Reading helps improve attention span, in comprehending concepts of other subjects, boosts creativity and imagination.
By Lina Ashar
Each period of history is defined by the tools invented in it and the way in which they were used. The still recent transition into a new century is a good time to define how learning, and the learner, has changed. The wonder that is the internet has expanded access to information, removing the teacher and student’s dependency on limited sources of information. Education is no longer bound by the limits of the teacher, textbook or reference books in the school library. It is limited only by the student’s interest and ability to read proficiently.
Books offer an entry to self-learning
Therefore, in the new millennium, parents, teachers, and would-be-teachers have a vital duty to thoroughly teach the art of reading, the fundamental skill which is the passport to all learning. The ability to read proficiently will ease children’s entry into the world of self-learning that is emerging with advances in technology in the new information age. Moreover, the ability to read quickly with understanding is an invaluable skill, which once mastered can be a source of great enjoyment and continuous learning into adulthood.
The rote “skills and drills” type of teaching and learning environment persisting in most schools needs to go. Hence, it may be useful to discuss some strategies that parents and teachers can adopt to develop reading proficiency in young children just entering the world of the printed word. An intelligent reading induction programme should be tailored to suit the individual learning needs and pace of each child. What parents and teachers should provide is a sequence of learning and reading opportunities.
There are many reading habits and proficiency development strategies that parents and teachers can adopt to assist children. These include helping them to recognise letters of the alphabet, the phonics of individual alphabets and their blends, and the decoding and use of contextual clues.
Theories and methodologies regarding the process of reading continue to change. However, there is unanimity among educationists that practice is of prime importance to any reading development programme. Differentiated reading strategies (phonics versus look-and-say) are all important as children have differing learning styles and therefore may benefit selectively from one or both methodologies. Therefore, any good reading programme must address both strategies.
Get kids to ‘look and say’
Sight reading (look-and-say) methodology involves the learning of new words and imprinting them into the long-term memory of pupils. The belief of this pedagogy is that words, like pictures, are symbols. If a child can see a picture of a ball and say ‘ball’ he can also recognise the written word ‘ball’. So the eye ‘recognises’ the printed word ‘ball’ just as it would the physical object. The composite printed word is flashed to the brain to be remembered and comprehended. This process develops the visual recognition of words that children need to learn to become fluent readers.
Reading develops long-term skills
Reading helps in the development of the brain. By inculcating reading skills early in life, the functioning of the entire brain is positively influenced. Additionally, early reading also makes up for a lifelong hobby. This helps the child in their academic success, as reading helps improve attention span, in comprehending concepts of other subjects, boosts creativity and imagination. Speed reading is another key factor which helps in improved memory, better focus, boosts self-confidence, improves logic and helps gain a higher level of emotional well-being. Speed reading is like an exercise and your brain gets stronger as you practice. This skill will be highly valued in the future as learning to mine relevant information in a data-driven environment will take children a long way.
Pick the right books
Parents and teachers need to keep in mind that selecting appropriate books and making the stories in them exciting is of prime importance to stimulate early reading habits. Therefore, choose a story that you like and that you can ‘hear’ yourself reading and practice reading in front of a mirror, including the technique of holding the book at an angle to enable your pupil to see the illustrations all the time.
To develop the love of reading in children, it’s also important to introduce the story and help them focus their thoughts so they can visualise what they hear. You might relate one story to another featuring a similar character, subject or author. Moreover, as a preliminary, invite children to look at the cover and guess what it’s about. Have a few questions in the back of your mind so that you can start discussions. Such orientation is most important because it builds up children’s anticipation that they are about to move into a special world.
Get kids involved in the story
Participation is also an important ingredient of inculcating an early love of reading. Invite children into stories. If there is an opportunity for them to join in repeating a line or rhyme, invite them to do so. Pause at appropriate places and think aloud about what might happen next. Highlight clues in storybooks and illustrations to build up expectations and participation. Of course, parents and teachers aren’t trained stage actors. Therefore, if your tongue trips you up, re-read the sentence. If there are names or words that you had to practice, tell them that you did so. Use your audience to model the strategies you use. Remember that many children perceive themselves as poor readers because they make mistakes, not realising that everyone makes miscues and mistakes.
Contrary to popular belief, love of books and reading doesn’t come naturally to children. They have to be led into the world of books and reading by parents, teachers and peers. As an eminent American educationist famously remarked, “Few children learn to love books by themselves. Someone has to lure them into the wonderful world of the written word; someone has to show them the way.” That someone is you.
(The writer is Founder, Kangaroo Kids Education Limited.)