Hearing Children Read

Thousands of children are being heard read every day in school by untrained volunteers. A little judicious training could make all the difference.

Over the years I have observed many parents and teachers hearing children read in school and they all do the same thing: Encourage the child to start reading and pepper the listening with  a few “Well done” and “Good girl/boy” comments. If the reader hesitates or makes a mistake, the adult comes in with: “Try that again”, “Have another go”, “Sound it out”, “What does it begin with?” and other similar phrases in an attempt to move the child towards a correct answer.

Sounds familiar?

I won’t knock this kind of activity completely as it does provide some fluency building practice and give the child some individual attention and affirmation which can’t be bad for anybody, can it? Sharing and enjoying books together – I love that. But sitting with a child as they struggle through or sail through a reading text – what is happening here? What are we doing it for?

A radical new way of hearing children read can boost both a child’s ownership of their progress and greatly increase the efficiency of adult support time available.

This approach is one small but important part of Psychologist Mary Charlton’s TRACKS Literacy approach and is called  DIY Reading. By using this approach, an adult can personalise the schedule for each reader so that they gain the maximum amount from each session. To reap the benefits from this approach, I recommend that teachers look up details of the training programme from Mary’s website.

In brief, the approach replaces the “Listen ’till they stumble” approach, which encourages a passive learning stance from the child, to a more active “Read and ask for help” interaction. Each child’s instruction may differ according to their personal need, but could go something like this:

“Jacky, I want you to read 5 pages, either aloud or silently. If you come across a word that you don’t know, you can either ask me or point to the word and look at me and I will tell you what the word is. You must ask, and when you have read the 5 pages I will check that you know the words you did not ask for.”

For another child, they might be instructed thus:

“Paul, can you read the rest of this chapter. If you are not sure what is going on or what a particular word or phrase means, you must ask me. When you have finished I will ask you some questions about the chapter to check your understanding.”

If a child has not asked for help and is unable to read the words, they are encouraged to re-read the page and ask for the words they are not sure of. It takes skill for an adult to help a child to move from a passive to an active learner of reading, and I am amazed at how this important task is so frequently left to untrained volunteers. If a member of staff is trained in this approach, they can in turn train all the adults who support reading in the school to use this more scientific approach.

The TRACKS training helps teachers to know how to personalise the instructions for each reader and also how to assess whether the level of difficulty of the text is appropriate, too easy or too difficult for the child at this stage in their learning. What I have seen is that children who were plodding along using the traditional methods begin to take more responsibility for their own learning and use their current knowledge more actively. This is not surprising as it was by studying the research on memory, learning and motivation that Mary Charlton was able to devise her programme. As it is the child, not the adult, who initiates the dialogue, a completely different dynamic is set up. Some children may resist this initially, as it is much easier to take a passive role. However, as they become more fluent and independent readers, they enjoy the fact that the rate of their progress is in their own hands. With the pupils taking the lead, rather than the adult having to stay highly vigilant, a group of up to 5 or 6 pupils can be working on this task concurrently with a single adult.

Image Credits: ACPL Urban Woodswalker

2 comments to Hearing Children Read

  • Nicola Izibili

    Thanks Geraldine, I hadn’t heard of TRACKs and wonder how it compares with the IoE Reading Recovery Initiative: Better Reading Partnerships. I carried out some training using these principles and it had a significant impact on the volunteer reading sessions. I think that in the absence of lengthy training, the advice to give specific praise inconjunction with a couple of de-coding and comprehension strategies (which experienced teachers may possibly view as ‘obvious’) is a good way in.

    • geraldine

      Hi Nicola, TRACKS, being a psychology-based approach like Reading Recovery, requires significant training to practice. Praise is not a significant part of TRACKS as the approach is based not on external approval, but on the building of internal locus of control and confidence to take the next step. Reading Recovery is an excellent approach (Marie Clay, its author was also a psychologist) and is well-researched but does require a level of resourcing not available in every school. One of the advantages of TRACKS is that it can be carried out with several children at a time. It’s worth contacting Mary Charlton if you are interested in finding out more about the training. Details on the TRACKS website.

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