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In order for children to become good readers, they need to be provided with many opportunities to hear fluent reading. Not only does it help them to develop appropriate expression and intonation, but it also helps them to build vocabulary, comprehension, and their understanding of "concepts of print." Ideally, students are read to on a consistent daily basis. For students who attend traditional brick and mortar schools, models of fluent reading come in the form of the classroom teacher, the school librarian, classmates, and occasionally, guest readers. In many schools, students in 3rd or 4th grades enjoy visiting the kindergarten or first grades classrooms once a week to read aloud to younger "reading buddies," because teachers recognize the benefits of children hearing multiple models of fluent reading.
In a virtual learning environment, such as Wisconsin Virtual Learning, a public charter school that provides distance learning to students who work at home with their parents, there are fewer opportunities for teachers to read aloud to students. The students attend school at home, with parents as their learning coaches. In this educational setting, it is ideal if parents read aloud to their students on a consistent daily basis. Unfortunately, this is not always the situation.
Parents choose this type of learning environment for their children for a variety of reasons. All do so because they want to provide an individualized and exceptional learning experience for their children. Additionally, some parents choose this model of education because they had unsuccessful or unhappy elementary school experiences themselves and want to avoid that for their children. They may be reluctant readers, and their homes may not be print-rich environments.
Children enrolled in a virtual elementary school may not have the same exposure to multiple models of fluent reading that children in brick and mortar settings may have, and as a result, many children fail to reach their highest potential in reading ability.
I propose that a short program of training for these parents that educates them on the importance of reading aloud, teaches them techniques in reading aloud, and requires them to record how often they read to their children, will result in a higher incidence of reading aloud to children in the home setting. The ultimate outcome will be better readers.
Reading Aloud: Increasing the Time Spent by Parents in a Home School Environment
Research strongly suggests that reading aloud to children contributes to reading development and achievement (Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wilkinson, 1985; Bus, van Ijzendoorn, & Pellegrini, 1995). Other studies have found that reading aloud accounted for only a small variance in reading ability (Scarborough and Dobrich (1994). Further research (Dickinson and Tabors, 2001) suggests that specific behaviors by the readers during read-aloud sessions account for the differences in the findings. Simply put, "the way books are shared with children matters" (McGee & Schickedanz, 2007, p. 742).
Elementary teachers are aware of the importance of reading aloud and do so daily in their brick and mortar classrooms. In a virtual school, however, there are fewer opportunities for teachers to do this. Students who are enrolled in virtual schools typically attend some synchronous classes, but the majority of their school work is done under the guidance of their parents in their homes.
The number of students being educated in this manner is soaring. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Education announced the release of a historic study featuring first-ever data on distance education, and reported that 36% of public school districts had students enrolled in online education courses in 2002-03. (find study citation)
With parents taking on a greater role in the education of their children, it is important that they understand the importance of reading aloud, as well as those methods and strategies that make reading aloud an effective tool for teaching vocabulary, print awareness, comprehension, and >>>>>>>>>>>. Parents should also be made aware of the importance of providing a wealth of reading materials in their homes, as this has been found to be a primary factor in motivating students to read (Trelease, 2006).
Although substantial research efforts have been devoted to examining the effects of reading aloud, only a few researchers have developed and tested specific techniques for reading aloud to children. Three methods that have emerged as particularly compelling approaches to reading aloud are dialogic reading (Whitehurst, Arnold, Epstein, & Angell, 1994), text talk (Beck & McKeown, 2001), and print referencing (Ezell & Justice, 2000).
Kindle (2009) described instructional strategies during read-alouds that aid in the development of vocabulary. Some of these include questioning, providing definitions, synonyms, and examples, clarifying and extending students' responses, labeling, imagery, and morphemic analysis.
Lane and Wright (2007) discuss these three strategies and give examples. The text talk strategy adapted from Beck and McKeown (2001) focuses on vocabulary development. This strategy calls for the adult to ask children to repeat newly learned words and discuss their meanings. Lane and Wright describe print referencing, which "refers to the verbal and non-verbal cues, such as tracking printing or point to print in pictures, adults use to call children's attention to important aspects of the text" (p. 672). The third method, dialogic reading, (developed by Whitehurst, et. al, 1994) focuses on actively engaging the child during the book by asking "what" questions and helping the child to make connections to their own life experiences.