Building Reading Awareness in Children
Among my most cherished childhood memories takes me back to the moment when it was time to choose a new book to get lost in before bedtime. I was lucky enough to have a bookshelf in front of which I would sit and, I thought, let the book choose me. Sometimes the calling was immediate; sometimes it took longer. I picked up random books, read the back, and smelled them; sometimes I read the first page, anything I needed to do until I found the perfect connection. Reading was one of my favorite moments of the day. Most of the time, the book I picked would be so perfect for the moment in my life that it would take all my attention the next morning.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Ana L. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Throughout my years as an elementary and secondary teacher, I have always tried to transmit the importance of reading to my students and their parents. I did it the way I thought was best, by example. I remember, before I could read on my own, my mother would read me a chapter of the original Pinocchio. More than the story itself, what I remember the most is observing her. I absorbed everything; her voice, the way she moves her eyebrows in reaction to different moments in the story, or how she stroked her temple and forehead as she read to me. These moments meant the world for me. They meant peace, they meant safety, they meant warmth and they meant love, and they were always connected to reading.
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For this reason, I have always included read-aloud activities in my teaching. With these, I could not only share stories that were important for me or that I thought my students would enjoy, but I could also transmit the love of reading that I think is necessary and something that is learned. I believe strongly that love for reading is strongest when it is taught at home. By this, I mean it isn’t necessarily and officially taught, but it is something that people learn from example. When a child sees their mother or father, or older sibling reading daily, they adopt it as one of their routines as well. It should not feel like a chore, but rather like a need, like a pleasure.
Unfortunately, not everyone is as lucky as I was to be surrounded by readers who enjoy getting lost in books. Teachers and school environments are extremely important for this reason. In the classroom environment, I believe there are 3 main aspects to cover when instilling a love for reading in children.
Creating anticipation is key
I found that when reading to students, it was helpful to give them a tiny preview of what they would be reading or listening to (if it was a read-aloud). This way, they prepared their minds to get into whatever they were about to read. I compare it to stretching before exercising, and how if we stretch and warm-up our muscles, the workout flows more smoothly. In a classroom situation, for example, when students had to choose a book to read for independent reading time, I would make sure I gave enough details as possible without ruining the experience, for the students to get excited about what they were about to read. I have found that as a teacher, one has great power. No matter what a teacher transmits joy will be received as something exciting and wonderful by the students; the expectation a teacher creates is crucial in the learning process.
Another important aspect to cover is the actual reading process itself
The process each reader should go through when reading a book. Ideally, to read a book and love reading it, the reader should have some sort of reaction to what it is they are reading. This reaction needs not to be external, however, there should be some sort of processing of what is read. This can be through mental connections. In other words, it is important to teach the readers to see if they find connections to what it is they are reading. They can be real-life connections to something that happened in the book, or connections between something that is happening in the book and something that is happening in the world, for example. This can be demonstrated in a read-aloud by a teacher by simply stopping and having that mental connection process out loud.
Finally, the reader needs to practice thinking critically about what it is they are reading
Reading is often presented as a task they are meant to do and that results in readers who simply read the words on the paper or screen but do not stop and think about what it is they are reading. This way, the information doesn’t get internalized. Readers should learn to ask questions, to react, to talk to the book, in a sense. Once again, this is something that can be demonstrated by the teacher. By asking, for example, what would you have done if you had been in this situation? Would you have reacted differently? What advice would you give the character in the book? By allowing students to interact with what it is they are reading, we are showing students they can have a connection, a relationship with anything they read.
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The world is constantly changing and growing, advancing in certain aspects, and slowing down on others. The current obsession with social media and the immediacy of the Internet might make it a little more difficult to get students to focus on reading. For this reason, I believe it is even more important to be an example. It is crucial to demonstrate how delightful it can be to relax for a moment and get lost in a book. Children learn more from observing us than from what we officially teach. So be readers. Be avid readers.
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