Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rereading and Reviewing The Read-Aloud Handbook

  The Read-Aloud Handbook: Sixth EditionThe Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease is my book. Everything I'm doing with my kid is because of this book. It was the first, and for a long time, the only, book I read about being an educationally involved parent.

In the introduction to the sixth (and final, sniffle) edition, Trelease states, "This is not a book about teaching a child how to read; it's about teaching a child to want to read." That's stuck with me, but as I've now read several books (and/or websites) that do address actual reading instruction, I thought I ought to go back and reread The Read-Aloud Handbook with a more critical eye.

Do his recommendations hold up? Is The Read-Aloud Handbook more than a political anti-No Child Left Behind jeremiad? Is he secretly advocating for whole language reading instruction? Or is it just delightful overblown, overpriced reading list that strings together a series of charming but pointless anecdotes? Let's read and find out:

INTRODUCTION (pp xi-xxvi)

    The Bears' House
  1. Parents are, and must be, their child's primary teacher, even if they aren't formally homeschooling. Per Trelease, "[Children] spend 900 hours a year in school and 7,800 hours outside school. Which teacher has the bigger influence? Where is more time available for change?" When I read that, two things come to mind: (a) Finnish educational success is probably because their teachers are so awesome, and (b) apparently educational success overall correlates to the mother's educational level. I don't even know what those two thoughts mean together, but that's what leaps to mind.
  2. "Sooner is not better. Are the dinner guests who arrive an hour early better guests than whose who arrive on time? Of course not...There should be no rush to have your child reading before age six or seven...This book is not about raising precocious children. It's about raising children in love with print who want to keep on reading long after they graduate." In principle, I agree, but I had the experience of growing up with a brother whose learning disabilities were not identified until second grade. Getting him back up to speed took years of trauma and turmoil for the entire family, and he was never really able to "catch up" academically. My second brother had the same dyslexia, but I think earlier intervention helped him stay on track throughout school and he's now about to get a Ph.D. from Berkeley. Granted, these two brothers had very different personalities to start with, but because of my family's experience, I don't think reading instruction is something that should be left solely in the hands of professional educators at the time and place of the education system's choosing. I don't advocate rushing or pressuring, but I also think that waiting until age seven to start reading instruction is neither necessary nor wise. That said, I think Trelease and I are in agreement that for little ones, nurturing a love of books and stories is a great deal more important than phonics and spelling rules.
  3. Trelease argues that reading aloud to your children is a sure-fire scheme for ensuring your child a lifetime of success, in school and beyond. I don't disagree, but I wish he hadn't followed up this assertion with an anecdote about a kid who got a perfect ACT "because" his fourth-generation-teacher mom read to him 30 minutes a night for his entire life. As much as I like this story, it is the epitome of anecdotal evidence, and it overvalues test results for their after-the-fact “marketing” value, which the author spends much of the rest of the book deriding (he is decidedly not a fan of NCLB). I Googled for “perfect SAT score 2011” and “perfect ACT score 2011” and all the kids were like “Uh yeah, I took six practice tests and I'm an overachiever anyway, so whatever.” The closest thing I could find that offered a similar paean to books is this video of this adorkable 12-year-old who got a perfect score on the math section. He's at least reading a book in the B-roll for the local news report on his achievement.
  4. In a chart reporting the results of a study of kindergartners who evidenced either high or low interest in books, the attribute in which the kids most differed appears to be "Child is taken to library." 98.1 percent of those with a high interest in books were "taken to library", and only 7.1 percent of the kids with a low interest in books were "taken to library." Correlation? Causation? I don't care. My takeaway is "Take kid to library."
  5. Book recommendation to note from this chapter: The Bears' House by Marilyn Sachs. Trelease mentions having an accidental 45-minute book lovefest with a bunch of sixth graders over this book, which got him thinking about "book reports" from adults to kids. "I'd piqued the children's interest simply giving them a book 'commercial.' " Trelease is very interested in "marketing" books and we'll discuss his other techniques as we encounter them later in the text. (Rain-gutter bookshelves haunt me! Do I need them? Where would I put them? Argh.)
Next up in my Read-Aloud Handbook readalong (same bat time, same bat channel, probably tomorrow night) is Chapter 1, Why Read Aloud?, which covers the following topics (section titles paraphrased by lazy me):
  • Why is reading aloud effective?
  • What's the deal with Finland's reading scores?
  • What reliably creates a good reader?
  • Phonics
  • Background knowledge and vocabulary
  • Why parents should read
  • Using reading aloud with at-risk kids
  • Preventing Alzheimer's disease with reading (sorta) (I told you I was paraphrasing)
Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American ChildrenI've also ordered a book from the library called Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children. The Read-Aloud Handbook was the first place I encountered this research, but as I've gotten into "early childhood education" reading more and more, I've found the same results cited over and over again. I want to read the study for myself, and I'll discuss it in conjunction my review of chapter one, where Trelease summarizes the key points (pp. 14-16).

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