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LIFELONG READING ELEMENT #3
ROLE MODELS

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So far in this series, we have looked at why reading is essential to success at school and to survival in life.  We have seen that reading enables learning.  We have seen that children who read will learn better, learn faster, learn more.  We have seen that readers become readers by reading.  They read because they enjoy reading.  Reading is fun, a lifetime's passport to pleasure and interest and learning.

We are looking at four elements which reading research has shown will increase the likelihood of a child becoming a reader.  The converse is also shown: if a child is deprived of any of these elements, reading and learning become harder.  The child could be disadvantaged.

When we looked at reading aloud, we saw that parents have a vital role to play, from the very earliest years of a child's life.  We saw that reading aloud remains important, through school and beyond school.  The parent's role does not finish once the child starts school, and it does not finish once the child is able to read.  Nor does the teacher's role finish when the child can read.

Reading aloud remains important.  Once the child can read, so does the importance of reading alone.  Children need to be given the opportunity to read alone.  They need encouragement to read alone.  Reading can be a solitary activity, but it does not have to be a lonely activity.  The reading experience can be shared.  Encouragement is best given, shared.  Books are better enjoyed, shared.  The adult continues to play an important role throughout the child's reading career.

Let's look at some of the research.

Jim Trelease cites the MacCracken's project in Huntington, Massachusetts.  An entire Middle School scheduled 25 minutes silent sustained reading twice a week.  Everyone read, from the headteachers and the secretarial staff to the teachers and the students.  What was read was left to the individual, but during those reading periods, everyone read.  Everyone was supposed to read.

The MacCrackens found that attitudes towards reading improved throughout the school, and that standards of work improved.  Neither of these findings will surprise those who read the last article in this series, LIFELONG READING ELEMENT #2 : READING ALONE.  There were a few failures.  But further investigation showed that in most of the classes in which there was no improvement, the teacher had spent the time supervising rather than in reading.

In another study, Ohanian describes how she got her supposedly reluctant readers reading.  One of her strategies was a once-a-week, 50 minute SSR period, in which she read too.  "At first this amazed my students;  most of them had never seen an adult read."

Durkin's study of early readers found that the parents' attitude and sibling influence could both act as motivators.

Moyle's study of teaching methods shows "All the innovations, research and observation over the past few years have not produced a single approach to the teaching of reading which is superior to all others."   Moyle attaches more importance to the teacher than to the teaching method.   "The success achieved for the children will also be relative to the enthusiasm, sympathy and expertise of the teacher, for when the teacher is convinced of the importance of reading skill very few failures are experienced".

In 1991/2, a number of reports on reading standards were published in Great Britain.  The reports were contradictory;  some said that reading standards were improving, some said they were falling.  But there was general agreement on one point:  most of the studies opined that the method used to teach reading may be of less importance than the enthusiasm and commitment of the teacher.  It was suggested that it is the example, the demonstration that books and reading are important, which attracts and motivates the young reader.

Smith says, "There is massive evidence that two groups of people - two kinds of company - together ensure that children learn to read.  The first group is the people who read to children, the first step in ensuring that they 'join the literacy club'.  The simple act of reading to a child puts him or her in the company of people who read, shows what can be done with reading and, most important, it puts the child in the company of authors who take care of the actual teaching of reading...  Authors give control to children.  Children who read independently know they are engaging in interesting and powerful behaviour."

It's not just the school which carries the responsibility.  Reading attitudes within the home are just as important, possibly more important.  We all share responsibility: teachers and parents alike.  If, by our actions, our message says, "Reading does nothing for me", why then should a child bother?  If we say, "You've got to read, it's good for you,"  but don't do it ourselves, then we are saying, "Reading is good for you like spinach is good for you, like medicine is good for you..."

And that means, don't force it.  If your child doesn't read, doesn't enjoy reading, there are several strategies to try, strategies which do work.  But they won't work if we don't play our part.  Remember the MacCrackens, and the teachers who did not read when everyone else did?  Our role as role model is just one of the needed elements, and it's a central and a vital role.

For kids aren't going to read if you don't read.  If the ones they love and respect and admire don't read - why should they?  Come to that, if you don't read, why not?  Do you know what you're missing?  Actually, you're reading this, aren't you?  You do read.  Many non-readers do read.  Several studies show that, very often, those who class themselves as non-readers read, but they do not class what they are doing as reading.  Their parents didn't like them reading paperbacks, or magazines, or whatever - so they never considered that reading these was reading.

So, readers all: read in front of the kids, read to the kids.  Show that you enjoy your reading.  Show that it's important to you.  "We find time for what we value," says Trelease. "If you care enough, you'll find the time."

And what is more, you'll enjoy it.  You'll enjoy the reading experience.  You'll enjoy sharing your reading with the family, part of the family experience.  You'll enjoy seeing those grades improve as your children's language abilities improve, as their imaginations expand, as they grow as people and into people.

Read to the children, read with the children, read alongside the children.  Share the reading experience.  Share your reading time.

If you're not a reader, be prepared for it does take time to gell.  Reading takes practice.  Enjoying reading comes with experience and practice.  Reading for pleasure has to be pleasurable or it isn't reading for pleasure.

If you're not sure what to read, why not ask the advice of a friendly librarian?  You'll find several at the school, willing to help, advise, share.  If your children aren't sure what to read, we're here to help them too.

The views expressed here are my own.
They are not neccessarily the views of the school, nor of individual teachers within the school.

Sources include:

Becoming a nation of readers : the report of the commission on reading. Washington D.C.  U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education, 1985.

Bentley, Diana and Dee Reid.  Read all about it.  Junior Education, September 1992. 16-21.

Cullinan, Bernice E.  Read to me: raising kids who want to read.  New York.  Scholastic, 1992.

Durkin, Dolores.  Children who read early : two longitudinal studies.  New York: Teachers College Press, 1966.

Gawith, Gwen.  Reading alive!  London: A&C Black, 1990.

Krashen, Stephen.   The power of reading : insights from the research. Englewood, CO.  Libraries Unlimited, 1993.

Moyle, Donald.  The teaching of reading.  London. Ward Lock Educational, 1968.

Office of Educational Research and Improvement.  Beginning to read: thinking and learning about print - a summary.  Champaign IL.  University of Illinois, nd.

Ohanian, Susan.  Smuggling reading into the reading program. Learning, November 1981.  44-47.

Smith, Frank.  In the company of authors.  Times Educational Supplement, 23 August 1991, 18/19.

Spink, John.  Children as readers : a study.  London. Bingley/ Library Association, 1989.

Trelease, Jim.  The read-aloud handbook.  Harmondsworth, Middlesex. Penguin, 1984.

Written and copyright John Royce 1995.
 
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John Royce, BA, MLib, ALA
Library Director, Robert College
Arnavutköy, TR-80820 Istanbul, Turkey.

The URL of this page is http://www.read2live.com/read5.htm
It was last revised on 5 January 2001.