaborated in a study of young
children's storybook reading in bilingual classrooms. One cohort
was followed longitudinally from preschool until November of
kindergarten and another was followed throughout kindergarten. Children
in both cohorts were found to increase in emergent reading ability
across time, but children who were in the preschool were not
significantly higher in November of kindergarten compared to
kindergartners who had not been in preschool. The ability of these
children both to listen to and reproduce connected discourse from
storybooks read to them by their teachers was believed to have important
implications for using emergent literacy techniques in bilingual
More than fifteen years have passed since Teale (1981a, 1984)
called for more naturalistic studies. Today we could still benefit from
more naturalistic studies that explore cross-cultural, cross-national
differences of read-aloud to children, especially to children from homes
where different languages are spoken. These studies may help us to
understand the variations of literacy orientations into which children
may get initiated into at home and at school.
II. Significance of Read-Aloud
Trelease (1989) stated that we need to "advertise"
reading. We need to read to our children to entice them and instill in
them the desire to read. Reading aloud is simple. It is fun and
inexpensive, but the benefits are monumental. There is a strong body of
research that documents the importance of reading aloud at home and at
Butler (1980) wrote in Babies Need Books, "I believe that
books should play a prominent part in children's lives from
babyhood; that access to books, through parents and other adults,
greatly increases a child's chances of becoming a happy and
involved human being" (p.vii).
Durkin (1966) reported that children who learned to read before
entering first grade were ones who were read to by siblings, parents, or
another caring adult. Neither race, ethnicity, socioeconomic level, nor
I.Q. distinguished between readers and nonreaders; access to print,
being read to, parents valuing education, and early writing did.
Louszides's (1993) study indicated that a strong background of
being read aloud to beginning during infancy has a positive effect on
children's choices to read independently in their leisure time.
Becher (1986) related,
Galda and Cullinan (1991) also summarized the importance of reading
aloud to children and said,
Although research on classroom story reading is not so extensive,
findings also indicated positive relations between being read to and
school achievement (Teale and Martinez, 1989). Experiences with
storybooks in the classroom also promote interest in reading, language
development and reading achievement, and growth in writing ability
(Galda & Cullinan, 1991).
Feitelson, Kita, and Goldstein (1986) did an experimental study in
which twenty minutes of daily storybook readings were implemented for a
period of six months in three first grade classrooms in a disadvantaged
suburb of Haifa. Children in these experimental classes outscored
children in control classes on measures of decoding, reading
comprehension, and active use of language.
Cochran-Smith (1984), described how storyreading happened in one
preschool class and what the consequences were of the literacy events
that occurred in that classroom. Although the children she studied were
not being taught to read, their interactions with adults around books
did result in the growth of important knowledge about books and print.
Teale (1981 a) summarized the positive relations between early
childhood experience in being read to and literacy development in his
article, and claimed that reading aloud to children promotes: (1)
Language development in prereaders (Burroughs, 1972; Chomsky, 1972;
Foder, 1966; Irwin, 1960; Mackinnon, 1959). (2) Vocabulary development
(Durkin, 1978; Department of education and Science, 1975; Burroughs,
1972; Fodor, 1966; Templin, 1957). (3) Children's eagerness to read
(Mason & Blanton, 1971). (4) Learning to read prior to attending
school (Clark, 1976; Durkin, 1966; Teale, 1978). (5) Success in
beginning reading in school (Moon & Wells, 1979; Walker &
Kuerrbitz, 1979; Durkin, 1978; Wells & Raban, 1978). (p.3)
Research indicates that reading prepares the mind, nurtures the
spirit and educates the soul. It is one of the most influential factors
which parents and teachers can offer children. Reading aloud to young
children offers them a legacy of cognizance and creativity. Storyreading
plays an important role in children's learning.
III. Parent-Child Read-aloud
A. Diverse Styles
Variability in home storybook reading events is now well
documented. There are many different possible ways that one book could
be read to children. What is more, storyreading patterns are
culture-specific and cross-culturally varied (Cochran-Smith, 1984).
Martinez and Teale (1993) pointed out some factors that appear to
be related to the patterns of social interactions that occur during
Guinagh (1971) observed poverty-level mothers as they read to their
preschool children and rated the interactions. Mothers used the same
book. but the interactions were varied, ranging from very thorough and
animated descriptions of each illustration to a perfunctory series of
questions or comments as simple as "See, See" while turning
the pages. Guinagh (1971) also observed how parents introduced books to
children and found that 70 percent of the parents did not do so. A
surprising finding of this study was that 48 percent of the parents did
not read any of the words in the book. His study was limited to
poverty-level mothers and their preschoolers.
Flood (1977) investigated the relationship between parental style
of reading to young children and the child's performance on
selected prereading related tasks. He identified fourteen components of
the parentchild reading episode and found five of them important, 1)
total number of words spoken by child, 2) number of questions answered
by child, 3) number of task-related questions asked by child, 4) warm-up
questions asked by parent, and 5) post-story evaluative questions asked
by parent. He also demonstrated the need for children to be actively
involved with the book from beginning to the end.
Ninio and Brunet (1980) did a 10-month observational study of one
mother and child, and focused on the linguistic and cognitive
development of the child. They found that there is a repeated "book
reading cycle", each consisting of a four-step routine of 1)
attention-getting, 2) query, 3) labeling, and 4) feedback utterance.
They argue that a central element in the achievement of labeling was the
child's mastery of the turn-taking rules that underlay the
bookreading dialogues and "scaffolded" labeling that occurred.
Although Ninio and Bruner's (1978) study involved only one
mother-child dyad, it was one of the systematic and detailed
descriptions of adult-child interactions around books.
Shanahan and Hogan (1983, as cited in Owens, 1992) found that
parents' reading style is highly related to children's print
awareness. Some aspects of reading aloud events are identified as making
unique contributions to children's print awareness: pre-reading
references to the children's prior experiences, answering the
children's questions, and the amount of reading aloud. (p.28)
Roser and Martinez (1985) identified three roles that adults play
as they read aloud to children: co-responders, informers/monitors, and
directors. As co-responders, adults initiated discussions in order to
describe information in the pictures, share personal experiences, relate
the story to the child's life, and encourage the child to respond
similarly. As informers/monitors, adults explained aspects of the
stories, provided information to broaden the children's knowledge,
and evaluated the children's understandings of stories. As
directors, adults introduced stories, announced conclusions, and assumed
leadership roles in discussion.
Thomas (1985) studied 15 early readers and 15 non-early readers for
evidence of linguistic and social interactions in the home that might
account for children learning to read. Thomas found no instances in
which children's questions regarding literacy went unanswered.
While parents of both early and non-early readers read to their
children, parents of early readers read to their children more times
within a day than did parents of non-early readers. Evidence of
scaffolding by parents was found. Parents of early readers structured
dialogue to facilitate the meaning of the printed word as they read
aloud. This study uncovered numerous instances of parent behaviors that
influenced the literacy development of these early readers.
Bus and Van IJzendoorn (1988) examined the relationships among
parent-child interactions and written literacy development. One finding
of the study is that a relationship exists between a high degree of
mother-child security and reading instruction. Securely attached
children tended to explore stories and pictures more than did anxiously
attached children. Another finding is that mothers of children who
scored higher on emerging literacy tests paid less attention to written
texts than other mothers.
There are also researchers who explored the contexts and situations
that introduce children to literacy in various social groups. This kind
of research allows for and invites comparative analysis across
communities and cultures.
Scollon and Scollon (1981, as cited in Cochran-Smith, 1984, p.20)
compared the linguistic socialization and literacy orientation of their
own young daughter with those of several Chipewyan children in Fort
Chipewyan, Alberta (Canada). They suggested that their daughter's
literacy orientation includes the child's view of herself as both
reader and writer and her expectation that reading and writing were
routine parts of her everyday life. It was an orientation quite
different from that of the Chipewyan children, for whom literacy was
primarily the province of the church or the school.
Heath's ten-year research (1983) has raised the question of
possible differences in literacy opportunities at home and at school.
Heath (1983) reported her study of two non-mainstream communities, one
White (Roadville) and one Black (Trackton) in the Piedmont Carolinas,
and "the townspeople" -- the mainstreamers in the same area.
Unlike the children of the townspeople who were middle-class,
school-oriented children from the other two communities had difficulty
in school. Heath suggested that this was due, in part, to the fact that,
upon entering school, children from these two communities had language
strategies that were not supportive of, or consistent with, those needed
for success at school learning tasks.
Studies such as Heath (1983) and Ninio (1980) illustrated the
importance of parent read-aloud styles and patterns on children's
B. Parents' Diary Account
Among others, those who have given us information about
parent-child storybook reading at home are parents who keep diaries of
their children's book experiences. These studies describe early
book preferences, reactions to books, development of book-handling
abilities of children, and suggest that book experiences influence later
attitudes towards reading, and stimulate and broaden young
children's imaginative development. These studies record actual
readings at natural home settings and are different from read-aloud
research usually carried at a laboratory-like setting.
White's (1954) diary of storyreading is the first
comprehensive account of a child's experience with books before
five. She studied her daughter, Carol, for three years beginning when
she was two years old. White described her storyreading experiences with
her daughter and the patterns of literary response that she saw
developing in Carol. The chronological diary entries outline
Carol's gradual learning of the nature of written literature. With
warm and personal descriptions of many of Carol's storyreading and
play experiences, White showed us the mutual enrichment of Carol's
life experiences and book experience. Her study also encouraged us to
look closely at the role of the adult as a storyreader.
Butler (1980) published her study of Cushla, her granddaughter.
Cushla is a child born with physical and perceptual handicaps, and
initially assumed to be mentally retarded. Storybooks, which were first
introduced to Cushla when she was four month old, became her major
therapy. Butler concluded that Cushla's experiences with storybooks
had a profound positive impact on her development since books provide
her with opportunities for language, imaginative and visual development.
Crago's (1983) study of their daughter's book experiences
is a chronological description of the child's primarily preverbal
experiences with books, her reactions to pictorial conventions in
storybook, and her responses to repeated readings of single texts over a
Baghban (1984) reported the results of her study on her daughter,
Gifts reading and writing development from infancy to three. The study
indicated that Giti kept her early reading as social and functional as
her speaking. Her experience with stories aids the predictability
necessary for successful reading and listening, and a model of the
elements in a story aids her composing inherent in writing and speaking.
Baghban's (1979) study showed examples of children displaying
literacy skills, uses of language, and information structures which they
had previously encountered in bookreading episodes.
Although, the parents' diaries offer rich and warm personal
recollections of the book experiences of particular children, we still
need to know the contexts in which the story readings occur.
Cochran-Smith (1984) commented that,
We have yet to look at the familial signification of reading
stories to young children. We need to know more not only of the ways in
which storybook reading helps children to read, but also of the ways in
which such occasions gain significance in family settings. Thus, the
concepts of, and attitudes towards literacy are matters that need to be
investigated and a broad account of context is needed in future parents
and family studies.
The type of books selected would reflect the adult's cultural
theory of literacy and the tasks that define specific social practices.
However, many studies did not determine what influences parents'
selections of reading aloud materials, nor did it answer questions about
parent's perceptions of the influence of the materials used. There
has been a lack of specificity in defining the types of books used in
book reading (Teale, 1984). We will benefit from studies that
investigate the influence of adults' beliefs and assumptions of
literacy on the selections of read-aloud materials.
IV. Teacher-Student Read-aloud
The following researchers have described teacher-student read-aloud
and the variability among teachers' ways of conducting storybook
reading in their classrooms.
Cochran-Smith (1984) described (a) storybook reading in the
community was a negotiated event in which the reader's and
listeners' comments and interactions surrounded the printed and
pictorial information of the text, and (b) the teacher was a significant
mediator between the texts and the children.
Based on the hypothesis that teachers' presentations of
storyreading affect children's literacy learning, Peterman (1988)
examined whether teachers can be trained to provide a structure for
listening to stories and whether this type of presentation would result
in significant gains in children's story understanding. Evidence
gathered revealed that children's story understanding can be
enhanced by storyreading procedures which draw on the children's
own experiences and highlight similar experiences among the story
characters. Focusing on the story grammar elements is also a successful
technique. It appeared that children's story understanding can best
be measured by the recall task, which includes propositions provided in
children's answers to probe questions as well.
Dunning (1992) suggested that young readers' story
understanding is facilitated when their reading instruction centers on
clarifying story characters' internal states such as motives and
Dickinson and Smith (1994) found three patterns of book-reading
experiences in 24 classrooms of four-year old kids: co-constructive, in
which teachers and children engaged in extended conversations that
included cognitively challenging topics about the book being read;
didactic-interactional, in which the teacher encouraged the children to
respond to questions about factual details and to produce portions of
the text in chorus; and performance-oriented, in which the text was
performed by the teacher with very little discussion during the reading
but relatively extended discussion following the reading. They found
larger gains (one year later) by children in the performance-oriented
classrooms than by those in the didactic-interactional rooms. They also
found that children tailored their talks to their teachers' styles,
suggesting that the teacher's style affected how the children
responded to books. The study revealed strong effects of child-involved
analytic talk on vocabulary and modest effects on story understanding.
Martinez and Teale (1993) described the storybook reading styles of
six kindergarten teachers who read the same four storybooks. They
focused on three major facets of style: 1) the focus of the teacher talk
during the story book reading; 2) the type of information that the
teacher and/or the students talked about during the storybook reading;
and 3) the instructional strategies used by the teacher. The study
identified that each of the six teachers had a distinctive storybook
reading style with variations apparent in each of the three major facets
Johnson, Conlon and Smolkin (1990) observed kindergartners to
determine their book preference. The findings suggested that
flap/manipulative books were overwhelmingly selected most frequently (73
times). Picture books were next (37 times) followed by nonfiction (35
times). Mass market books were chosen only 19 times and ABC/counting
books were rarely selected (two times).
One of the few studies found in the review about the relation
between home and school storyreading is Dickinson's studies (1991,
1992). Dickinson (1991, 1992) investigated low-income children's
book reading experiences with their mothers and in group reading in
preschool when the children were three and four years old. Mothers were
significantly more likely than teachers to use extending comments, and
were less likely to use organizational comments. The study concludes
that the patterns of adults' and preschoolers' talk about
books support a model of home-school relationship in which mothers
provide an introduction to bookreading that teachers expand by engaging
children in cognitively challenging discussions.
The review found that studies on reading to children (Tolstoy,
1967; Huey, 1908) started as early as the 19th century. There exists a
strong body of research reporting the significance of reading aloud to
children. Studies on parent-child reading and teacher-student reading
described among other things the different styles and their impact on
children's literacy development. However, the review showed that
there is a need for more studies of naturalistic design, for more
studies exploring the home and school connections, for more studies on
read-aloud to children with a diverse home background, and for more
explorations into cross-cultural and cross-national differences of
read-aloud to children.
The report on what research has to say about the importance of
read-aloud to children points to the significance of the topic. The
review on what researchers found about parent-child read-aloud, and
teacher-student read-aloud provided specific and detailed information on
previous studies in these areas. We hope this literature review will
indicate to researchers what is known in the area and what is missing,
and help to inform their research designs, theoretical framework, data
analysis and so on. We also hope that literacy researchers can learn
from the successes and failures of other researchers investigating
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GUOFANG WAN, PH.D. Assistant Professor Bradley University
Specifically, this practice has been shown to improve children's: (a)
receptive and expressive vocabularies; (b) literal and inferential
comprehension skills; (c) sentence length; (d) letter and symbol
recognition; (e) basic conceptual development extension and expansion; and
(f) general interest in books. Reading to the child is also important
because it promotes a bond between children and parents, and establishes
reading as a valued personal activity, exposes and develops shared topics
of interest, promotes positive social-emotional interactions among family
members, familiarizes children with a variety of language patterns and an
expanded vocabulary, and serves as a source of data from which children
construct knowledge about rules that govern the reading process. (p.90)
Being read to helps develop familiarity with the conventions of print
(Clay, 1979; Doake, 1981; Taylor, 1983) as well as metalinguistic awareness
about the print (Schickedanz,1986). Hearing books read aloud helps develop
children's vocabulary (Ninio, 1980; Ninio & Bruner, 1978). Early exposure
to books in the home helps children come to know two essential things. They
learn how print works and that reading is worth the effort it takes. Being
read to increases young children's knowledge of the world, helping to
provide a broad base of experience from which to comprehend and interpret
other texts (Steffensen, Joag-Dev & Anderson, 1979). (p.530)
The age of the child participants (DeLoache & DeMendza, 1987; Heath, 1983),
the extent to which the child has previously participated in storybook
reading (Bus & van IJzendoorn, 1988); the child's familiarity with the text
being read (Martinez & Roser, 1985; Snow & Goldfield, 1983; Teale & Sulzby,
1987), and the type of text being read (Bus & van IJzendoorn, 1988;
Pellegrini Perimuter, Galda, & Brody, 1990).... Reading is heavily
influenced by the adult who does the reading and scaffolds the interaction
(Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976). (p. 176)
None of the parents accounts present a broad consideration of context,
including both the immediate physical and varying environments, and the
book and story-related beliefs, assumptions, and experiences of
participants. The underlying cultural and social notions of literacy --
what it means to be literate in various cultural or community groups -- are
not accounted. (p.16)