We take for granted that our primary students bring home their weekly readers which we duly listen to and sign off. There are times when there seems to be little progress being made as students get stuck on a certain level. Or worse, bring home the same two or three books time after time. Is this really such a bad thing? Why is it so important for children not only to read, but to read out loud?
Reading aloud is a very different skill from silent reading. The latter we do either for enjoyment or to gain information; it is an individual activity. Reading aloud involves more than one person and is not just for gaining information from the text. When children read out loud to us, it is to show us what they can do. We, as listeners, do not focus so much on the text, as on the child. However, the text is a very rich resource and even the simplest of texts should be exploited for the correlation between sound and spelling, new vocabulary, word order, punctuation and sentence structure.
Reading out loud gives children the opportunity to sound out words. It is not only new words that may be problematic. Very often, common words which the child is familiar with in spoken form cause problems because of their spelling. The reader may be surprised that a strange concoction of letters is actually familiar to them when articulated. This correlation of sound and written letters helps improve spelling, much more so than silent reading. New vocabulary is introduced in context and the meaning can be deduced from the text with help from the listener.
Reading aloud is a slower process than silent reading. This is a good thing, because it allows time for the thought process to assimilate the language. Children are given a model of sentence structure. It is an opportunity for the child to formulate complete sentences without the effort of having to think of one for themselves. The modelling of sentences remains just as important in higher levels in maths and science literacy. Every word must be processed in order for the text to make sense to the reader and then the listener. When we speak, we more often than not abbreviate our sentences so much that only the important words are heard, and that is when we even speak in full sentences. However, when children are asked to read out loud, they can see how the sounds they hear originate. Hearing themselves saying complete sentences out loud will help them retain the flow of the language, learn the language pattern and the word order. If the child does bring home the same book time after time, and knows it off by heart, then at least he or she owns those sentences and will in future be able to adapt them.
Reading aloud should be a special time between the child and a significant adult (or older sibling); a time for sharing. In spite of all the educational benefits of reading aloud, please keep it enjoyable.