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SLP Corner: Utilizing Read Alouds to Develop Literacy and Language Skills

– by Dianne Joustra, M.S. Ed,

Photo by: Zan Smith
In 2001, congressional leaders realized a need to develop literacy skills among our nation’s children and as a result, passed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). While NCLB has its toxic flaws, one of the single most important measures that resulted from this piece of legislation was the National Reading Panel which developed the Put Reading First Document. This document provided teachers throughout the nation with 5 essential guidelines for effective reading instruction for kindergarten through third grade. The guidelines included: 1) phonemic awareness, 2) phonics, 3) vocabulary development, 4) reading fluency and 5) reading comprehension.
Recognizing a need to provide developmentally appropriate literacy experiences for young children, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the International Reading Association (IRA), in 2005, joined forces and committed to helping young children become motivated readers and writers prior to entering the schoolhouse doors. NAEYC & IRA researched and recommended developmentally appropriate experiences for young children that would support their emerging literacy skills. They concluded that preschool children should be exposed to such things as: daily conversations between adults and children, daily read alouds, print rich environments, opportunities to use written language, phonemic awareness, a focus on sounds and parts of language; specific letters and words, songs, finger plays, model reading, opportunities to talk about what is read and experiences to expand vocabulary.
The recommendations according to Put Reading First and the findings of NAEYC and IRA for effective reading instruction are not an indication of the educational pendulum swinging in a new direction. In fact, in 1985, the National Commission on Reading issued a report, Becoming a Nation of Readers, suggesting that the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for becoming successful readers is reading aloud to children (Lane & Wright, 2007; Trelease, 2006). Lane & Wright have compiled research suggesting that reading aloud to children promotes an increase in: vocabulary, listening comprehension, syntactic development, word recognition and emergent literacy skills. By hearing the spoken language, listeners begin to hear how sounds form to make meaningful words as they hear the initial, medial, and final sounds in words. The US Department of Education’s Early Childhood study found that children who were read to at least 3 times a week had a significantly greater phonemic awareness when they entered Kindergarten than children who were read to less often (Trelease, 2006). Likewise, children became familiar with the rules of grammar by listening to books read aloud. Reading aloud also develops print awareness as children associate the spoken word to print and become familiar with the mechanics of how print moves from left to right and top to bottom. Children understand that the text found in books carries the meaning. General knowledge, adventures, and enjoyment can be gained through the pages of a read aloud. Teachers and speech language pathologists (SLP) can instill in children their own love of books by modeling their passion and love of reading. Reading aloud to children provides the opportunity to communicate and build relationships between adults and children.
With all children have to gain by listening to books read aloud, instructors would be remise in not using read alouds with children daily. Lester Laminack (2009) suggests that teachers and SLP’s use children’s read alouds to provide daily instruction. However, he cautions that the books selected must be selected with a meaningful purpose. Instructors must be as thoughtful in selecting books to read to children, as they are in selecting materials and manipulatives for teaching a specific lesson. A read aloud should be selected based on its instructional goals. (Lane & Wright 2007). Kindergarten thru third grade teachers can intentionally use read alouds to teach children the five essential components of reading instruction, while early childhood teachers use read alouds to meet NAEYC’s standards for emergent literacy skills and at the same time, a specialist can teach individual goals to children through read alouds. The key is selecting the read aloud that provides the child with ample opportunities to see, hear and verbalize the target goal.
It is imperative that all instructors are aware of the target goal being taught to the individual child. A target goal can be determine by listening to the child’s conversational speech and selecting a phonological or vocabulary target goal that the child is not exhibiting in his/her daily communication. Through effective communication and collaboration, classroom teachers and SLP’s can develop individual target goals for each child. Target goals to consider are: 1) phonological development (letter-sound correlation), 2) phonemic awareness (alliteration, rhyming words), 3) vocabulary development (semantics, syntax, morphology and pragmatics) and 4) comprehension development.
Utilizing orthographic instruction to introduce the child to the target goal maximizes the child’s opportunity to learn the target goal while developing early literacy skills. Orthographic instruction incorporates printed cues to activate the orthographic processor within the brain and stimulates the reading system. By providing a printed cue (orthographic) with the oral cue (phonological), the instructor is linking the orthographic processor and the phonological processor in the brain for the child. This allows the child to see and hear the target goal, resulting in successful learning of the target goal and emerging literacy skills. (Adams, 1990 ) The following orthographic step-by-step progression can be used to teach any target goal while using a purposefully selected read aloud as an effective teaching tool.

  • Choose the target goal and introduce the target goal to the child on an individual printed word card. This allows the child to become familiar with the target goal in isolation and the orthographic processor is activated. By verbally identifying the target goal, the orthographic processor and phonological processor are linked.
  • Choose with intention, a read aloud that contains the target goal at least 3-5 different times within the text.
  • During shared reading, have the child look and listen for the target goal. Praise the child if the target goal is identified. For new vocabulary words, pause during the read aloud at each target word for a brief conversation about the word’s meaning. The child should be exposed to the word in print and if possible see an illustration of the word, as well. This allows for the brain to orthographically process the word and to comprehend its meaning. This technique is also effective when identifying target letters/sounds and word endings. However, one needs to be cautious of pauses and conversations as to not distract from the reading experience. Instructors should give consideration to the benefit of discussions occurring before, during or after the read aloud. (Laminack, 2009; Zucker, Ward & Justice, 2009; Ezell & Justice, 2008)
  • If the child does not identify the target goal on the read aloud page, provide assistance by blocking words, emphasizing pronunciation, or lending probing questions.
  • Repeat the steps with all targets until the child shows mastery of the target goal. Introducing additional read alouds to reteach the target goal or secure mastery of target goal is advantageous.
  • Introduce a new target goal and review old targets so the child remains familiar with the goals mastered. (Ezell & Justice 2008)

Every opportunity that teachers and SLP’s take to read aloud to children is an opportunity for children to gain print awareness and develop fluent reading skills. The pictures in a read aloud are what capture children’s attention, it takes educators systematically and intentionally highlighting the text found in the read aloud for children to absorb knowledge of print. (Zucker, Ward & Justice 2009) Likewise, as reading is modeled aloud for children, they hear the natural pacing and pausing that occurs in reading. Choral reading from familiar books with repetitive patterns is beneficial for the development of reading fluency in young children. The process of watching and listening to adults read aloud is what creates emerging literacy skills for young children.
Early childhood can have the greatest impact on preparing a child with the necessary language and literacy skills before entering school. Children who are most likely to suffer from reading challenges are those who lack verbal skills, have limited vocabularies, cannot attend to the sounds of language, are not familiar with the mechanics of reading and have no letter knowledge. Teachers and SLP’s must systematically and explicitly enrich the vocabulary, develop the knowledge of print (including the recognition of letters), establish the awareness of sounds within words and create an understanding of the mechanics of reading for young children. (Snow, Burns, Griffin, 1998) Utilizing children’s read alouds as an instructional tool provides not only the benefit of teaching these skills, but will allow teachers and SLP’s to focus on individual target goals, as well. Reading aloud to children should be the priority of every lesson in order to reduce the number of children who enter the school house doors with inadequate language skills and in an effort to prevent later reading difficulties.
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This Month’s Featured Author/Organization, Dianne Joustra, M.S. Ed and Literacy Speaks!®
Dianne Joustra is co-author of Literacy Speaks!®, an exciting and innovative program that implements orthographic instruction (printed cues) to build a strong literacy foundation while improving speech intelligibility and language skills. Dianne holds a bachelor’s in education with a minor in mild disabilities, a master’s in reading, an administrative license and specializes in early childhood education. In her 27 years as an educator, Dianne, has taught kindergarten, readiness and first grade and supervised early childhood special education programs. Currently, Dianne is implementing the Literacy Speaks!® program in her early childhood special needs classroom. Dianne serves to promote early literacy and is a founding member of The Women’s Initiative in her community .
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