Monday, January 18, 2016
What Makes a Good Reader?
What makes a good reader?
a. Explicit phonics instruction at ages 5-7?
b. Parents who talk to their infants early and often?
c. Children being read to regularly?
d. Enrichment through television, movies, and travel?
e. Background knowledge gained by reading?
f. All of the above?
g. None of the above?
Clearly, “g” is not the answer. The evidence seems to point to “f. All of the above.” There is no singe thing that makes a motivated, successful reader. For example, I read recently that students enter school in kindergarten with their academic fate somewhat determined by the quality and quantity of “adult talk” that children have received prior to age 5. Research has demonstrated that children who, from infancy, are exposed to regular conversation, enter school with a greatly enhanced “toolbox” of vocabulary, understanding, and knowledge than the child who has been primarily exposed to “business talk” (“Clean your room;” “Eat your spinach;” “Turn down the TV”). It seems to me, that out of the list above, background knowledge may summarize what the rest of the list represents.
Recently, in a fourth grade classroom, I noticed a list on the wall detailing quarterly reading expectations for students. In each quarter, students were expected to read four different types of literature, like history, poetry, biography, or realistic fiction. Students were expected to read more than four works, but a variety was explicitly expected over the school year. I was thrilled to see this. A classroom which supports diversity in students’ reading choices supports students’ growth as learners. I read recently that students need to have reading backgrounds that are a “… mile wide and an inch deep.” That’s because students need to be able to understand context to read successfully. The wider their general knowledge, the easier it will be for them to gather even more general knowledge as they read. It’s like the way a wave spreads out from it’s original cause.
I thought the teacher’s approach was wise, however, for not dictating all students’ reading selections. Much of what motivates us to read is our native interests. Were we to dictate a child’s reading list, we would likely rob the child of the excitement of setting her own course and the joy of discovery. It’s a wise teacher who helps the child grow by guiding, without controlling, students development.