READING ALOUD TO CHILDREN: THE PAST, THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE.
Subject:
Oral reading (Research)
Reading, Psychology of (Analysis)
Reading (Study and teaching)
Language arts (Research)
Developmental reading (Methods)
Author:
WAN, GUOFANG
Pub Date:
12/22/2000
Publication:
Name: Reading Improvement Publisher: Project Innovation (Alabama) Audience: Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2000 Project Innovation (Alabama) ISSN: 0034-0510
Issue:
Date: Winter, 2000 Source Volume: 37 Source Issue: 4
Geographic:
Geographic Code: 00WOR World

Accession Number:
69964878
Full Text:
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 received recognition.

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 school," (p.viii).

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 children's literacy.

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 arisen.

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 (p.8)."

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 classrooms.

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 school.

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 storyreading,

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 literacy development.

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 long period.

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 feelings.

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 of style.

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.

Conclusion

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 similar phenomena.

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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)
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