10 posts categorized "Read-Aloud Handbook" Feed

Reading Aloud to Kids Builds Background Knowledge

I recently read the 7th edition of Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook (more details here). The section (in Chapter 1) on Background Knowledge stood out for me. Trelease says: 

"Background knowledge is one reason children who read the most bring the largest amount of information to the learning table and thus understand more of what the teacher of the textbook is teaching... For the impoverished child lacking the travel portfolio of affluence, the best way to accumulate background knowledge is by either reading or being read to." (Page 13-14)

There is no question that my daughter has acquired background knowledge from books. Recently we were in the parking lot at the grocery store, and a taxi cab passed by. My daughter said: "Look! A taxi cab! I've never seen one in real life before." (Forgetting various airport trips, I guess.) She had, however, seen a taxi cab in Night Light by Nicholas Blechman. And despite the one in the book having been somewhat stylized, the rendition was accurate enough for my Baby Bookworm to know one when she saw it. 

Do you have examples of ways that your child has used books to build background knowledge? Or is this so pervasive that you don't even notice? 

See also my related post about making connections between books and day-to-day life, from this year's Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour. 

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate. 


Literacy Milestone: First Early Chapter Book Completed

LiteracyMilestoneAI shared a while back the fact that my daughter and I were dabbling with chapter books, as an adjunct to a read-aloud diet consisting mainly of picture books. I'm pleased to report that this week we finished our very first early chapter book. I had read a few middle grade titles to her when she was a baby (The Secret Garden, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Penderwicks, the complete Winnie the Pooh), but it's not like my daughter was following the plots or anything at that point. We'd also read (and re-read) quite a few easy readers (mostly series titles featuring characters she is already familiar with). But this is the first longer book that she listened to, cover to cover.  

On the recommendation of Jim Trelease in The Read-Aloud Handbook, I ordered a copy of Two Times the Fun by Beverly Cleary. Two Times the Fun is a 96 page book, aimed at a reading audience of 6 to 9 years old (probably more on the earlier end of that). I found it perfect for my 3 1/2 year old listener. Two Times the Fun is about preschool-age twins, Jimmy and Janet and the ordinary events of early childhood. Jimmy digs a big hole, Jimmy and Janet go to the shoe store, that sort of thing.  

I think the key to this book was that my daughter could relate to the twins' experiences. This enabled her to listen, even though we would sometimes go a couple of page spreads without seeing a single illustration. In fact, she ended up not paying particularly close attention to the illustrations at all. She moved around her room instead. But she kept listening. 

Two Times the Fun consists of four independent chapters (basically short stories). We read the first two chapters in one sitting, and the next two chapters in two separate sittings, over about a four day total time period. She remembered details between readings, like who Mr. Lemon was (the highly affable mailman). And she loved it when I would point out similarities between the characters in the book and herself ("Do you know anyone who likes to pretend like Janet does?" "Me!"). 

I liked that Two Times the Fun wasn't message-y. It's classic Beverly Cleary, albeit for the youngest of readers, with regular kids doing regular things. There wasn't much vocabulary that I had to define for my daughter. A few times I started to explain what an expression meant, but found that "Mother" was explaining that to the twins on the next page, anyway. All in all, Two Times the Fun was a just-right fit for us. I only wish that there were more books about Jimmy and Janet. 

Incidentally, I've started a page, as well as a sidebar list, to keep track of chapter books that we finish. Right now the list numbers 1. But we're off to a great start! I'll keep you posted. 

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate. 


Idea for Increasing Your Child's Literacy: A Rear-Facing Stroller

I'm sharing some ideas that I picked up from a recent read of the 7th edition of Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook (more details here). In Chapter One, Trelease proposes "one inexpensive, commonsense move that parents could make that would impact their children's language skills". The simple idea is to purchase a rear-facing stroller. Turns out that:

"Researchers (of parents using rear-facing strollers) found it makes a huge difference in how much conversation takes place between parent and child--twice as much when the child faces the parent." (Page 17)

The larger idea is that talking with your child is one of the ways that you help to build your child's vocabulary (on which much of the success of their future education rests). So, if you are regularly taking your infant out for walks in a stroller, using a rear-facing stroller increases your opportunity to engage with the child. Such a simple idea, but one that could make a big difference. (Obviously, this is less practical with a curious 2 year old who wants to see the world, even if you could find a rear-facing stroller). 

We actually did have a rear-facing stroller when my daughter was an infant (it was like the one shown above, where the car seat snaps into a base). But I must admit that was luck (and generous friends). Have any of you deliberately tried using a rear-facing stroller, so that you'll talk more with your baby?

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate. 


Actions I'm Taking After Reading the New Read-Aloud Handbook

I've included some general responses to my recent reading of the 7th edition of Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook in a separate post. Here, I'm sharing the bits that motivated me to want to take a specific action, and/or change something that I'm doing, in terms of my daughter's reading experience.

Mind you, I'm already reading to my daughter (now 3 1/2) regularly. She visits the library, and chooses her own books. We have books in the car, and we take books with us when we go on trips. We read mostly picture books, but are dabbling in early readers, and even dipping our toes into chapter books. I've read at least two earlier editions of The Read-Aloud Handbook, as well as various other titles on this subject, and I'm confident that we're doing a reasonable job already. 

Still, I found some useful take home messages, places where I think we can do a little bit better. Like these:

Perform Repeat Reads of the Same Book

"Research shows that even when children reach primary grades, repeated picture book reading of the same book (at least three times) increases vocabulary acquisition by 15 to 40 percent, and the learning is relatively permanent." (Page 10, Chapter 1)

The immediate take-home message for me on this is to make sure that we do read new picture books at least three times (unless we dislike them, of course). This isn't much of a problem with books that we own, but sometimes the big stack of library books goes back with books that were only read once or twice. I guess mostly this is a reminder of being patient about re-reads. 

Fill More Book Baskets

Another thing that Trelease advocates is the placement of book baskets in strategic locations throughout the house. I did this when my daughter was younger, but I haven't updated the baskets and locations recently. I need to stock a basket for the bathroom, and figure out a way to keep books closer to the kitchen table. This is going to tie in with another project that we're just starting - putting aside some of the board books (sob!), which currently fill the baskets. 

Get A Bedside Lamp

A related idea, Trelease also suggests buying your child a bed lamp, and letting them stay up 15 minutes later if they are reading in bed. We're not quite ready for this idea in my house yet (we tend to read to her until she falls asleep), but a bed lamp is clearly something that we're going to need soon.  

Read More Poetry

Trelease also talks about the need to read aloud stories that rhyme (Chapter Two). I haven't been as good about reading my daughter poetry as I would like. She's now starting to play with rhyming herself (and has just discovered tongue-twisters), and I think it's time for us to add more poetry to our repertoire. 

Always Say the Title and Name of the Author

In Chapter 4: The Dos and Don'ts of Read-Aloud, Trelease says:

"Before you begin to read, always say the name of the book, the author, and the illustrator--no matter how many times you have read the book." (Page 74)

I used to be very good about this, and had been letting it go a bit lately. This reminder has already gotten me back on track with attribution. I also like to say where the book came from, if it was a gift. 

Read More Slowly

Another reminder from Chapter 4, always good to hear again:

"The most common mistake in reading aloud--whether the reader is a seven-year-old or a forty-year-old--is reading too fast. Read slowly enough for the child to build mental pictures of what he just heard you read. Slow down enough for the children to see the pictures in the book without feeling hurried. Reading quickly allows no time for the reader to use vocal expression." (Page 75)

I think it's always tempting for adults to read quickly, and get through more books. There's a feeling of accomplishment if we read five books tonight before bed. But reading them better, more slowly, with more expression and discussion, is clearly better in the long run. I'm going to work on this.

Chart Reading Progress

My daughter loves to look at her growth chart, and see how much she's grown. Trelease advocates creating a home or school wall chart so that kids can see how much they've read. He says that:

"images of caterpillars, snakes, worms, and trains work well for this purpose, with each section representing a book. Similarly, post a world or U.S. wall map, on which small stickers can be attached to locations where your books have been set." (Page 76)

I especially like the map idea, because we LOVE maps in my house. I'll have to think about the best way to do this. US map? World map? Both? 

Initiate Home Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) Time

Trelease suggests setting aside time each day for the child to read by herself (even if she is just flipping through books that she can't yet read). He adds: "All your read-aloud motivation goes for naught if time is not available to put that motivation into practice." (Page 77)

We've done this informally, especially in the car. But I like the idea of having a designated quiet self-reading time. I'm happy to also use the time to model reading, by reading my own book. I'll have to think about how this could be integrated into our schedule. 

Spend Less Time Pecking Away on My Phone

I don't have one quote for this, but a number of references in The Read-Aloud Handbook have affirmed something that I've been concerned about for a while. I spend too much time looking at things on my phone, in my daughter's presence. I'd rather either be present with her, or have her see me reading books (or newspapers or magazines). If I am going to read electronically, I prefer to do it on the Kindle Paperwhite, which is only for reading books. I always call this my "Kindle Book", to reinforce the idea that when she sees me with it, I am reading.  

Continue Limiting TV Time, and Turn On the Closed Captioning

Trelease has a whole chapter on the impact of television and audio on kids and reading. I've been determined since before she was born that my daughter will not have a television set in her bedroom (and I won't have one in mine, either). We currently only allow her to watch television on weekends (though she does sneak in a bit of extra time on the iPad during the week sometimes). But she's like an addict, constantly asking if it's the weekend, and then binging on movies when it is. 

I'm particularly struck by the results of a study that found looked at children's schooling level by age twenty-six vs. the amount of television watched in childhood. "Children who viewed less than one hour a day were the most likely to achieve a college degree." (Page 147) Another study suggested "no detrimental effects on learning (and some positive effects) from TV viewing up to ten hours per week; however, after that, the scores begin to decline. The average student today watches three times the recommended dosage." (Page 148)

I'm not going to make any changes right now, besides turning on the closed captioning (something that Trelease has recommended for years, so that kids SEE the words). But I'm going to keep an eye on how many hours of TV watching creep in over the weekends. Just as soon as the baseball playoffs are over, anyway. 

Limit iPad Time When Traveling

We don't have a portable DVD player, or a DVD player in the car, and I don't see much need for one. But we have downloaded a few select movies onto the iPad. We've found this useful for long car trips, or other times when we need a break. (Most recently, when we brought our daughter along on a wine tasting trip to Napa.) I'm not prepared to give this up - it's been awfully handy on long flights. But I do take this point by Trelease into account:

"The recent addition of the DVD player to family transportation does nothing but deprive the child of yet another classroom: conversation with parents or the shared intellectual experience of listening to an audiobook communally." (Page 154)

I don't think that  my daughter is quite ready to follow along with an audiobook, but I do plan to use them for car trips when I think that she's ready. In the meantime, I'm going to work on talking more, and resorting to the iPad less, especially in the car (though I won't give it up entirely). 

Conclusion

A pretty fine list of actions to take, considering that this is at least the third edition I've read of The Read-Aloud Handbook (out of 7 published editions). Trelease has said that this will be the last edition that he writes, which makes me sad. But I'm very happy to have this one. 

How about you all? Have you read The Read-Aloud Handbook? Has it affected your efforts to grow bookworms in your own household? I'd love it if you would share. 

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate. 


The Read-Aloud Handbook: Seventh Edition: Jim Trelease

Book: The Read-Aloud Handbook: Seventh Edition
Author: Jim Trelease
Pages: 384
Age Range: Adult nonfiction (for parents and teachers)

The 7th Edition of Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook was published in June. I pre-ordered my copy, and it arrived that day, but various things kept me from reading it until this week. I reviewed the previous edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook in 2010, having also read an earlier version before starting my blog. I was fortunate enough to hear Jim speak to parents at the Santa Clara City Library in January of 2007. My notes from that session are here. I have referenced Jim's work on encouraging reading aloud to children many times over the course of my blogging. So you may consider this more a recommendation and discussion than a formal review. 

Let me first state for the record that I believe that all parents of young children should read The Read-Aloud Handbook, as should all elementary and middle school teachers. The Read-Aloud Handbook started out as a little booklet that the author self-published in 1979 to encourage other parents to read aloud, and talk about books, with their kids. It became a phenomenon, was picked up by Penguin, and was named by Penguin in 2010 as one of the seventy-five most important books published in the company's 75 year history. It certainly had an impact on me, though I first read it long before I had a child of my own.

GBMantraThe Read-Aloud Handbook posits that instead of focusing on test-prep, flashcards, and the like, what parents and schools need to do to improve life-long levels of literacy and critical thinking, is simply read aloud to kids. I obviously agree (and posted the Read-Aloud Mantra to the left several weeks ago on my blog). 

More than 30 years after initial publication, The 7th Edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook retains Trelease's passion for reading to kids, but has a lot more references and research. The 7th Edition is about 40% changed from the 6th Edition, with new research findings, book recommendations, and discussions of the impact of eBooks and tablets. Even as someone who had read earlier editions (and follows published research studied pretty closely), once I started reading this book, I couldn't put it down. I finished it in about a day (it helps that nearly half of the book consists of a treasury of recommended read-aloud titles, which I only skimmed). 

My reading of this edition was certainly colored by the fact that I have a three-year-old daughter who I very much hope grows up to be an avid reader. I flagged a mix of items throughout the book - interesting things that I might want to share on the blog, as well as action items for myself (like getting around to putting a basket of picture books in the bathroom). I'll share some of the former here, and put the latter into a separate post. 

Here are some of the many quotes that I flagged:

"Why are students failing and dropping out of school? Because they cannot read well enough to do the assigned work--which affects the entire report card. Change the reading scores and you change the graduation rate and then the prison population--which changes the social climate of America." (Page xxvi, Introduction) 

"If we're waiting for government to save our reading souls, we've got a long wait. Ultimately it will come down to the individual student, parent, teacher, and librarian." (Page xxix, Introduction)

"One factor hidden in the decline of students' recreational reading (as they get older) is that it coincides with a decline in the amount of time adults read to them. By middle school, almost no one is reading aloud to students. If each read-aloud is a commercial for the pleasures of reading, then a decline in advertising would naturally be reflected in a decline in students' recreational reading." (Page 6, Chapter 1)

"Students who read the most also read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest. Conversely, those who don't read much cannot get better at it." (Page 7)

"What motivates children and adults to read more is that (1) they like the experience, (2) they like the subject matter, and (3) they like and follow the lead of people who read a lot." (Page 10)

"The message in this kind of research (especially the Hart and Risley study on Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children) is unambiguous: It's not the toys in the home that make the difference in children's lives; it's the words in their heads. The least expensive thing we can give a child outside of a hug turns out to be the most valuable: words. You don't need a job, a checking account, or even a high school diploma to talk with a child." (Page 16)

 "Here is a crucial fact to consider in the reading and writing connection. Visual receptors in the brain outnumber auditory receptors 30:1. In other words, the chances of a word (or sentence) being retained in our memory bank are thirty times greater if we see it instead of just hear it." (Page 43, Chapter Two). 

"So how do we educate the heart? There are really only two ways: life experience and stories about life experience, which is called literature. Great preachers and teachers--Aesop, Socrates, Confucius, Moses, and Jesus--have traditionally used stories to get their lesson plans across, educating both the mind and the heart." (Page 45)

 "(Expectation of Reward / Effort Required) = Frequency of Activity... When you maintain strong reward factors and lower the number of difficulties, you will see a higher frequency of reading... If you really want to get more reading done, then take control of the distractions: needless trips to the mall, phone calls, multiple televisions, DVD players, e-mails, computer games--each calling for immediate attention or multi-tasking." (Page 84-86, Chapter 5)

"Make sure you, the adult role model, are seen reading daily. It works even better if you read at the same time as the child." (Page 92, Chapter 5)

(On applying Oprah's example of generating enthusiasm for books) "What can we apply from this to our work with children? Well, let's eliminate not all but much of the writing they're required to do whenever they read. ("The more we read, the more we gotta write, so let's read less and we can work less.") We adults don't labor when we read, so why are we forcing children to? It hasn't created a nation of writers or readers." (Page 103, Chapter 5)

"It's difficult to get good at reading if you're short of print. Government programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top ensure that children who are behind in reading are entitled to after-school tutoring and extra help with phonics. Nice. But giving phonics lessons to kids who don't have any print in their lives is like giving oars to people who don't have a boat -- you don't get very far." (Page 107, Chapter 6)

"By the reckoning of its own Department of Education, California's ratio of school librarian to student ranks fifty-first in the nation, with 1 librarian for every 5,124 students, more than five times the national average of 1 to 916. Even the state's adult prison system does better, with 1 librarian to 4,283 inmates." (Page 109). Sigh!

(On reading blogs, tablets, social networks instead of books) "Reading, when it's done today, doesn't go very deep, and it's so private it's invisible. The trouble is, how do you pass invisible torches? How do you pose as an invisible role model?"

"...the e-book is here to stay, for very legitimate reasons. It's a win-win situation: a moneymaker for the publisher and a money saver for the buyer. It also saves time, space, student spines, and trees, to say nothing of what it does for the visually impaired." (Page 131, Chapter 7)

"The research clearly shows that we read more slowly (6 to 11 percent) from a screen than from paper. As with automobile driving, humans may get better and faster at e-reading over the years--but that could take generations." (Page 133) I did not know this, and found it fascinating.

"So what happens to the creative process when there is no disconnect time, when we and our children are constantly downloading, uploading, texting, YouTubing, Googling, or tweeting our 742 "friends"? Less "deep thinking" takes place, less creativity." (Page 139)

"It is not so much what children are doing while they watch multiple hours of TV; it is the experiences they are not having that make the viewing so dangerous." (Page 142, Chapter 8)

"A California professor, Jo Stanchfield, once told me that girls tend to be extrinsically motivated in their reading (favoring the choices of their peers, mom, and teacher), while boys are intrinsically motivated (favoring what they themselves are interested in). I agree. Call it selfish or pragmatic, but guys are drawn more to what interests them, not what interests the crowd." (Page 169, Chapter 10)

There's lots more to the book, obviously, but those quotes should be more than sufficient to give you a feel, and hopefully inspire you to want to read the rest. I feel that if you have kids, or you work with kids, you should read The Read-Aloud Handbook. If you feel like you don't have time, at least read the introduction, which sums up many of the findings discussed throughout the book. The Kindle edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook is $7.99, and you can read it on your phone. (I prefer the print edition for things like this, that I'm going to refer back to, but if cost or time is an object, e-books have advantages.) 

I'm pulling out a few other ideas from this edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook, and will be sharing them as separate posts in the coming days. I welcome your feedback. 

Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Source of Book: Purchased

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© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


The Read-Aloud Handbook: Jim Trelease

Book: The Read-Aloud Handbook: Sixth Edition
Author: Jim Trelease
Pages: 432
Age Range: Adult nonfiction 

ReadAloudHandbook I've recommended Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook many times, but I've never actually reviewed it. I recently re-read the book (inspired in part by Dawn Morris' comments after her first reading of the book), and thought that I would share a few thoughts. This is more a reaction than a formal review.

First of all, I agree with Dawn that this is a book that everyone should read. Or at least every parent and teacher, aunt, uncle, or grandparent should read it, along with anyone else who has an interest in the well-being and future success of children. I also agree with Teacherninja Jim, who commented on a recent Booklights post of mine that a copy of this book should be sent home from the hospital with every new parent.

The Read-Aloud Handbook is about why it's important for children to grow up as readers, and how parents and teachers can help to accomplish this goal. My earlier reading of The Read-Aloud Handbook helped inspire me to start this blog in the first place. The Read-Aloud Handbook blends the author's personal experiences as a parent, lecturer, and advocate of reading with extensive research.

The primary arguments of The Read-Aloud Handbook are (and I'm paraphrasing for simplicity):

  • Kids spend 900 hours a year inside of school, and 7800 hours a year outside of school. It's short-sighted to put all of the responsibility of encouraging kids as readers on the schools. Parents can play a huge role by reading to their kids, making sure that they have access to books in the home, and modeling reading behavior. (Introduction)
  • The only way to really drive change is to launch a huge national awareness campaign (like the one against smoking), telling parents what they should and must do in the home, if they want to prepare their children for success in today's world. This is unlikely to happen, however, because politicians are reluctant to hold the huge voting block of parents accountable. (Introduction)
  • The National Reading Panel found that "the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for success in reading is reading aloud to children." (Page 3) This applies at home and in schools.
  • Among the many reasons to read aloud to kids, one of the most important is that it helps them to associate reading with pleasure. Human beings are by nature pleasure-centered -- we will voluntarily do things repeatedly if we get pleasure from them. And because reading is an accrued skill, spending repeated time reading is what enables us to get good at it.

Here are a couple of quotes that particularly stood out for me on this reading (out of many that I could have chosen):

"Reading is the ultimate weapon, destroying ignorance, poverty, and despair before they can destroy us. A nation that doesn't read much doesn't know much. And a nation that doesn't know much is more likely to make poor choices in the home, the marketplace, the jury box, and the voting booth. And those decisions ultimately affect an entire nation--the literate and the illiterate." (Page xxvi)

"The last thirty years of reading research confirms this simple formula--regardless of sex, race, nationality, or socioeconomic background. Students who read the most also read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest. Conversely, those who don't read much cannot get better at it.

Why don't students read more? Because of Reading Fact No. 1 (Human beings are pleasure centered). The large number of "unpleasure messages they received throughout their school years, coupled with the lack of pleasure messages in the home, nullify any attraction books might have." (Page 5)

After framing the arguments for raising kids who like to read, and using reading aloud as a tool to facilitate this, Trelease goes on to talk about when to begin (and end) reading aloud, the developmental stages of reading aloud, and some nuts-and-bolts dos and don'ts of reading aloud. These early chapters (especially Chapter 4, which consists of nothing but bulleted lists of dos and don'ts) are the ones that I would most encourage parents to read. If you have time for nothing else, read the Introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 4. This could help you to change your child's life for the better.

The later chapters get a bit more into specifics like sustained silent reading programs in schools; the effect of Oprah, Harry Potter, and the Internet; and limiting television. All of this is useful, just not quite as essential for parents as the first few chapters. I especially enjoyed the fact that Trelease intersperses his research findings with personal anecdotes, some from his own family (reading aloud to his kids while they did the dishes), and others from people he met along the way. For me, these stories often resonated more than the fact-based research.

The book ends with a "giant treasury of great read-alouds", classified by genre. The treasury takes up about 40% of the book, and is more of a reference than something that you need to read page by page. It's a great starting point, though the author also talks in the text about other ways to find books to read. [He doesn't mention the Kidlitosphere, but I'll bet that he would if there was a new edition in the future.]

The edition that I read this week was the sixth (and most recent) edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook, published in 2006. Because Trelease references so many studies on reading and literacy, it's perhaps inevitable that at four years old, the book does occasionally feel dated. At least, it does to me, someone who is constantly reading news stories about the latest and greatest reading studies. Ironically, if the book was less extensively researched and referenced, this wouldn't stand out so much (e.g. if he was just talking about his own experience, rather than tying things to concrete studies).

I do think that Trelease did a good job with this edition overall (I've also read the fourth edition), keeping many of the anecdotes that give the book its heart, but also updating to include web references, discussions about the impact of the Internet, etc. Jim is retired now, and I'm not sure whether or not there will ever be a later edition of the book. But in the meantime, I'm happy to report that the Sixth Edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook holds up well. I have every expectation of continuing to give it as a gift to new parents in the future. I hope that some of you will consider reading it, and giving it to others, too. The Read-Aloud Handbook has my highest recommendation.

Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: July 25, 2006
Source of Book: Bought it
Other Blog Reviews: Moms Inspire Learning, ABC and 123, The Homeschool Den. See also my notes from a talk that Jim Trelease gave in Santa Clara, CA. See also a personal story of the impact of this book at Original Content.

© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).


A Public Information Campaign for Read-Aloud

ShareAStoryLogo-color At the end of January, I wrote a post in which I asked: "What do you all say to the idea of some sort of international campaign to encourage reading aloud to kids?" That post generated tons of interesting discussion, both in the comments and on other blogs. The enthusiasm of the resulting discussion helped to inspire this week's Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour (lovely logo to the left designed by Elizabeth O. Dulemba).

Share a Story - Shape a Future covers a broad spectrum of ways to share the joy of reading with children. All week long, participating blogs will share practical ideas for reading aloud, selecting books, using libraries as a resource, and using audiobooks and ebooks, among other related topics. I'm looking forward to reading those posts and participating in the discussions. 

But I'd also like to take a step back to discuss again the idea of an international campaign to encouraging reading aloud with kids. Or, more specifically, a public information campaign about the importance of read-aloud. Something akin to the "back to sleep" campaign, which educated people about the safety benefits of putting babies to sleep on their backs. I first heard this idea (of having a public information campaign) from Read-Aloud Handbook author Jim Trelease, in a talk that he held at the Santa Clara City Library. My imagination remains captured by the idea. A number of commenters on my original post supported this idea, too (like Karen, MotherReaderCari, Francie Dillon, Jennifer from Snapshot, Marjorie from PaperTigers, Cheryl Rainfield, TeacherNinja, and KBookwoman, to name a few). Today, I'd like to explore this idea in a bit more detail.

For the record, I think that reading aloud with children is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition. The real goal is to help raise children who enjoy reading. Because if they enjoy reading, they'll spend more time at it, and a host of other benefits will follow. Share a Story - Shape a Future will be addressing a number of other way to work towards the goal of raising readers, in addition to read-aloud. Having books in the home, modeling reading behavior, letting kids read books that excite them, making time for reading despite busy schedules -- all of these things are essential, too.

But here's the thing. If you're going to have a public information campaign to get the word out about something, the message needs to be something straightforward and easy to follow. Just saying "try to raise kids who love reading" isn't enough. It doesn't give people help with how to DO that. Telling parents and teachers and school administrators that reading aloud with kids offers benefits to last a lifetime, in contrast, is pretty concrete. And I think that if more people did read aloud with kids (using the broadest possible definition of "read aloud WITH", to include audiobooks, the child doing the reading, etc.), tremendous benefits would follow.

In a recent address to Congress, President Obama said (emphasis mine -- Matt Ferraguto from Reach Out and Read sent me the quote):

"In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a parent, for a mother or father who will attend those parent-teacher conferences, or help with homework, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, read to their child."

I found this very encouraging, as did, I'm sure, many of you. But that was one mention buried in the middle of one speech. Those of us who were looking for it were heartened by it. But as a message, I think that it deserves more attention than a busy President can give to any one issue. I also got a comment, back on my original post about the campaign for read-aloud, in which Mimsy said:

"I think what is needed is to get someone prominent on board who will make this a priority, say Michelle Obama. If Oprah had a show with her and Jim Trelease I think you'd see results the next day, especially if Mrs. Obama took up the cause and kept it constantly in the media. If a respected educational group contacted her proposing this maybe something wonderful could happen. The follow up would be TV spots, and not just on PBS, showing the rock stars and wrestlers reading to their children. We do what we find pleasurable. What is needed is to get people to try it so that with luck they will find they enjoy it."

Some of the other commenters mentioned above said similar things, but I thought that Mimsy summarized one potential action plan quite concisely. So here are my questions for you:

 

  1. Do you think that a public information campaign about the importance of read-aloud makes sense?
  2. If so, who would you suggest as a prominent spokesperson to bring attention to this cause?

There are lots of other implementation issues, of course. As Becky Levine pointed out: "The biggest question... is WHERE do you take this message/slogan/education--to reach the families/kids who aren't in school yet (which is when they need to be caught) and who aren't already going to the libraries." Susan from Chicken Spaghetti echoed this message. As Janice Robertson, Elaine Magliaro, Cari from Book Scoops, and Amy from My Friend Amy all pointed out, there's the need to help people who get the importance of read-aloud, but don't feel comfortable doing it. And as Liz in Ink, Tif, and Janelle suggested, getting more doctors and day care providers on board would help. And yes, there are many other aspects of raising readers to be addressed, too.

But, for today, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on whether this public information campaign approach makes sense in general, and if so, who would be the perfect spokesperson to advocate for reading aloud with kids.

Sue_steph1Please do check out the rest of the Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour this week! It's going to be amazing! (Image to the left created by Susan Stephenson, The Book Chook, who is hosting Day 3, Read Aloud Day. Terry Doherty from The Reading Tub, founder of the literacy blog tour, helped me in brainstorming ideas for this post.)

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

 


Jim Trelease Talk: My Notes

As I mentioned on Wednesday, Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, spoke Tuesday night at the Santa Clara City Library. I had the opportunity to help host the event (on behalf of the Foundation and Friends of the Library, with thanks to National Semiconductor for their sponsorship), and to talk with the speaker before the presentation.

Here are my detailed notes from the presentation. You can doubtless find most of this in The Read-Aloud Handbook, but it was nice to hear it as a talk, and learn what the author thinks are the most important highlights (at least for a suburban parent and teacher audience). Of course these notes are further filtered by what I thought was important, and what I wrote down, and what I write here cannot be taken as Jim's official opinions.

  • Literacy score charts by family income level show that kids from lower income families start out at a disadvantage. However, the low income kids who read a lot are able to do some catching up with the more privileged kids over time. The kids who end up doing best in school, in both math and English, are the kids who read the most. This is because of Trelease Fact #1: Reading is an accrued skill, and the more you do, the better you get at it. This is why, as a parent, you want your kids to be readers.
  • Trelease Fact #2: People will only do things over and over again that they enjoy. Jim talked of "building pleasure bridges" between your child and reading, and showed a quote from a 1985 study by literacy experts that concluded that reading aloud is the "single most important activity" that parents can undertake. He also said that if a child has never seen anyone read for fun, the chance of that child reading for fun is "slim to none." By reading aloud to your kids, you give them the pleasure of your attention, and you model for them every day that you think reading is enjoyable and important.
  • Jim talked quite a bit about a study called Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, by Betty Hart and Todd Risley. There is a 300 page report that was published in 1995, but you can also find a nice (free) synopsis here, written by the authors, published in American Educator. The authors (quotes are from the article) spent "2 1/2 years of observing 42 families for an hour each month to learn about what typically went on in homes with 1- and 2-year-old children learning to talk." They extrapolated from the resulting data, and estimated that "in four years ... an average child in a professional family would have accumulated experience with almost 45 million words, an average child in a working-class family would have accumulated experience with 26 million words, and an average child in a welfare family would have accumulated experience with 13 million words." The challenge that the school systems have is in catching up the lower income children on this vast 30 million word deficit.
  • Jim expressed his opinion that it's a much bigger problem than the school systems can or should have to handle, especially given the size of the deficit in words once the kids start school. He also discussed globalization, and the fact that American kids are going to have to compete not just with other American kids but with kids from all over the world. He suggested that we need some sort of national campaign to inform people all over the country of the importance of exposing their kids to more words every day, and encouraging them to enjoy reading. He gave an analogy to the campaign that was used to successfully cut the incidence of smoking in this country by 50% over 40 years, a combination of informing people, scaring people, and insulting people, and thinks that we need to try something similar in American homes re: reading.
  • He acknowledged the fact that it's hard for parents who themselves don't have those words to pass them along to their kids, especially if they can't afford books, or can't read. He made a big plug for visiting your local library, and also suggested books on tape for parents who have trouble reading themselves. But he's not letting these parents off the hook. He stressed that books are a value system, and that you tell kids that reading is important by doing it, no matter who you are. He was very blunt about the fact that we can't spare parents' feelings in this area, because what we really should be worrying about is the success of the children, not the feelings of the parents.
  • He emphasized giving kids books purely for pleasure, especially as kids get older and have more homework. Because kids have to study a lot of books, it's very important to give them "fun stuff" to balance that out.
  • Jim also strongly emphasized the need to keep reading aloud to kids, even after they are already able to read on their own. This continues to tell kids that you think that reading, and the kids themselves, are important. More important to you than watching your favorite TV shows, for example. He recommended reading aloud to pre-teens and teens while they do chores, like the dishes, because it can be difficult to find other read-aloud time with them. He had a picture of himself doing this with his son many years ago, to prove that he speaks from experience.
  • In reading aloud to six and seven year olds, he cautioned parents not to insult their children by reading aloud from simple picture books that the kids could read themselves. Kids have a much higher listening vocabulary than listening vocabulary, and so parents should read them more advanced books. You might have to work up to the more advanced books gradually, as the child's attention level increases, but he thought that four and five year olds could handle, in small doses, chapter books like Stuart Little, The Cricket in Times Square, and Mr. Popper's Penguins. He said that by reading good books aloud to your kids you can "stretch their attention spans without danger of stress fractures."
  • While he strongly supports libraries, Jim recommended buying books for kids, too. He pointed out that books are inexpensive when compared to the cable bill, dinner out, etc. He also pointed out that used books, funnily enough, have the same words in them that the new books do. He said that if you can only afford to buy one book for your child, you should get Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends. (I would agree with this, based on my niece's reaction to this book.)
  • He advocated getting kids the three B's: books, book baskets, and a bed lamp. Book baskets are collections of books that you put in places where the child spends time, like the bathroom, near the kitchen table, and in the car. Bed lamps are so that the child can read in bed comfortably, thus again associating books with comfort and pleasure.
  • Jim's final point was about television. He attributes much of the relative decline of boys' school performance since the 1970s on the prevalence of televised sports (ESPN, etc.). While he acknowledged that there are some positive shows on television, overall he thinks that TV "eats time voraciously." If you want your kids to read, you have to control the amount of television that they watch. He showed results from a study that found that kids who don't have TVs in their bedrooms have higher reading and math scores than kids who do. And in a final, interesting suggestion, he said that if you are going to let your kids watch TV, you should turn on the closed captioning. Finnish television for kids is mostly closed captioned (because the shows are imported), and despite not learning to read until the age of seven, Finnish kids have very high reading scores. By turning on the closed captioning, you end up with the equivalent of with much more printed material in the home.
  • Jim concluded with a few book recommendations: Nina Crews' Mother Goose books, which feature children of different races; Pio Peeps, nursery rhymes in Spanish; The Day the Babies Crawled Away, about naughty children; Uncle John's Bathroom Reader for Kids Only, to entertain any 12-year-old boy; My Father's Dragon; the Junie B. Jones books (in spite of people's complaints about her grammar); James and the Giant Peach; and Emily Rodda's Deltora Quest series (perfect for kids who like fantasy, and aren't quite ready for Harry Potter).

I hope that you find some of this to be food for thought. But really, these are just the highlights. If you're interested in this information (and you must be, if you've read this far), I highly recommend that you get yourself a copy of The Read-Aloud Handbook. The sixth edition was just published in July of 2006. And if you ever have a chance to see Jim Trelease in person, seize it. 2007 will be his last year of lecturing full-time before scaling back for retirement. As I said on Wednesday, he is a great speaker: dynamic, passionate about his topic, and witty. And I believe that what he has to say is truly important.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.


Jim Trelease Talk: Quick Highlights

Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, spoke last night at the Santa Clara City Library. I was privileged to help host the event (on behalf of the Foundation and Friends of the Library, and with thanks to National Semiconductor for sponsoring the event), and to talk with the speaker before the presentation. I'm simply drowning in work right now, but I'll be back with a more in-depth review of the talk in a couple of days. I took notes!

For now I just want to say: Wow! Jim is an excellent speaker. He's funny, uses local reference points to engage the audience, and is clearly passionate about his subject: kids and reading. His primary goal, as stated on his website, is to help kids "make books into friends, not enemies." And he has clear evidence that the best way to do this, and the way to in general improve academic performance in our school system, is for parents to spend more time reading aloud with their kids. I'll be back with more details at the end of the week. Stay tuned! 

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.


Program with Jim Trelease

I volunteer for the Foundation and Friends of the Santa Clara City Library here in the California Bay Area. It's a wonderful library, and I'm happy to do my small part to help out. For those of you in the area, I wanted to bring to your attention an upcoming program that the Foundation and Friends is hosting.

Jim Trelease, author of the well-known Read-Aloud Handbook, will be speaking next Tuesday, January 16th, at 7:00 pm. The program is for adults only, and should be of high interest to parents and others who work with, and read with, kids of all ages. Jim will be speaking on the subjects of children, literature and television, with an emphasis on the positive benefits of reading aloud to and with your children. You can register for the program at the Library's Youth Services desk, or call (408) 615-2916.

I will certainly be there! I hope to get my copy of The Read-Aloud Handbook signed. It's a new edition, by the way, for you fans of the previous (fifth) edition. I'm a huge fan of this book, and have given it as a gift to many people. I highly recommend both the book and your participation in this program. This may be Jim's last speaking trip to Northern California, and it's not to be missed.