Killing Reading

Killing Reading

Although many hours each week are allocated to reading in a classroom, especially in the junior years, many students are not developing a love of reading or choosing reading as an out-of-school activity.  Classroom reading time is likely to include completing activities from textbooks or photocopied worksheets, perhaps doing a phonic related activity, vocabulary drills or a ‘round-robin reading’ exercise whereby students take turns in reading aloud.  In the lower grades, students are also required to take home a book from a reading series.

Unsurprisingly, there is a high correlation between the amount of time spent reading and reading ability.  However, none of these activities listed above, including taking home a school reader, help students develop a love of reading and it is the students who have a love of reading that will read the most.

The research clearly shows that when students are beginning to learn to read they benefit most from a systematic, explicitly taught, phonic-based program supported by decodable books (i.e., books containing words that students can decode with relatively little support given their current phonic knowledge).  Similarly, students who are struggling with literacy, irrespective of age, also benefit most from a systematic, explicitly taught, phonic-based program.  This approach is fundamental to teaching reading, but for students to develop a love of reading they need to be exposed to authentic literature.

Prior to a children being able to read, adults need to be reading these books to their children.  In kindergarten and pre-school, parents need to start introducing their children to chapter books which contain minimal pictures.  Reading chapter books to children helps them develop a mental image of the story, a skill which will help in comprehension once they are able to read independently.  It also helps develop listening skills, a core component of teaching methodologies used in our education system.

Once children are reading, they need to be reading interesting and authentic chapter books to help them practise the reading process and become ‘hooked into’ reading.  Imagine learning to play a sport, for example basketball.  You can do dribbling and passing drills.  You can be taught the technique of shooting a goal.  You can learn patterns of play.  However, it is not until you play a game and have the opportunity to put all these skills into practise that you actually get ‘hooked into’ playing basketball.  Then, in a self-fulfilling prophesy circle, your enjoyment of the game drives you to put more effort into learning the individual skills in isolation during training sessions.

It is the same with reading.  To help children develop a love of reading, you need to set aside time each day for reading authentic literature, not school readers or picture books.  One easy strategy is to make this reading time a part of your child’s bedtime routine and occur half an hour before light are turned out for the night.  It should be a non-negotiable activity, like brushing your teeth.

I would highly recommend that children are first introduced to a series.  If they like the first book in the series, they are likely to like the other books.  In addition, it is easier to ‘access’ the story if you are familiar with the characters, the setting and the author’s writing style.

Initially, this authentic reading should consist of two components.  The child reads two pages out loud to an adult and then the adult reads to the end of the chapter, plus one more chapter.  Once the child is making five or fewer errors on a page, a third component is introduced whereby after the child reads aloud, he/she reads silently before the adult returns and continues reading to the end of the chapter plus one more chapter.  All of these components should occur consecutively.  It is particularly important that adults avoid turning this activity into a test by asking comprehension questions.  There is no quicker way to take the joy out of reading!!

Each of these components serves a function and the order is also important.  Having the child read aloud provides the adult with an opportunity to provide feedback on the correct pronunciation of words that the child is unable to read.  The child reading silently helps develop independent reading.  The adult returning after the silent reading and reading a large amount of text has three critical outcomes.  Firstly, if the child has not completely understood everything when reading silently, it hooks him/her back into the story.  Secondly, it provides a model for effective reading and the pronunciation of words.  Finally, by reading at least one chapter to the child, it means that the books is able to be finished in a week.  If you do not finish a small chapter book in a week, you lose the sense of the story.  In addition, there is a great sense of achievement every time a child finishes a book, even though he/she may only have read 10 or so pages in the book.  See the video clip 5 Steps for Encouraging Reluctant Reader to Read

Be aware that children who are reluctant readers, often say that they don’t like a book as a strategy for avoiding reading.   For these children in particular, it is important to read at least the first chapter to get them ‘hooked’ into the book, before there is any expectation that they should read.  Initially, you might read several chapters before asking them and then keeping their reading component to a small amount of time.  As they become more competent and enjoying the process, gradually increase the amount of time they read.

The 5 pillars of reading instruction :

  • 1. Phonics
  • 2. Phonological Awareness
  • 3. Fluency
  • 4. Vocabulary
  • 5. Comprehension

These are critical reading skills, but unless children are given the opportunity to apply these skills to reading authentic literature, they are unlikely to obtain sufficient practise to become competent readers.


Beverly, B., Giles, R., & Buck, K. (2009). First-grade reading gains following enrichment: phonics plus decodable texts compared to authentic literature read aloud, Reading Improvement, 46 (4), 191-206.

National Reading Panel Report:

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