Comprehension and Motivation Through Reading out loud

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Historically, teachers and researchers acknowledge the importance of reading aloud, yet the frequency of read-alouds is diminishing due to time constraints. Teachers today face the challenge of educating an ever-increasing number of linguistically diverse students. "Because children have different preschool and social experiences, no single literacy program or set of instructional activities can meet the needs of every child" (Cox & Hopkins, 2006). The challenge of planning literacy instruction geared toward a highly diverse group of language learners' packs instruction time tightly with phonics, phonemic awareness, reading groups, and vocabulary work. Creating time for multiple teacher read-alouds during each day is a basic requirement which cannot be sensibly ignored.

Reading aloud scaffolds the linguistic growth of students of diverse levels of language ability, and creates higher motivation for both first and second language learners. Multiple readings of well crafted text assist students in examining vocabulary, accessing ideas, and applying metacognitive strategies for comprehension and author's craft. A number of studies have confirmed the positive influence of reading aloud on different aspects of first language literacy and language development. The impact includes overall language development, vocabulary, expressive ability, verbal fluency and even learning interests (Chomsky 1972, Thoreson & Dale 1992; Ehri & Robbins, 1994; Elley & Mangubhai, 1983; Ewers & Brownson 1999, Horner 2004; Justice 2002; Lomax 1977; Snow and Ninio, 1986; Senchal, 1997; Valdez-manchaca & Whitehurst, 1992 in Lee, S.Y.,2000). A similar body of evidence shows that the development of reading skills in ELL children is very similar to the development of reading skills in children with English as their first language.(Geva, Yaghohoub-Zadeh and Schuster, 2000 in D'Angiulli, Siegel, Maggi, 2004). Reading scores indicate that despite teachers' frantic effort to increase phonics, phonemic awareness and vocabulary, minority language learners still languish. NAEP reported that there has "been no significant change in reading score gaps between . . . White and Hispanic students at either grade 4 or grade 8" (U.S. Department of Education, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 1992-2009 Reading Assessments).

Reading aloud and collaborative discourse with students provides a model of the purpose and importance of books. Reading can be a source of pleasure, a source of information, a classroom task, or a context for social interaction. It can be seen as a means to gaining knowledge or status, or as an enjoyable activity in itself (Nolan, S. 2007). When time for reading aloud is not an available resource in the home, reading remains outside the social context of the child. Families of children at risk for developing into full literacy are constrained by a lack of time for reading aloud and money for books. Linguistically diverse learners often come from economically disadvantaged families where parents work more than one minimum wage job in order to maintain economic equilibrium. In American schools the highest number of students who qualified for free and reduced lunch in 2009-2010 were linguistically diverse.

In the early elementary years all students are building skills in language and comprehension. Teacher read-alouds are an extension of Vygotsky's theory that maintains children require adults' or children with more experience scaffolding to help them reach higher competence. This claim is enhanced by Smith's concept of the Literacy Club; he argues that children develop literacy by joining into a traditional and favorite past time of story telling. They are scaffolded into higher levels of discussion and understanding by adults who are adept in reading (Smith, F. 1998). Many students are in their early years of elementary school when reading aloud is a natural extension to the curriculum. (See figure 2, appendix).

"Reading aloud is important teaching time in the classroom; we must consider what it is offering our students as readers and writers" (Ray, 1999). Children in their early elementary years must have motivational reasons for reading and writing to continue working on these skills. "Both reading and writing have utilitarian aspects, but can be seen as a means of social interaction or engaging activities" (Nolan, S. 2007). Comprehension is the purpose for reading. It creates student motivation for further exploration. Teacher read-alouds are simulating and motivate non-readers to long for the time they can read themselves. Chomsky (1972) states that an important adult role in language learning is for the adult to provide children with large quantities of language input in the form of interesting and stimulating stories (Lee, 2006). "Listening skills learned through read-alouds are significant. Not only do students learn skills for developing proficiency in comprehension and vocabulary, they also "develop an ear for language" (Opitz, 2004). "Effective read alouds contribute to students' comprehension development (Fisher, Flood, Lap & Frey 2004; Hickman, Pollard-Durodola & Vaughn 2004 in Santoro, Chard, Howard & Baker, 2008). Students in read-aloud classrooms have longer retellings that reflected a depth of text comprehension (Santoro, Chard, Howard & Baker, 2008). "Reading to children can also motivate them to read on their own. Teachers can make a children's book appealing when they read it if they read the parts of a book that will inspire the students to become interested in a particular book" (Ivey, 2003, in Morgan) When teachers effectively read aloud to students they model purpose and motivation for reading, as well demonstrating fluency. Books become a means to better understand and open doors to reading. The Comprehension Hypothesis, developed by Krashen,(1981, 1985) states that "we acquire language when we understand what we read and hear." Once students begin to understand engaging "story times" and the creative social role of shared writing, they become motivated to try these behaviors out for themselves. Understanding messages on the page is the key. "Direct teaching of "skills" is helpful only when it makes texts more comprehensible" (Krashen, 1981). When students listen to the teacher reading a well crafted text multiple times they gain familiarity with the ideas contained within. In the first reading with questioning and dialog they are able to carefully examine vocabulary words and terms which may puzzle them. In a second reading, metacognitive strategies for comprehension may be studied. The third reading is for pleasure, and in the fifth, careful examination of author and craft. Students learn to revisit well crafted texts for study. This is a sensible grounding, because most professionals have certain books they return to time and again.

This does not mean that teachers should rely completely on reading aloud or on one text alone. A careful balance must be achieved, integrating literature into the curriculum as a carefully planned method of instruction. Second language learner's oral vocabulary must be developed to the point of basic communicative competence in order for comprehension to take place. Even for students working in their first language, it is necessary to build a strong foundation of skills. "Reading books to children should not supplant the instruction in reading that leads to phoneme awareness

. . .and the practice with text that children receive. . ." (Smith, 1992, in Kim & Hall, 2002). . Knowing the sounds of the letters of the alphabet helps second language learners produce and understand the sound systems necessary for oral and written language proficiency. "For young children, explicit, systematic instruction in the second language sounds and symbols does appear to address perceived auditory weaknesses, just as it does for first language children with poorly developed phonemic awareness" (Carrell & Grabe, 2002; Wallace, 2001 in Lenterns, 2004). Phonics and phonemic awareness, however, are just a beginning; they do not produce comprehension. "The farther one moves away from activities directly related to the reading process, however, the lower the correlation between that activity and reading achievement. . . Children can learn new word meanings through exposure to them in storybook reading and this incidental learning can measurably improve children's vocabulary knowledge" (Kim & Hall, 2002). "Various comprehension-related skills such as world knowledge, vocabulary growth, and text structural awareness, do not flourish during periods in which phonological awareness is the stressed instruction" (Smolkin & Donovan, 2003). In a well structured lesson plan, the read-aloud fits the purposes and instruction takes a relatively short time.

Students must know the meanings of the words to make connections to content. "Student's level of vocabulary knowledge has been shown to be an important predictor of reading ability (fluency) and reading comprehension" (Hickman Pollard-Durodola & Vaughn, 2004). "Through frequent re-reading of short, high quality texts, and allowing student interactive discussion, teachers may focus on high utility or "interesting" words that can be used across contexts (Beck, McKeown and Kucan, 2002). Opening with a picture walk, teachers may open discourse on pictures. This is important because pictures may be confusing to ELL students. Pictures elicit connections as well as questions, and predictions. "Second language learners must have many structured opportunities to converse in the classroom without undue emphasis on accurate speech" (Lenterns, 2004). Interactive discourse in which there is a sharing of authority with the students, allows connections to be made and discussed. Read-alouds must be integrated into all subjects in the curriculum with activities that reinforce the message and discussion before during and after the read-aloud. "The word's meaning is provided through student-friendly explanations and the context of the student discussions. "Connections between words and ideas can be maintained as the reading begins, stopping at key points to ask open-ended questions, following up the children's response by re-reading or re-voicing, then wrapping up with a review and discussion of key vocabulary words. . .children are asked to think about examples and to provide their own examples" (Beck, 2003). Demonstration of understanding may be taken from the discourse during activities which follow the read-aloud. Follow up activities elicit discourse and writing or representation using these words. Vocabulary can be mapped and placed on word walls. During authentic activities, students create ownership of the vocabulary necessary to their "expert" identity as they communicate ideas they learn through the read-aloud.

Explicitly introducing one strategy at a time during pre-reading over a period of six weeks, assists young students in acquiring metacognitive strategies for comprehension. "Strategies for constructing meaning can be taught directly to students with very different levels of decoding proficiency" (Coyne, Zipoli, Chard, Faggella-Luby, Ruby & Baker, 2009). ). "Demonstrating strategies students may use to monitor their listening comprehension can teach young students skills they may transfer to monitoring comprehension as they read on their own. Teachers need to set a purpose so that students know what to listen for and devote their energies to this purpose, eliminate background noise and distraction"(Opitz, M. Zbaracki, 2004). Students may use strategies to "monitor the inner voice, to focus thinking and 'fix up' comprehension"(Harvey & Goudvis, 2007). "Read-alouds offer other advantages. One of these benefits is that they help students become better readers, but for this to happen, teachers must engage students to predict, hypothesize, analyze and make connections" (Barrentine, 1996; Beck and McKeown, 2001; Reutzel and Cooter, 2008 in Morgan, 2009). "Incorporating comprehension instruction and read-alouds (into the classroom) appears to be a promising way to boost student comprehension." (Santoro, Chard, Howard, Baker, 2008). " Not only must students create connections, they must learn how to question, visualize then infer. "Visualizing strengthens our inferential thinking. When we visualize, we are in fact inferring, but with mental images rather than words and thoughts" (Harvey & Goudvis, 2007).

Social language needs must be built into teacher read-alouds to assure that diverse language learners are motivated by content. The messages, both visual and verbal, that children absorb as texts are read, leave them with deep impressions of their own cultural worth. "Authentic books for students at this level teach that although people are different in the way they appear, these differences are a good thing and should be celebrated" (Morgan, 2009) All characters should be fully and compassionately depicted. "Literacy instruction that explicitly builds upon the cultural knowledge, ways of making meaning, and prior knowledge that all children bring with them to the classroom will encourage children to feel that their culture is important and valued in schools." (Arlette Ingram Willis, 2000).

Students must feel a sense of belonging to the literacy community and find motivation to practice the skills needed for learning. Utilizing the cognitive apprenticeship approach of writer's workshop, teachers may scaffold students in reading with the critical eye on the craft of the writer. As in any authentic task, the student seeks to discover just what it is the writer does. By analyzing mentor texts for details such as line length, word choice, repeating lines, alliteration, and allegory, students come to understand how professionals craft books. They apply their crafting "discoveries" to their own writing. In the authentic task they find the identity and it gives credence to the reading and writing that follows. In finding this identity they become true members of the literacy club.

Students deserve book rich classrooms in which frequent read alouds of high quality text are integrated into instruction. Vocabulary and strategies for comprehension should be explicitly taught then scaffolded during multiple readings of well crafted text that take place across the curriculum. Students appreciate the need for reading as they perform authentic tasks in cross curricular inquiry learning opportunities. Reading aloud allows all to perform tasks as writers, critics of literature, lawyers, artists, advertisers, animators, explorers, scientists, and politicians. Teacher read alouds are more important than ever before, because our classrooms are so linguistically diverse.


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Figure 1:

(Latino Leadership Link. A position statement by Office of Language, Culture and Equity. A Democratic Caucus Update on the Hispanic Community, 2010.)

Figure 2:

(Latino Leadership Link. A position statement by Office of Language, Culture and Equity. A Democratic Caucus Update on the Hispanic Community, 2010.)