Home school help: Reading at home

If you haven’t yet read my blog about why the term ‘home-schooling’ is an unhelpful misnomer, you can do so here.

One of the easiest – and most effective – things our children can do whilst being ‘home-schooled’ during the coronavirus, is reading.

The best way to help our children develop their reading skills is to start by modelling fluent reading – in other words, show them how we read. Accordingly, we should read aloud to our child in our best ‘story voice’ to demonstrate how we make good use of pace (including pauses) and intonation (emphasising certain words for effect).

Modelling fluent reading also means showing our children that in order to read a book in a way that makes sense, we read ahead, we anticipate or guess what’s coming next, and we make educated guesses based on the context. That’s how you knew, in the last sentence, to pronounce ‘read’ as ‘reed’ and not ‘red’.

Modelling involves two things: showing children how we do it; and narrating our thoughts and decisions by ‘thinking aloud’.

So, we could start by reading a page of a book aloud for our children. Then get our child to read the same page aloud to us.

When they have finished, we can give them feedback. We can correct any errors they made and give them advice about how to improve their reading next time. And we can give them praise for a job well done.

Contrary to what many of us used to think, children’s reading capabilities are best improved by repeatedly reading the same short texts rather than by reading one long book after another. That’s not to say that children shouldn’t be challenged to read a whole novel and to do so for pleasure, but if the goal is to explicitly develop their reading comprehension, then short texts are best.

So, try to use short extracts or passages when helping your child to read and leave novels for their private reading pleasure.

In particular, repeatedly reading short texts is what will improve their fluency – which I wrote about here if you’re interested.

If our child struggles to read a passage aloud, we need to consider why. Is it that the passage is too difficult for them (and although we all want to challenge our children, we should not give them texts to read that are too difficult)? Or is it that they haven’t developed the decoding skills (a child’s ability to apply their knowledge of letter-sound relationships, including knowledge of letter patterns, to correctly pronounce written words) and phonological awareness (a child’s awareness of the sound structure of words) needed?

If it’s the former, then we can simply start again with an easier text. If it’s the latter, then we may need to do some specific work on decoding and/or phonics before attempting any further reading.

Once we have modelled reading fluently and listened to our child reading aloud to us, we can move on to comprehension skills (understanding what the text is about). For example, we can ask our child to read a short text then test their understanding of that text.

Here, the goal is to help our child develop the following comprehension skills:

  • Predict: whilst they’re reading aloud, we can ask our child to guess what might happen next – this will also make sure they pay more attention to the text
  • Question: we can ask our child to think of questions they’d like to ask about the text, ask them why they’d ask those questions and at those points in the text; we can also ask our child to tell us anything they’re unsure about in the text and ask them how they might gather further information to help them become more certain
  • Summarise: we can ask our child to briefly describe what’s just happened in the text or, alternatively, we could ask them to create a timeline showing how the plot is developing, or to write pen portraits of key characters
  • Infer: inference is about drawing conclusions from what is suggested in a text. For example, if someone said, ‘Please can you close the window?’, we might infer that it was cold in the room. They didn’t explicitly say it was cold, but we made an educated guess. Here, we can ask our child to infer the meaning of sentences from their context, and the meaning of words from spelling patterns. Or we can ask them to infer what characters really mean by what the say.
  • Connect: the more our children know about the world, the easier it is for them to learn more. So, to help them, we can ask them to tell us what they already know about the topic of the text we are about to read, or are reading, and ask them to make links. Schema theory teaches us that there are 3 useful links to make here: between the text and other texts our child has read before, between the text and our child’s own life experiences, and between the text and what our child knows of the wider world.

Next, we might want our child to read a longer passage or perhaps a chapter of a book by themselves and, depending on their age, in silence. To ensure they continue to pay close attention to the text and understand what’s being said, we can stop them at certain points and ask them questions.

Here, we can help our child to develop their reading comprehension skills by using the PEER framework…

  • Prompt our child to say something about the book;
  • Evaluate their response;
  • Expand their response by rephrasing or adding information to it; and
  • Repeat the prompt to help them learn from the expansion.

The prompts that make up the P of PEER can be remembered using the acronym CROWD:

  • Completion—leave a blank at the end of a sentence for children to complete
  • Recall—ask children about something they have already read
  • Open-ended—often with a focus on pictures in books
  • Wh—prompts that begin with ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘why’, and ‘when’
  • Distancing—connects the book to children’s own life experiences and provides an opportunity for high quality discussion.

I’ve written before about the importance of reading bedtime stories and now seems like a great time to get into the habit. Find out more here.

I’ve also written for teachers about how to develop children’s speaking and listening, reading, and writing skills. Find out more here.

Find more advice via Twitter @mj_bromley

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