Friday, September 9, 2011

Rereading and Reviewing The Read-Aloud Handbook - Chapter 1: Why Read Aloud?

The first chapter of Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook argues in favor of reading aloud as a way of teaching a love of books, stories and reading, enriching vocabulary, providing background knowledge and allowing all of these benefits to accrue as early as possible.

Trelease asserts that reading success is consequent to incorporating the following formulas/policies into your life and the lives of your children: "The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it. The more you read, the more you know; and the more you know, the smarter you grow."

Trelease believes that reading aloud should begin right away and continue "throughout the grades" to provide the following benefits: "condition the child's brain to associate reading with pleasure, create background knowledge, build vocabulary and provide a reading role model." Trelease says that 30 years of reading research show that, if all goes according to plan (meaning no unforeseen dyslexia or other learning trauma), "Students who read the most also read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest."

  • "Research has show that repeated (at least three) picture book readings increases vocabulary acquisition by 15 to 40 percent, and the learning is relatively permanent." (p 9) I was just reading another book about reading (Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write--from Baby to Age 7) and while I don't entirely trust that book's emphasis on memory work, the author did make a strong case for repetition being essential for learning (a fact also emphasized by my beloved Bright from the Start), so I've been trying to read any library book that Jackson "accepts" at least five times. (Some books he won't tolerate no matter how much I try, and others he wants to read 25 times, but basically once I get a foot in the door, I try to read a picture book aloud at least five times before we return it to the library. Current hits are City Hawk: The Story of Pale Male and Bear Snores On, but on the other hand, he is absolutely refusing to participate in Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore.)
  • Activate upper-middle class anxiety beacon! "Children whose families take them to museums and zoos, who visit historic sites, who travel abroad, or who came in remote areas accumulate huge chunks of background knowledge without even studying." OMG, my 17-month-old has never been to a historic site. #FAILURE!! I'm kidding. But um, I am now thinking I should take the kiddo down to Olvera Street to partake of the "history," the mildly racist Latino-themed tourist tschotskes and an enchilada. 
  • "By age four, [children] already understand two-thirds to three-quarters of the words [they] will use in future daily life." Dang!
  • I can't even deal with the implications of Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, but in case you are unfamiliar with this study, here are some key points:
    • Upper middle-class/professional kids are exposed to 45 million words before they start kindergarten, working class kids hear about 30 million, and welfare kids hear about 15 million. 
    • By the time they were three years old, the upper-middle class kids in the study were evidencing larger daily vocabularies than the welfare-group adults.
    • In addition to their sheer poverty of words, the welfare-group kids hear a demonstrably larger number of "prohibitions" and corrections, meaning they not only hear fewer words but more of those words are of the "No...don't" ilk, which all but stops their natural curiosity in its tracks.
    • I thought for sure that this study was either a mistake, a scam, a political screed or just lazy science, but I read the entire book today and the Hart-Risley longitudinal study could not have been more meticulously conducted or carefully reported. The upshot appears to be that the most fortunate kids are not (necessarily) the ones with most money but the ones who have the most engaged, chatty, interactive parents during the crucial kid-learning-to-communicate phase from 12-36 months (and beyond). UPDATE: Read my full analysis of the Hart-Risley research in Feast or Famine: How Children Thrive or Starve on Diets of Good (or Bad) Words.
Chapter Highlights:

Trelease always gives good story, and for me the three most memorable anecdotes (selected from among many good candidates) from the first chapter are these:
  • Reading aloud is a Communist plot! Cigar-rolling factories in Cuba and Florida in the 1920s employed a reader-aloud ("la lectura") for hours a day to distract and entertain workers with the news, novels and political tracts. Eventually a combination of cutthroat capitalism and the radio put la lectura out of business, but Bakuin and Dumas both had their day before it all came to an end.
  • One irate father's letter to the editor about the foolishness of reading aloud to children (he more or less thinks reading aloud is for pantywaists) is totally worth the cost of admission.
  • In the last section, which asserts that "complex thinking prevents Alzheimer's disease, and complex thinking, aka 'idea density', is a product of vocabulary and reading comprehension, which are themselves products of lots of reading aloud", the side-by-side autobiographical snippets from Sister Helen and Sister Emma make for good reading. (I have to remember to Google for the rest of Sister Emma's life story!)
Basically, chapter one asserts that reading aloud is the biggest and best shovel available for dishing large quantities of words, sounds, ideas and rhythms into the brain of your child's developing brain. I doubt anyone really disagrees with this assertion, but Trelease makes the argument entirely entertaining with his tales of orphans-made-good (Horatio Alger saves lives!) and school principals who soothe the savage beast of the inner-city teen with a few good chapter books read aloud twice a day.

Up next, in Chapter Two: When To Begin (and End) to Read Aloud, meet the amazing children of the book! They are read to, they read, they conquer the world! (Seriously though, the Erin Hassett section has had as big an influence as anything on how I'm raising Jackson. Come back soon and we'll talk about her and her awesome mom.)

No comments:

Post a Comment